It’s nearly 50 years since the Age of Aquarius ended in the bloody quietus of Charles Manson’s Family’s murder spree and, “lucky” us, we’re getting at least 3 films that use Charlie and the murders as a backdrop. 

Upcoming, we have movie magpie Quentin Tarantino’s latest cinematic mixtape, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, which, judging by the teaser, looks like it owes a debt to Russ Meyer’s Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls with Margot Robbie essaying the role of the doomed Tate in a madcap, freak-out that throws Manson, Bruce Lee and Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio’s too-cool-for-school movie insiders into the same mix. 

Also on its way is Mary Harron’s Charlie Says where former Doctor Who Matt Smith might finally break Hollywood playing Charles Manson. Despite being about two-feet taller than the murder-happy hippy guru. First up though, we have schlockmeister Daniel Farrands’ The Haunting Of Sharon Tate where he brings the same depth and subtlety to Sharon Tate’s murder as he brought to the real-life murders of the ill-fated DeFeo family in the The Amityville Murders.

Using as a jumping off point an alleged premonition/dream Tate had of her and/or her former lover-turned-BFF, celebrity hairdresser Jay Sebring’s, violent deaths a couple of years before they were murdered, Farrands’ The Haunting Of Sharon Tate sees heavily pregnant starlet and wife to Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate (played by Hilary Duff! Yes, that Hilary Fucking Duff!) arriving home to her house in the hills above Hollywood to await the arrival of her baby and the return of her husband. 

Tate is jumpy, anxious, something feels wrong. She suspects her friends, Abigail Folger (Lydia Hearst) and Wojciech Frykowski (Pawel Szajda) who are staying with her to keep her company, are taking advantage of her, that they’ve partied with the wrong kind of people while housesitting during her time in Europe; dodgy druggies and hippies. She’s particularly worried about one persistent sinister figure who keeps turning up in the middle of the night, some weirdo called “Charlie” who keeps leaving tapes of his music on her doorstep under the mistaken impression that the previous tenant, a record producer, still lives in her home.

Over the course of a few fateful days in August, as she discusses theories of fate, chance, predestination and quantum physics with Sebring (Jonathan Bennett), Tate is plagued by bad dreams and apparitions; tape players start by themselves, filling the house with Charlie’s ominous music, phones ring and disembodied voices threaten her, half-glimpsed figures invade her dreams and her home, she has flashes of her violent murder. 

As the events of August 9, 1969, unfold and Charlie’s minions invade her home, can Sharon take control and change her fate and the fate of her friends…

Schlocky, nasty and probably still better than whatever adolescent splaff Tarantino’s going to shum out, The Haunting of Sharon Tate does leave something of a dodgy aftertaste, bringing as it does a slasher movie aesthetic to actual events. 

But…

It works. 

Farrands knows his game so, as cliched as they may be, he still wrings effective shocks from such cliched moments as tapes featuring subliminal backward masking starting by themselves in the dead of night, overflowing bathtubs spilling over with blood and walking into a room/corridor where a single shadowy silhouette lurks. In one particularly upsetting dream sequence, Sharon’s premonition plays out the murders in full, graphic detail, justifying Farrands’ later metaphysical reimagining which sees Tate and co escape their fates and turn the tables on Manson acolyte Tex Watson (Tyler Watson) and his band of killers. 

Don’t get me wrong, The Haunting Of Sharon Tate is a nasty, lazy, little slice of exploitation…but…at least for a change, the focus is on the victims of the Tate killings rather than the drug-addled cult zombies who committed the crimes or the demonic doofus guru who wasn’t even there that night.

Across the board, the performances are universally good, much better than the film arguably deserves with Bennett’s Sebring and Ryan Cargill’s Steven Parent particularly good while former child star Duff makes you wish you were watching a better film. Let’s be honest, the real-life Tate couldn’t really act the goat, was best known for playing, well, a naïve, drug-addled actress in The Valley Of The Dolls and for being murdered by a bunch of hippy cultists. A talented child and teen actress who’s never really made that jump to adult success, Duff is a far better actress than the doomed actress she’s playing. Ultimately, that’s the true horror of The Haunting Of Sharon Tate.   

Rental Review: The Haunting Of Sharon Tate
2.5Overall Score
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