It’s unclear whether The Haunting of Sharon Tate exists as an outgrowth of the ongoing pop culture fascination with Charles Manson and the Manson murders of ’69, or as a quickie, Asylum-esque cash grab meant to beat Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood to the punch. The answer is probably a bit of both. Either way, it’s an absolute abomination — a piss-poor genre riff of epically bad taste, a future Mystery Science Theater episode, a bottom-of-the-barrel streaming option destined to be stumbled upon by drunk and/or stoned idiots who won’t know any better than to press ‘play’. That director Daniel Farrands and cinematographer Carlo Rinaldi even know how to turn a camera on is itself a kind of miracle. And only god knows what Hillary Duff is doing in this. To be clear, being disreputable or in poor taste is not, in and of itself, a dealbreaker for a horror film. The genre is built on excavating the darkest recesses of the human experience, and one person’s ‘oh shit did you see that’ masterpiece can be another’s ‘oh shit did you see that’ piece of crap. Thankfully, there’s zero chance of friendship-ruining debate over The Haunting of Sharon Tate. The film is a bore of epic proportions: 90 minutes of interminable chatter interspersed with 10 minutes of poorly shot, mostly CGI gore. The film begins in 1968, with a black-and-white prelude that sees Hillary Duff (as Tate) giving an interview where she claims to be having dreams that seem, somehow, more like memories. (Mysterious!) We then fast-forward a year to that fateful day and get a taste of the slaughter, as the camera slowly tracks around the crime scene, ogling the corpses of Tate & co. We then flash back to three days earlier, as Tate and her friends gather at her infamous home on Cielo Drive, while she has increasingly graphic dreams about her own impending slaughter. This is all pretty icky to begin with. Portraying Manson as a mythical boogeyman who haunts dreams like Fred Kreuger plays into the real man’s inflated sense of self-importance. And the film can’t even be bothered to explore his socio-political agenda (i.e. his flagrant racism and sexism), or the enabling indulgences of those who merely laughed off his frequently-expressed desire for a “race war.”
Thankfully, there’s zero chance of friendship-ruining debate over The Haunting of Sharon Tate. The film is a bore of epic proportions: 90 minutes of interminable chatter interspersed with 10 minutes of poorly shot, mostly CGI gore.
But this reading already gives far too much credence to Farrands’ piece-of-shit movie, which spends most of its time awkwardly working names, dates, and places into reams of dialogue, all delivered in a sleepy monotone, through various hideously mangled accents. Tate constantly calls Jay Sebring by his full name, oh-so-casually referencing his job as hairdresser to the stars. (“Oh Jay Sebring, now I see why you are the hairdresser to the stars,” is a typical line of dialogue that’s somehow not from Walk Hard.) Wojciech Frykoswski tells a story to Tate that ends with him telling her “and that’s how I met your husband, Roman Polanski.” In a living, breathing embodiment of the ‘How do you do fellow kids?’ meme, Abigail Folger rattles off references to The Mamas and the Papas, producer Terry Melcher, and “the drug scene.” Clearly, the film’s writers read the Wikipedia entry on Manson and didn’t want their research to go to waste. Love it or hate it, Tarantino’s film offers a lot to chew on, like the shifting landscape of Hollywood, the last gasps of a dying way of life and an outmoded studio system, codes of masculinity, the ethics of violent imagery against women, and the power of moving pictures to give a fantasy happy ending to a very real and turbulent decade. The Haunting of Sharon Tate, on the other hand, offers up only one simple question: Should I watch this? The answer to that, at least, is a simple, emphatic ‘no.’
You can currently stream Daniel Farrands’s The Haunting of Sharon Tate on Amazon, but you really shouldn’t.