Leslie, My Name is Evil *** ½
Directed by: Reginald Harkema.
Written By: Reginald Harkema.
Starring: Kristen Hager (Leslie), Gregory Smith (Perry), Ryan Robbins (Charlie), Kaniehtiio Horn (Katie), Don McKellar (Prosecuter), Peter Keleghan (Walter), Kristin Adams (Dorothy), Peter MacNeill (Judge), Tom Barnett (Defense Attorney), Travis Milne (Bobby), Anjelica Scannura (Sadie), Tracy Wright (Leslie's Mom).
The Manson Family murders shocked America in the summer of 1969, and have since entered history as one of the worst cases of mass murder in history. The fact that the killers were a bunch of drugged out hippies signaled the end of flower power, and the case has gone down as the dark side of the 1960s. In the years since, the fascination with Manson has never dwindled, and he is still looked at as one of the most evil people in history. Most of his followers who were convicted alongside him remain in jail after almost 40 years. Reginald Harkema’s Leslie, My Name is Evil focuses on one of those followers - Leslie Van Houten - who was convicted of murder in the same trial that convicted Manson. While she wasn’t along on the night of the Tate murders, she was on the following night, when the family killed the LiBianca’s.
Yet Leslie, My Name is Evil is far from a straight biopic. In fact, it’s not really a biopic at all, and ignores as many facts of the case as it sticks to. The film is a melodrama, a satire, a dark comedy and a film about moral relativism. It contrasts Leslie’s fall into sin with what happens to Perry - a member of Nixon’s “silent majority” who became a jury member at the Manson trial who falls in love with Van Houten. It also compares the Manson family murders with the My Lai massacre which happened at just about the same time. The film is a like a time capsule of the period. It plays like a Jean Luc Godard 1960s film that has been commissioned by Roger Corman.
When the movie opens, Leslie (Kristen Hager) is an innocent teenage girl, a homecoming princess and a cheerleader who is devastated by her parents divorce. When she gets pregnant, her mother “takes care of it”, which drives Leslie further away. She is looking for a “higher sense of purpose” - which she finds when she meets Katie (Kaniehitto Horn) who introduces her to Charlie (Ryan Robbins). Charlie sees through Leslie’s problems right away, knows she has father issues, and exploits it. When Katie comes home on the night of the Tate murders, and describes what happens, she wants to be involved as well. That night, she heads out to the LiBianca’s, and although she at first hesitates, she is soon stabbing with orgasmic glee.
While all this is happening, Perry (Gregory Smith) is in University studying chemistry and trying to remain a good Christian. She meets Dorothy (Kristin Adams), a gorgeous blonde who loves him but every time she tries to have sex with her she tells him “I love you, but I love Jesus more”. His father (Peter Keleghan), talks about the “gooks” and how it is Perry’s patriotic duty to go to Vietnam if his drafted.
The two stories merge when Leslie is put on trial alongside Charlie, Katie and Sadie (Anjelica Sannura), and Perry is put on the jury. Perry is immediately drawn to Leslie, wondering how this gorgeous girl fell so low.
No attempt at realism is made at all in the movie. Instead, writer/director Reginald Harkema films the movie as a melodrama, a satire, an acid trip and many other genres. The courtroom scenes in particular make it clear that there is no realism here. Where the gallery full of onlookers is supposed to, there is a giant American flag. The prosecutor (Don McKellar) seems completely clueless as to the time period, and the judge is offended by the foul language used by the witnesses.
Watching the film, I couldn’t help but think of the films of Jean Luc Godard - at least the ones he made in the 1960s before he entered his “Maoist” period. His films there were political statements about the time period, which pointed out the hypocrisy of the time period. Harkema does the same thing here, by pointing out the similarities between the Manson murders, committed by a bunch of long, haired hippie freaks, and the My Lai massacre, perpetuated by the clean shaved military boys. Harkema points out the absurdity of both sides with his matter of fact dialogue - brilliantly delivered by the cast with a straight face no matter how absurd it really sounded like. If the cast had winked at the camera, then the whole movie would become a meaningless comedy - but they get it. Yet, Leslie, My Name is Evil is not just a satire about the 1960s - it is relevant today in times of war again. Leslie, My Name is Evil is a wonderful satire - a daring innovative film that looks both backwards and forwards.