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the haunting of sharon tate review
In the days leading to her murder, actress Sharon Tate begins having nightmarish premonitions.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Daniel Farrands

Starring: Hilary Duff, Jonathan Bennett, Lydia Hearst, Pawel Szajda, Ryan Cargill

The Haunting of Sharon Tate poster

2019 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the infamous Manson murders, so it's no surprise that we received a bunch of films related to the killings. Among them were American Psycho director Mary Harron's Charlie Says, with Matt Smith as Charles Manson, and Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, with Margot Robbie portraying Manson's most famous victim, actress Sharon Tate, then wife of filmmaker Roman Polanski. We also got writer/director Daniel Farrands' The Haunting of Sharon Tate.

The Haunting of Sharon Tate review

Former child star Hilary Duff takes on the role of Tate for this decidedly distasteful take on the final days of the actress's sadly short life. With her husband working in London, the eight months pregnant Tate returns to the couple's home in the Hollywood hills with several hangers on for company. In a horribly written scene in which every character conveniently spells out just exactly who they are, we meet Tate's one-time lover turned stylist Jay Sebring (Jonathan Bennett), Polanski's buddy Wojciech Frykowski (Pawel Szajda) and his lover, coffee heiress Abigail Folger (Lydia Hearst, herself a member of a famous American dynasty).

Tate begins having nightmarish visions of the killings of herself and her friends, who brush off her hysteria. The actress's paranoia is heightened by the strangers who persistently call at the house looking for its previous owner, record producer Terry Melcher. A shaggy haired, bearded hippy keeps leaving demo tapes at the house in envelopes labelled 'Charlie'. When Tate plays one of the recordings with the aid of nerdy young caretaker Steven Parent (Ryan Cargill), she is further disturbed by a subliminal message, which when played backwards is revealed as the sound of Manson repeating the phrase 'Helter Skelter'.

The Haunting of Sharon Tate review

Fans of the Halloween franchise will recognise Farrands as the writer of the troubled 1995 instalment Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. I remember at the time reading various interviews with Farrands, who clearly came across as a fan of the series, which made the butchered version of his script that ultimately hit screens all the more disappointing. From his direction of The Haunting of Sharon Tate, it's clear Farrands is desperate to make his own Halloween movie. The Manson 'family' members are framed exactly like Michael Myers as they stalk and stakeout Tate's home, and the climactic home invasion boasts a couple of shots that are straight out of John Carpenter's film. Farrands even opens his film with the same Edgar Allen Poe quote that opens Carpenter's The Fog.

Farrands doesn't do a bad job of directing here. There's a degree of tension, though it's difficult to ascertain whether that's down to Farrands' work or simply due to our familiarity with how this all eventually pans out. His script however, is atrocious. Nobody has a single realistic conversation, with every dialogue exchange existing merely to fill in plot details. Duff is miscast; not only does she look nothing like Tate, but her portrayal of a woman fearing for her life and that of her unborn child is more befitting that of a stressed homeowner struggling to deal with a troublesome plumbing scenario.

The Haunting of Sharon Tate review

The idea of turning a real life tragedy into a thriller with supernatural elements is as bad taste as it gets, but in Farrands' defence, his heart does seem to be in the right place. I won't spoil anything, but Farrands pulls a similar trick here to the one Tarantino pulled with his own take on this dark chapter of Hollywood history. Farrands plainly has a lot of sympathy for Tate, and his film is an odd case of a filmmaker attempting to rescue a real-life victim and rewrite the past. Noble, perhaps, but the general shoddy execution of his film does this concept no favours.

The Haunting of Sharon Tate is on Prime Video UK now.