What Happened to the Manson Family Snuff Films?

A few weeks ago, I reviewed a book about the history of the Process Church of the Final Judgement. That book describes the very tenuous links between the Process and the Manson Family and notes that these links were initially highlighted in the first edition of Ed Sanders’ The Family. The Process took Sanders to court and had the offending chapter of his book removed in subsequent editions. This is a bit ridiculous as they had interviewed Manson for an issue of their magazine that came out before Sanders’ book. They liked looking for attention, but it seemed to concern them when they actually got it. I had been planning to read Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter for years, but when I heard of Sanders’ book, it seemed far more appealing. While a lot of it wouldn’t hold up in court, it’s not supposed to. Sanders fully acknowledges that many of his sources were less than trustworthy. Part of its value lies in the way it preserves the rumours about the Family from a time when they were still an entity.

E.P. Dutton and Co. Ltd – 1973

The Family: The Story of Charles Manson’s Dune Buggy Attack Battalion

When I was an edgy teenager, I thought Charles Manson was pretty cool. I was 16 when I stenciled his face onto the front of my schoolbag. (LOL. I was an idiot.) All the bands I liked seemed to have songs or t-shirts about him, and I read a bunch of websites about the Family and watched all of Charlie’s interviews on youtube. I knew the basic story of Manson’s life, the Family, the murders and the whole Helter-Skelter thing. There was lots of interesting stuff in Sanders’ book that I didn’t know about already, but the biggest surprise was the claim that the Manson Family may have recorded snuff films.

Apparently the Family made quite a few home movies, some of them pornographic. It doesn’t seem like the footage has ever turned up, but it is known that Charlie’s gang had several cameras, including a TV camera they stole from an NBC station wagon. Far more concerning are the claims of one associate of the Family who claims to have seen three extremely disturbing films featuring Family members. He claims that these films were shown at night and involved animal torture and sacrifice. One of them featured a dog being tortured to death and then people having sex while covered in the dog’s blood. The person who made this claim did not explicitly say that the video was filmed by the Family but that it involved members of the Family. Sanders mentions reports of numerous occult rituals that were reported in that area at the time the Family were living there, and elsewhere in the book, he spends a great deal of time discussing the The Solar Lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis, a bunch of Crowley freaks who were supposedly linked with the Family. Crowley used animal blood during some of his sex magic rituals at the Abbey of Thelema, so it’s not unbelievable that his followers would have done the same. (Apparently the source of his information about the cult activity was Arthur Lyons, author of Satan Wants You.) Another video featured a cat being blown up with fireworks, and the final and most gruesome video was of the corpse of a decapitated woman. Sanders claims that it was suggested to him that the Process may have been behind these appalling acts, but as Gavin Baddeley notes in Lucifer Rising, this doesn’t really make sense. The Process were always dog lovers, and their organization ultimately ended up as an animal shelter.

In the revised version of The Family that came out in 2002, Sanders notes that none of this footage has ever been found. Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t think the more innocent Manson Family home movies have shown up either. Do (or did) they exist? Does some weirdo have them? Are they buried in the desert in Death Valley?

The 2002 revised version of the text that omits nearly all mentions of the Process.

I was reading an article on The Reprobate recently that mentioned an advertisement that showed up in Variety Magazine in the 1980s offering hundreds of hours of footage of the Manson Family filmed between 1969 and 1973. This sounded intriguing, but it also included the movie rights to Robert Hendrickson’s 1973 documentary, Manson. The asking price was ridiculously high, and it didn’t seem like anyone took the mysterious seller up on their offer. I also saw mention of a documentary series from 2018 that was called Inside the Manson Cult: The Lost Tapes, but when I researched that, I found that the 100 hours of footage that was sifted through to make the show, “was discovered after British producer Simon Andreae traced the whereabouts of filmmaker Robert Hendrickson, who had been given exclusive access to the Manson cult 50 years ago.” It seems like Hendrickson was probably the seller in the Variety ad, and I doubt very much that his collection of Family footage contained any snuff films.

The difficulty with researching anything to do with the Manson Family is the sheer volume of information and discussion about them online. We’re talking about some of the most infamous crimes ever committed. Also, it turns out that Sanders’ book was the birthplace of the phrase “snuff film”, so that messes up google searches on this specific topic, and that’s rabbit hole that I don’t want to fall into. There was also an exploitation movie produced called Manson Family Movies (1984) that claimed to be found footage of the Tate-La Bianca murders. This film shows up a lot when you go looking for the real stuff. I’m not saying that it hasn’t been addressed countless times, but I didn’t actually see much discussion on the films, real or fake, that Sanders’ mentioned. If anyone has any further thoughts or information on them, I’d love to hear from you. (If you are in possession of the snuff footage, please don’t send it to me.)

Again, I’ve been familiar with the Manson story for most of life, but I’ve long had it categorized in my head as a crime story. I hadn’t really given much thought to the culty aspects of it. The Family was as culty as can be. While it doesn’t seem likely that there were any important links between the Family and the Process, both were certifiable doomsday cults. Like de Grimston, Charles Manson once claimed to be a scientologist and had a Christ/Satan thing going on. I think the big difference was that Robert de Grimston was a huckster and that Manson was violently insane. There’s other stuff in this book about the mysterious (and possibly fake) Four Pi cult, but I’ll do a separate post on them in the future. Also, while we’re (kinda) on the topic of Satanism: Bobby Beausoleil, the Family member who murdered Gary Hinman, starred in a movie with Satanist Anton LaVey, the guy who played Satan in a Roman Polanski movie. Some Family members later claimed that Sharon Tate’s murder was a copycat job to make it look like Hinman’s murderer was still on the loose so that Bobby could get out of jail. Small world. (Edit: Apparently LaVey had nothing to do with Rosemary’s Baby. Sorry. I read it in a book, but apparently that book was wrong.)

When I started the book, I googled Ed Sanders and saw a familiar face. It took me a few days to realise where I had seem him before. He was one of the guys in that video of William F. Buckley interviewing a drunk Jack Kerouac about hippies. I went on to listen to his band, The Fugs. Honestly, I wasn’t impressed by the first few songs I heard, but this one instantly became one of my favourite songs ever. Seriously, it’s genius. Ed Sanders is a pretty cool guy.

I was greatly entertained by this book, and while reading it and researching the Manson Family, I came across quite a few other books that I intend to read. I mentioned above that I used to think that Charles Manson was pretty cool. I actually find him more interesting now than I did back then, but I want to make it very clear that I now understand that he was a tragic, but horrible piece of walking garbage.