Most of you know - as it is mentioned in several of the reviews - that there are two Helter Skelters: One Made in 1976, and the other made in 2004.
Is one better than the other? Is either even worth watching or buying?
As is true, much of the time, when it comes to a remake - some will say the original is the best, and the new one is terrible (should have been left well enough alone); at least one says the actor playing Charles Manson is absolutely horrible.
The truth is that they are both very different movies. Similarities: Both were made for TV. Differences: 1. The 1976 version is told more from the side of solving the case, putting the pieces together, the trial, and the attorneys (more a story about Vincent Bugliosi and his challenges in dealing with this ordeal). Manson seems to be almost stuck in there as if some sort of collage or montage. In some ways, the actor playing Manson doesn't have much to do but just be there - I never really got where I could understand how he was able to control or manipulate his so-called family into doing those demented things he got them to do. There are moments though he does shine. The killings are presented in more of a telling by Linda, a member of the family, in a surrealistic-style blended in a sort-of-montage into her crying face. This entire TV movie, in some ways, is like watching an old Dragnet TV episode: The following is a dramatization, and the names have been protected to change the innocent; so you are being told the story, with a narrative introducing different parts. To me, it seems very flat in many ways. The acting is very flat-but there are some good moments, and some very good performances.
There are places where the Helter Skelter Philosophy is explained much more clearly and thoroughly than in the new one. 2. The 2004 version is told more as an actual experience, and from the side of Manson. This was done deliberately-as is explained in the commentary-to show more from the side of Manson and his Family than what the 1976 version did. The actor playing Manson is quite good and disturbing at times; I could feel the power and control he had more than in the older version; the commentary helped explain this as well. He comes across as being more intelligent and capable of leading and controlling than he does in the older one. No denying that he is loony in both of them-but in the new one he is loony and powerful and dangerous and completely out of touch, but in touch in a way as well (he is able to see into people. He is able to use that. This is explained in the commentary). There is a surrealistic approach in the way the killings are shown here as well - but here it is more like being an observer of these strange, bizarre acts, than an observer of one remembering and telling of these strange, bizarre acts. I found myself questioning, at times, the actor playing Manson's performance: Did Manson really talk like that? Talking in a breathy, eerie manner? Talk as if he is putting on a constant performance? This could be a shortcoming of the actor, or a shortcoming of Manson. I remember seeing, a long time ago, a documentary (and reading it as well) that Manson would practice facial expressions (it was as if there was nothing beneath the surface of expression, just an emptiness), and in the documentary you could see him, while he was on trial, walking down the hall, and his face going through the changes of different expressions without any reason for them to be there at all. So, it's possible that in those moments that the actor might seem bad - he isn't really bad at all. I haven't gotten all the way through the commentary, so I don't know whether or not that is mentioned.
I basically think that both TV movies compliment each other. The new one is like a prequel to the other. It sure wouldn't hurt to own both. There are some differences that may make you wonder what the real truth is. Since we all see through our own mind filters and perceptions, we might wonder how true the original book both of these are based on is.
Neither of the two is flawless. Both have their negatives and positives. If you can afford both, buy both. You want only one: Buy the 2004 version; at least you have an insightful commentary. I own both.