When news first hit the interwebs that Quentin Tarantino was working on his latest magnum opus, many fans and pundits alike referred to the proposed project as “Tarantino’s Manson movie.” But as it turns out, the Manson Family murders are only a part of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood—a backdrop, if you will—and the main focus is on two aging Hollywood studs trying to stay relevant in a changing, and in some ways, transmogrifying world. Still, Charlie Manson’s name and brutal legacy were the first things cineasts and commentators latched onto.

Why is that? It seems that Hollywood has had a fascination with Charlie Manson for decades, and the phenomenon exists to this very day. It all started with the seminal tome on the Manson Family murders, Helter Skelter written by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry. Bugliosi, who prosecuted Manson and the Family, penned the bloody saga after a long, grueling trial in which he claimed Manson stopped his watch with a wicked stare, and that Charlie exerted an almost supernatural power over his hapless followers.

Since then, there have been numerous movies, documentaries, stage plays, magazine articles, and salacious paperbacks documenting the Manson phenomenon. As well, Manson original songs have been covered by none other than the Beach Boys, Marilyn Manson, and Guns N’ Roses. In fact, Axl Rose wore a Manson T-shirt throughout the Use Your Illusion tour. And maybe that’s the handle right there; for some strange reason, Charlie Manson is considered by many to be edgy, rebellious, and provocative—an antihero for the ages.

Just check out your Netflix and Amazon Prime options, there are countless titles dealing with the ultimate cult phenom. In the last few years alone you have The Haunting of Sharon Tate with Hilary Duff in the title role; Charlie Says, which focuses on the girls of the Manson Family clan; Tate stars Kate Bosworth as Sharon struggling through the final days of her tragic life; Aquarius, a gritty crime series starring David Duchovny, which concentrates on Manson as a small-time crook-turned-cult leader; and Manson Family Vacation, a dark comedy about the agony and ennui of brotherly love. And, of course, now we have Tarantino’s version of a 1969 Hollywood fairytale featuring the Southern Californian murderous cult leader.

In the case of Tarantino, Smokey Q has long been an advocate for screen violence; violence not only as an act of catharsis but as a tool of pure entertainment—a cinematic necessity. So, QT and Charlie Manson would seem to be a match made in cinema heaven—or hell. When asked of the Charles Manson fascination, Quentin himself had this to say, ”I think we’re fascinated by it because, at the end of the day, it almost seems unfathomable.” So, is that it? Is it the mystery of the unknown? The conundrum of human barbarity?

Manson was convicted of murdering two people and orchestrating the killing of seven others, and the effects of those crimes are still profoundly felt by the loved ones of the victims’ families to this day. It’s painful to imagine what they go through when they see actors portraying real-life killers, their faces being blown up on the silver screen and, in fact, trending with audiences.

The debate will forever continue whether such films should be rejected out of common decency or if freedom of speech should prevail even when the subject matter is irresponsible, distressing, and/or highly disturbing.

But this is Hollywood, and Hollywood is a business. And just like any other business, they’re in it to make money. And it seems that Charles Manson and the Manson Family saga is always ripe for profiteering.

Do you wish Hollywood would focus on producing films about the countless other subjects available in the universe? Do you believe it’s better these movies be made, as suppressing the morbid interests of audiences is not helpful in the long run? Or are you intrigued by these films and can’t wait to check them out? Please share!

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