There’s been quite a few movies made about Charles Manson and his ragtag assortment of drugged up hippie psycho murderers over the years, spanning from tabloid made for TV exploitation shlock like 1976’s Helter Skelter to pioneering found-footage flicks like 1984’s “Manson Family Movies” to super gory, no budget puke-fests like 1997’s The Manson Family. Hell, even Quentin Tarantino appears to be getting in on the act with his upcoming film Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.
But The Haunting of Sharon Tate is a drastically different film from most Manson-centric movies, considering its focus isn’t on the victimizers, but the five victims slain in August of ‘69 in the Hollywood hills. In fact, the Manson Family is only on the periphery of this movie, more or less representing the wolves at the door and hardly anything more. And as you will soon see, that’s both a positive and a negative for the movie as a whole.
There’s no way around it, though — seeing Hilary Duff portray the protagonist of a glorified slasher movie is just plain weird. That’s right, we’ve got Lizzie McGuire herself playing Sharon Tate, and no matter how gruesome or bloody the movie got, I kept expecting Miranda and Gordo to show up at any moment — or, at least, to see a crudely animated caricature of Duff pop up for some random (and preferably sassy) musings. Still, she does a pretty good job portraying Roman Polanski’s 8-months pregnant wife, and the rest of the cast likewise turn in better-than-the-norm-for-the-genre performances.
The film begins with Tate giving an interview to some TV anchor about this vision of her own death, and then we get the setup of how she ended up living at the infamous 10050 Cielo Drive residence. We meet the rest of the gang — coffee heiress Abigail Folger, hairdresser to the stars Jay Sebring, Romanski confidant Wojciech Frykowski and roustabout tech wizard Steven Parent — shortly thereafter, and they find this weird fortune telling board game where you roll a ball around a giant eyeball and it tells you how soon you’re going to die. Then the fivesome start getting these weird door knockings at 3 in the morning and they start getting stalked by strange women while they’re going on nature walks and somebody keeps leaving copies of “Cease to Exist” on vinyl on the front patio.
And that’s around the part where Tate starts having these extremely grisly nightmares about everybody in the house getting gagged and bound and stabbed to death by a dude in a denim jacket and having hallucinations about her housemates leaving maggot-infested roadkill in the fridge, right next to the good cheese. Then Steven figures out there’s Satanic backmasking messages on that weird album people keep sending to the address and … well, I really can’t tell you much of what happens after that, but like I was saying earlier, if you know all of the sordid details of what really happened during the infamous murders 50 years ago, you’re going to be thrown for an enormous curveball watching the rest of this flick play out. All I’m going to say is if they let director Daniel Farrands direct Titanic he probably would’ve ended it with the boat sinking the iceberg.
Let’s hit the highlights of the movie real quick, why don’t we? We’ve got five dead bodies … possibly eight … maybe as few as three, it kinda depends on your perspective. No nudity, male or female. One dead dog, with maggot infestation. Gratuitous poolside chain-smoking. Gratuitous slow-motion stalking. Gratuitous Charles Manson music. Throat-slitting. Gratuitous bloody bathtubs. Ceramic toilet lid to the skull. Attempted drowning. One bullet to the face at point blank range. About 1,768 stab wounds. Shovel fu. Subliminal message fu. And the thing that more or less makes this movie possible in the first place … uh, alternate reality fu, maybe?
Starring Hilary Duff as Sharon Tate, who keeps having bad dreams about getting butchered by a sex cult while her husband’s off filming Day of the Dolphin; Jonathan Bennett as Jay Sebring, the beefcake who spends half the movie flexing his pecs near the pool; Paweł Szajda as Wojciech Frykowski, the guy who runs outside at 2 a.m. in his underwear yelling swear words in Polish; and Lydia Hearst as Abigail Folger, who does her best to convince her bestie that they aren’t all going to get massacred by a maniac cult, no matter how many times that darned Ouija Board tells them they are.
Writer/director Daniel Farrands — the same guy who directed the Crystal Lake Memories and Never Sleep Again docs — definitely has a knack for making the CGI blood splatter with panache.
It’s not the best “true crime” splatter movie you’ll see this year, but The Haunting of Sharon Tate certainly has its moments. And if nothing else, you have to at least give it some credit for trying something different with the source material … although your mileage will definitely vary on whether the “artistic license” herein makes the film or completely sinks it.
Wicked Horror Rating: 6 / 10
Director(s): Daniel Farrands
Writer(s): Daniel Farrands
Starring: Hilary Duff, Jonathan Bennett, Pawel Szajda, Lydia Hearst, Ryan Cargill
Release Date: April 5
Studio/Production Co.: Skyline Entertainment, ETA Films, Green Light Pictures, 1428 Films / Saban Films, Voltage Pictures
Length: 90 minutes (approximately)
Sub-genre: Home invasion, biopic, slasher, psychological drama