(WARNER HOME VIDEO)
What, you may ask, is a review of a made-for-television miniseries doing on DVDCLASSICSCORNER.NET, a site created for the sole purpose of reviewing Golden Age cinema classics ---- and nothing else? The answer is that HELTER SKELTER was the very first project cast by a film and tv casting company I had formed with a partner, Bert Remsen. The company was called RemDin, and the huge success and acclaim afforded virtually all aspects of this then timely and highly controversial show instantly established our enterprise, and ultimately enabled me to strike out on my own two years later and establish a casting company, The Dinman Company, that was to cast countless other projects. And HELTER SKELTER started it all.
I'd be misleading you if I said it was a fun project to cast. Quite the contrary. Our fledgling casting enterprise was under an unusual amount of pressure and scrutiny, as the horrific details of the Charles Manson murders were, even after six years, fresh in everybody's minds, as were the photographic images of virtually all the participants involved. And we had to cast them. All one hundred and ten of them.
But the individual feeling the most pressure, from every conceivable source, was our director, Tommy Gries, a very good director and an extremely nice man. The network wanted names for the top roles, even to the point of suggesting, with a straight face, that we cast the Manson clan roles with the youthful actors from two then-current sitcom hits EIGHT IS ENOUGH and THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY. Poor Gries was being bullied at every turn by our Executive Producer, an uncouth and supernaturally untalented ogre of a man. Vincent Bugliosi, the lead prosecutor on the case and author of the book on which our mini-series was based, had the disquieting habit of dropping in unannounced, a fact that couldn't have made life any easier for Gries. And , of course, there were death threats, and with them omnipresent and at times intrusive security measures. As I look back at this ritual by fire, I become increasingly convinced that this experience contributed mightily to Gries' fatal heart attack a scant few years later.
Part of my job was sitting through days, weeks, and months of HELTER SKELTER dailies, as well as a five and one half hour rough cut, followed by a theater screening and then the two night broadcast. The point is, I know this film as well as anyone, and to those who are displeased with the somewhat grainy and grimy color scheme of the dvd I say, to quote a recent (and highly contested) remark from The Pope: "It is as it was". Lorimar, the fast-buck company that produced and financed this project, had the habit of utilizing the cheapest of color stocks, and Warners has done the best they could with the full screen source material available.
Obviously, I can't tell you that HELTER SKELTER is an experience you'll enjoy. You're not meant to. But it does remain, to this day, an accurate and at times penetrating reflection of those times, and Warner's dvd is the best possible transfer you will ever see.
Oh, I almost forgot. I hope you like the casting.