The most infamous multiple murders of the 1960s are brought back to life in this, the second made-for-television adaptation of Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry's best-selling account of Charles Manson and his "family." Linda Kasabian (Clea DuVall) is a young runaway with a baby who, while wandering the fringes of Los Angeles' hippie subculture, encounters Charles Manson (Jeremy Davies), a charismatic ex-convict and aspiring musician who travels with a group of young people, mostly women, whom he calls his "family." Kasabian soon falls into Manson's orbit and moves in with the group at a combination riding range and standing Western-movie set, where she and the other members of the family -- among them Patricia Krenwinkel (Allison Smith), Susan Atkins (Marguerite Moreau), Squeaky Fromme (Mary Lynn Rajskub), "Tex" Watson (Eric Dane), and Bobby Beausoleil (Michael Weston) -- subsist through petty crime, handouts, and rescuing food from trash bins and bond with their leader through drugs, group sex, and constant study of his apocalyptic philosophy. Like the other members of the group, Kasabian's life soon revolves around Manson, who is desperate to record his music and frustrated with the slow progress he's seeing from his patron Dennis Wilson, drummer with the Beach Boys. Certain that an international race war foretold in his songs will soon wipe out civilization, and that he and his family will ultimately persevere, Manson decides it's time to kick start events by staging a pair of spectacularly repellent murders, which are carried out by members of his family who have been taught not to question Manson's word. In time, Manson and his family are arrested in connection with the murders, and District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi (Bruno Kirby) is given the difficult task of untangling the mingled strands of the bizarre killings and making a case in court against the family. Helter Skelter was first aired on Sunday, May 16, 2004, by CBS; the film was subjected to last-minute cuts to tone down the violent content in the film's gruesome murder sequences.
by Mark Deming synopsis