Film critics offer two contrasting opinions about the films overall message. While one reviewer believes that the film provides an accurate depiction of Manson, the events surrounding the Tate-LaBianca slayings, and the trial, another feels that the film offers only the Establishments point of view by exaggerating Mansons insanity and portraying prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi as a hero. One reviewer praises actor Steve Railsbacks performance as Manson, claiming he does a stellar job of portraying Mansons hypnotic and insane character. The other writes that Railsback overacts, bolstering the Establishments message that Manson used mind control to spur his followers to murder.
- Koller, Brian. Rev. of Helter Skelter. Filmsgraded.com. http://www0.epinions.com/mvie-review-132D-285929C-3A2188FC-prod1
- Koller provides a negative review of the film, suggesting that it is told from the Establishment's point of view. He claims that the film erroneously implies that the Beatles were in some way responsible for the murders, while, in reality, Manson was insane and misinterpreted the music. Koller believes that Railsback's performance of Manson as "an unkempt, wild-eyed, half-lunatic monster" is inaccurate, while Bugliosi is portrayed as "an abrasive, contemptible jerk." He states that the film failed to investigate what is most important: the impact of the Vietnam War on Manson and his followers' mentalities.
- Marill, Alvin H. "Films on TV." Films in Review 27 (June-July 1976): 373-74.
- Marill offers a positive review of the film. He claims that while the film sensationalized the trial a bit more than Bugliosi's book upon which it is based, overall, it presents an accurate portrayal of Manson, the murders, and the trial. He praises the juxtaposition of the disheveled and unkempt appearance of Manson with the cleancut and buttoned-down look of Bugliosi. According to Marill, Railsback contributes a "riveting performance, particularly on the witness stand when he delivers an ice-cold recitation of the Manson philosophy" (374). He also finds particularly striking how Railsback stares unblinkingly at the camera at several points throughout the film.