The Haunting of Sharon Tate (2019) *

March 20th, 2019
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir/Wri: Daniel Farrands | Cast: Hilary Duff, Jonathan Bennett, Lydia Hearst, Pawel Szajda | Horror | 87′

Which ever way you look at it, The Haunting of Sharon Tate is a dreadful film, and a bad idea. Not only does this schlocky drama insult the memory of Tate and her former husband Roman Polanski, it also re-imagines her tragedy as a surreal flight of fancy, changing the course of its terrible reality.

Sharon Tate is made out to be a loopy, histrionic lightweight prone to fantasising about her own murder on a regular basis, and obsessed by thoughts of her husband’s putative infidelity. Infact, she was a promising actor who had made a name for herself in The Man from U.N.C.L.E (1965), Valley of the Dolls (1967) and Twelve Plus One (1969) alongside Orson Welles (1969). Polanski was in London at the time finishing off a script so he could join his wife for the birth of their first child together. She was 26. It was one of the most gruesome Hollywood events, and another shocking time for Polanski who had lost his parents during the Holocaust. He has now been married for 30 years to French actor Emmanuelle Seigner.

As Quentin Tarantino found out a few years ago with his Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, making a feature film about Tate’s demise was always going to be a tricky endeavour. And we all remember the disaster that was Oliver Hirschbergels’ Lady Diana, despite Naomi Watts’ sterling effort. Well this is actually worse because it demeans Tate, and those who also died on that fateful August in 1969 in Benedict Canyon. Hardly surprising then that her sister has distanced herself from the whole project. At least a documentary form could have re-examined the facts and made some intelligent contribution to the events, told evocatively in Vincent Bugliosi’s book Helter Skelter.

Here Daniel Farrands uses a fractured narrative to question Tate’s presence of mind by exploring the idea that she (played here by Hillary Duff) was experiencing premonitions about her own slaughter in a series of horrific re-occuring nightmares. And that her final hours did not result in death at the hands of the Mansons, but in some kind of aggravated break-in which sees her walking away into the countryside. Meanwhile the Mansons are pictured as baleful zombie-like killers, peering through windows before they eventually made their move. You couldn’t make it up – but Farrands did, with a feature that’s clearly intended for a teen audience who may not appreciate the gravity of the source material.

Apparently, Farrands gets his title from a throwaway quote Tate gave in an interview where she reportedly said: “Yes, I have had a psychic experience – at least I guess that’s what it was – and it was a terribly frightening and disturbing thing for me”. She went on to say that the dream featured Jay Sebring or herself “cut open at the throat”.

Well, we all have bad dreams about losing our own body parts, or people we love – sometimes in tragic ways. But you’ve got to be pretty crass to make a second rate horror flick about such things actually happening in the light of a real and dreadful calamity. The film is not cinematic or remotely compelling. Most of the action takes place in semi-darkness, the flashback scenes repetitive to the point of boredom – the whole thing is uninspiring. Duff, Jonathan Bennett and Lydia Hearst do their best with a threadbare script, in a film that deserves to be haunted by the ghost of Charles Manson himself. MT


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