Film and TV

50 Years Later: Tarantino Movie Highlights Our Obsession With Manson Family

The murder of Sharon Tate by Charles Manson and his "family" still fascinates 50 years later.
The murder of Sharon Tate by Charles Manson and his "family" still fascinates 50 years later. Wikimedia Commons/State of California, San Quentin Prison

The murder of Sharon Tate by Charles Manson and his "family" still fascinates 50 years later. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/STATE OF CALIFORNIA, SAN QUENTIN PRISON
The murder of Sharon Tate by Charles Manson and his "family" still fascinates 50 years later.
Wikimedia Commons/State of California, San Quentin Prison

On the night of August 8, 1969, our nation was haunted by the horrific murders of actress Sharon Tate and four others in Los Angeles. Two more people, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, were killed on August 10. Charles Manson and his followers were responsible for the gruesome deaths.

In two separate heavily broadcasted trials, Manson, in addition to four of his followers, were convicted of all seven murders in 1971. As the 50th anniversary approaches, there is still a lingering fascination with Manson and the "family" he led. The cult leader died in prison at the age of 83 in late 2017, yet his story seems to live on.

While many films this year have told their version of the tale, Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, set to release today, Friday, July 26, will tell it with an all-star cast. The movie features Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate and Damon Herriman (Justified) as Manson. Leonardo Dicaprio and Brad Pitt play the leads, a former western TV series actor and his steady stunt double. DiCaprio's and Pitt's characters, Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, attempt to adjust to a changing Hollywood. Sharon Tate just happens to be Dalton's neighbor.

But what is with America's obsession with Charles Manson and the gruesome events he put into motion?


Manson had a troubled childhood — his mother and uncle were sent to prison when he was 5 years old, and he began robbing casinos and shops at gunpoint at the age of 13. After serving six years in prison, he was released in 1967, in what came to be known as the "summer of love."

He took a liking to The Beatles' 1968 self-titled album, particularly the song  "Helter Skelter." Manson interpreted the song to mean that there was an impending race war that would end the world, and that he and his followers would be the only white survivors.

At Spahn Ranch in Los Angeles County, Manson set up a commune to prepare for the supposed race war. Surrounded by abandoned 1950s Western movie sets, he recruited his followers, who happened to be mostly middle-class and female. Manson convinced them to take hallucinogenic drugs like LSD and engage in orgies with him. He used sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll to facilitate mass murder.

Counterculture today can be viewed through many movements which are slowly becoming more mainstream: veganism, decentralized currencies such as Bitcoin, the push to legalize marijuana. As mass and social media steer people in a specific direction, there are those who reject these notions and take their own path. Manson is the most sinister example of that.

Sociopathic Tendencies

Though Manson moved between reform schools and was unable to read and write well, he allegedly had a high IQ. Whether this intelligence quotient was responsible for his ability to connect with and manipulate others is up for debate.

According to Psychology Today, "Sociopaths (are) manipulative, lie frequently, lack empathy, and have a weak conscience that allows them to act recklessly or aggressively, even when they know their behavior is wrong."

Their condition is often derived from environmental factors, such as Manson's disturbed childhood.

Manson used his charm to lure his followers and convince them to kill innocent people. After he was incarcerated, many women sent letters and gifts to the murderer. This is not an anomaly — other high-profile killers like Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy received similar treatment. Bundy even married one of his admirers, infamously proposing to her during court proceedings.

This attraction to serial killers, known as hybristophilia or Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome, was coined by sexologist professor John Money as "a sexual paraphilia in which an individual derives sexual arousal and pleasure from having a sexual partner who is known to have 'committed an outrage or crime, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery,'" according to Psychology Today.

Charles Manson was a delusional man who took advantage of the vulnerable people around him. If you are interested in Quentin Tarantino's take on the situation, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood airs in theaters around greater Phoenix starting today (though early screenings began Thursday evening). Grab some popcorn and dig in.
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Natasha Yee is a freelance writer and yoga teacher who likes to explore the city. She considers the thesaurus her best friend.
Contact: Natasha Yee