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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The book binge continues with HELTER SKELTER

I commented to Mom earlier tonight (okay, so it's 3:30 a.m. on December 5th, and I've been awake since yesterday morning, so it was really Monday night) that in the three-some months during which I was running the school board campaign, I lost track of everything that I usually keep up with. Among those are movies that have came out that I've wanted to see but haven't had time to yet (The Prestige, The Fountain and Casino Royale are tops on the list).

And I'm a voracious reader too, and there hasn't been time to do that much either. The rumor is that the seventh and final Harry Potter novel is due to come out on July 7th (#7 on 7/07/07, wouldn't that be cool?) and I'm hoping to re-read all six of the current books before then. In the meantime I'm catching up with stuff that's come out lately, like the new Star Wars novel Darth Bane: Path of Destruction and Michael Crichton's latest thriller Next. I'll probably be picking up Orson Scott Card's Empire - a speculative novel about a modern day civil war in America - pretty soon.

But in the meantime, ever since finishing Next a few nights ago, I've immersed myself in another book. One that I've read many, many times over the years...

"The story you are about to read will scare the hell out of you"

Those are the very first words that you find when you open the cover of Helter Skelter. If anything, it's an underwhelming warning that isn't adequate enough at all. Because after more than three decades, Helter Skelter is still the most classic true-life crime book ever written. And no matter how many times I've read it, the book continues to horrify.

This is the same copy I bought in May of 1992, a few weeks before graduating from high school. My best friend Chad had been reading it and he said I would probably ummm... well, "enjoy" isn't the right word to use, is it? One of the local stations happened to run the Helter Skelter TV movie like a week before I got the book, and that piqued my curiosity all the more. Once I started reading it I could barely stop.

This is still the definitive book about the Charles Manson murders. Written by Vincent Bugliosi: the man who prosecuted Manson and the other defendants in the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murder case. This is the textbook that should be studied at length by every judge, lawyer, and member of the law enforcement in the country, and anyone else interested in the law. Helter Skelter is not only an amazing study in how to build up and prosecute a criminal case, but it's also a dire chronicle of official blundering and the negative impact of departmental rivalry. I still cannot comprehend how the investigators originally did not believe the murders at the Tate house and the ones the following night at the LaBianca residence were connected in spite of the similarities... like ummmm, the words written in blood at both scenes.

By the way, 2006 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Helter Skelter two-part made-for-TV movie. It came out not long ago on DVD if you ever want to watch it. Apart from the names of some of the characters being changed (the most obvious being Manson's defense attorney Irving Kanarek, who came Mr. "Scoble" in this production) it's probably the most accurate film adaptation from a book I've ever seen. One thing I happened to catch is that during the raid on Spahn Ranch in the movie, Juan Flynn is dressed exactly as he is shown in the photo in the book, even though Flynn has no speaking role in the film. It's the small details like that which make this movie so good. And it must be said: the portrayal by Steve Railsback of Charles Manson is still one of the most chilling ever seen of any character in movie history. Too bad that his performance was so awesome that Railsback wound up getting typecast because of it and since then has mostly found work playing other murderous wackos (he even played Ed Gein in a movie about that case).

Anyways, I'm re-reading Helter Skelter now, and at the rate I'm going I might have 9 or 10 more books read by New Year's. Which is all the more impressive considering we've got that new 37-inch high-def TV set (maybe I'll play the Helter Skelter DVD on it for Lisa to watch :-P).


Chad said...

I've been thinking of re-reading Helter Skelter myself. One thing that I still think about from the book are the "creepy crawls" Manson's gang went on and Manson's interpretations of the book of the Revelation through Beatles' song lyrics. Also, if you could hold out a bit longer, I'd be game for checking out Casino Royale with you.

Eric H. Smith said...

I have a connection to this story. Ask me sometime and ill tell you.