Though he's been locked up in prison for nearly 40 years, and hasn't been a part of the cultural landscape for at least that long, there is still an odd fascination with Charles Manson that is difficult to dissect. Some see him as the ultimate outsider, a man made and manipulated by the system that eventually caught and condemned him. Others seem drawn to his insane independence, a kind of cockeyed inspiration for playing by your own rules. There are those who will always be fascinated by his radical rebellious nature, and a few strangely sucked in by the charisma of his craziness. Still, it doesn't explain why musicians cover his crappy songs, or why filmmakers find his story so fascinating. LA punk scene fixture John Roecker is stuck somewhere in the middle. His first feature film, the oddball animated anarchy entitled Live Freaky! Die Freaky! is an obvious paean to our man Manson. But with its comedic carnality and factual fallacies, one has to argue if this is a movie about Charlie and his slaughter factory, or a chaotic comment on the allure of same.
He determines that Hate must be killed, and so he gets Hatkins and a few other members of his blitzed out brood to drive into the Hollywood Hills and hack her to death. The murder inspires a local grocer to dump plans for building a series of shopping centers near the Hanson hovel. Instead, he will transform the arid area into a memorial parking lot for the late actress. This sends Hanson over the deep end once again, and suddenly our supermarket man is being filleted like a flounder. Tried and convicted for their crimes, Hanson and the family defend their choices, arguing that all they wanted to do was teach the Establishment how to Live Freaky! Die Freaky!
You realize right away that Roecker is having us off. While she confesses her sins to a pair of porcine accusers, Hadie Mae Sutz, a.k.a. Suzanne Hatkins mixes her metaphors and memoirs, creating a Charlie Hanson that is more an LSD trip inspired sexual tryst rather than a ranting, raving father figure. After some hilarious puppet porn (lots of plasticine penetration here for all you doll diddlers) and a cheesy character song (don't forget - this Manson mania is a musical!) the basics of the story are set up. Charlie is obsessed with sex, and in love with the power he has over his people. When he learns of the possible take-over of his desert home, he hits play on his portable record player, channels the White Album and devises his death plan. The murders are carried out like a standard slasher movie spoof, none of the real elements (like the hangings and shootings) provided as part of the plot. Indeed, Roecker keeps it simple so as to work through the other, more important issues he has with the story. In fact, you can tell where his passions lie by what sections take up the most screen time.
Without a doubt, the most amazing moments in Live Freaky! Die Freaky! come when Hate and her coked-up sex party are slaughtered by Hanson's killer brood. Before the slayers enter however, we get an extended sequence where our spoiled rotten actress (expertly voiced by that Heffalump Hellion Kelly Osbourne) goes on a risqué rant about her sad and sorry love life. She dismisses her "famous director husband" as far too interested in underage girls. She chides her homosexual hairdresser pal Hay for not being able to service her feminine needs, and whines as her European trash tart friend (with the husky tones of one Asia Argento) argues about the value of available men. It's a startling, scandalous and silly scene, uproarious in the heights of foulness it will felch in order to get a laugh. A similar gaggle of gross out gags occurs when we meet the stand-ins for the LaBiancas. Again, Roecker uses toilet humor and sex jokes to de-mystify the murders. And since we are seeing puppets perform these brutal acts of insanity, the sinister undercurrent is removed, replaced by a wonderfully wicked sense of absurdity that helps drive the narrative.
Sadly, not all of Live Freaky! Die Freaky! runs on this ribald path. There are times when Roecker lets the lead get away from him, turning Hanson/Manson away from the farcical facets of the story and back toward the warped hero worship that people preach against. As personified by Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, and animated as a green-faced ghoul with flaming red eyes, Hanson is hokum, but he also treads on the sacrilegious ground set out by numerous other entertainments. Most of his ranting is ridiculous, and there are a couple of moments of obvious observational satire (Hanson tells his family that the White Album tells him to kill, when everyone can plainly hear a faux British voice saying something VERY different), and there are several times when characters break the fourth wall to question Hanson's ideas. Yet one can't help but feel this is as much a celebration of mad man Charlie as it is a denouncement of his heinous actions as a dictatorial leader.
Other elements are equally unexciting. The songs never sizzle, failing to trade on the plentiful punk rock talent in the cast. Instead, many of the tunes traipse along like bad community dinner theater, staid chorus/verse vagueness that never really ties into the storyline (Sharon Hate sings about killing trees, not hugging them, in a purely pointless number). In addition, the movie feels disjointed. Act 1 centers on Hadie and the sex set-up. Act 3 is all about the murders. Act 2 sort of drags, never really finding its footing, even when Hate confronts the Hanson girls dumpster diving behind a local grocery store.
But perhaps the biggest concern is the lack of a clear-cut message to all this madness. Manson is a wonderfully evocative event in modern crime, something that can be debated and defined from many differing angles. Had Roecker stuck to one idea - Hanson is innocent since those he killed deserved death, for example - Live Freaky! Die Freaky! would be a much better movie. But he wants to court controversy and apparently avoid it as well. That is why the gloss of goofiness is so prevalent. Also, had he let the punkers play more with the musical aspect of this novelty, giving us pure power chord bliss instead of the tinkling keyboard crud we hear throughout, we'd easily embrace this movie more. As a gory, ludicrous lark, Live Freaky! Die Freaky! is half a hilarious hoot. But as anything other than clay acting criminally (or carnally) it fails to fulfill its puppet promise.
What's missing, of course, is how the animation was realized. There is none of the typical stop-motion backstage stories, with bleary-eyed animators discussing how a single scene took three weeks to shoot. Perhaps the best bonus then is the joking and jovial commentary featuring Roecker, Wiedlen and Armstrong. While it is far too friendly at times and strays off onto tangents in order to discuss non-film oriented issues, the threesome do add some necessary content to the conversation. Ideas are sort of explained and symbolism suggested as the gang goes gaga for almost everything here. It may not be the step-by-step deconstruction of the movie that many want, but it does add a lot of insight into what Roecker believed he was doing.