Married to filmmaker Roman Polanski, actress Sharon Tate is a rising star who’s about to have her first baby. Plagued by terrifying premonitions, Tate sees her worst nightmares come true when she encounters members of the Manson Family cult.
Initial release: April 5, 2019 (USA)
Director: Daniel Farrands
Music by: Fantom
Production company: Skyline Entertainment; ETA Films; Green Light Pictures; 1428 Films
Distributed by: Saban Capital Group, Voltage Pictures
This summer marks 50 years since cult leader Charles Manson and his followers murdered actress Sharon Tate and four others in her home on Aug. 8, 1969, in addition to Leno and Rosemary LaBianca the next day.
Hollywood is marking the anniversary of the Tate-LaBianca murders in three films: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, IFC Films’ Charlie Says and the first of the bunch, The Haunting of Sharon Tate, a horror flick that re-imagines the actress’ final days. It is now available on VOD and opened in select theaters over the weekend.
Writer-director Daniel Farrands says that the anniversary had little effect on the conception of the movie. The premise came to mind on the set of his previous movie, The Amityville Murders, which added a supernatural twist to the 1974 murders that inspired The Amityville Horror. He chose to adapt a new crime movie in a similar style.
“I wanted to do a story that would change the narrative so that the victims would be able to rise up and take their power back, if you will, from their would-be killers,” Farrands tells The Hollywood Reporter
In a way, it’s gratifying to know that there are still filmmakers out there pumping out exploitation trash like The Haunting Of Sharon Tate. It’s a type of film we don’t see as much anymore, at least not outside of the niche world of underground horror: cheap, opportunistic, sadistic, artless, and completely shameless. In that way, it’s of a piece with the “Mansonsploitation” movies of the 1970s, particularly the infamous Last House On Dead End Street (1977), another film whose bargain-basement production values lend its scenes of brutal violence a certain unsettling snuff-movie realism. But it’s also very of the moment, as The Haunting Of Sharon Tate represents a more contemporary subgenre of exploitation cinema: the “mockbuster.”
As anyone who cares enough about movies to read this review presumably already knows, Quentin Tarantino has a film coming out this summer called Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. The film features Sharon Tate and Charles Manson as characters, and its original release date of August 9, 2019, exactly 50 years after the murder of Tate and four other people by members of the Manson family, raised enough eyebrows that it’s since been changed to late July. No such considerations have been given for The Haunting Of Sharon Tate, which co-opts a fan theory about Tarantino’s film in a craven attempt to beat that possible twist to theaters by several months.
But don’t think that fudging the details means we’re spared from having to watch the murders. We still see Tate (Hillary Duff) and her good friends, hairstylist Jay Sebring (Jonathan Bennett), coffee heiress Abigail Folger (Lydia Hearst, whose casting is arguably the most clever thing about this film), and Polish expat Wojciech Frykowski (Pawel Szajda), die in extreme pain and distress alongside Tate’s groundskeeper, Steven Parent (Ryan Cargill). We see it twice, actually: First, in a prelude where Tate describes a “vision” she had of herself and Sebring being bled like pigs in her living room, and again in an extended, deeply upsetting sequence midway through the film. And if that’s not enough, we also get a long, unbroken shot winding through Tate’s home in the Hollywood hills, gliding past each mutilated body one by one, before stopping to linger on Duff’s fake pregnancy belly streaked with blood.