Studio: Saban Films
Director: Daniel Farrands
Writer: Daniel Farrands
Producer: Lucas Jarach, Daniel Farrands, Eric Brenner
Stars: Hilary Duff, Jonathan Bennett, Lydia Hearst, Pawel Szajda, Ryan Cargill
Ominous nightmares foretell the murders of Sharon Tate and her friends at the hands of the Manson Family.
Pencils down everyone! “The Haunting of Sharon Tate” has aced the exam for who can create the most tasteless tie-in to one of pop culture’s most notorious murders.
Poster art for this horribly ill-conceived Hilary Duff starrer wants viewers to know it is “based on the story of Sharon Tate’s dreams,” as though that claim provides a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card for revising a tragic true crime into an imaginary home invasion slasher. Not that we should let facts get in the way of shameless sensationalism, the movie certainly doesn’t, but the springboard of Tate’s supposed premonitions isn’t anchored anywhere close to truth.
Writer/director Daniel Farrands credits his idea’s inspiration to an interview Sharon Tate maybe gave to celebrity gossip columnist Dick Kleiner. The film opens with Duff as Tate answering a question about psychic experiences by recounting a frightening nightmare. In it, a visibly pregnant Tate is drawn out of bed to have her throat slit alongside ex-boyfriend Jay Sebring by dark figures in her Cielo Drive home. One year later, that’s almost exactly what happened.
That’s some next-level Nostradamusing right there considering Tate not only predicted her death, but that she would be with child and living in a house she and husband Roman Polanski didn’t rent until February of the following year.
Except Tate’s talk with Kleiner actually took place in 1966, not 1968. More to the point, Tate told Kleiner that her experience happened in a different house, claiming the ghost of filmmaker Paul Bern frightened her into facing a vision of someone, she wasn’t sure who, with his or her neck cut open.
Whatever did or didn’t happen, Sharon’s sister Debra Tate debunked the entire anecdote as “a total fabrication.” Speaking to People Magazine specifically about “The Haunting of Sharon Tate” being “classless,” Debra explained, “I know for a fact she did not have a premonition – awake or in a dream – that she and Jay would have their throats cut … None of her friends had any knowledge of this. Tacky, tacky, tacky.”
Too bad the rest of Farrands’ screenplay doesn’t take similar liberties to be wildly inventive. Hilariously hellbent on bullet-pointing their résumés with every other sentence, characters stiltedly speak with words better suited for white-on-black intertitle text than humanlike conversation. “You’re the one who left me for another man, remember?” says Sebring to Tate. Tate responds, “you didn’t become stylist to the stars by just running your fingers through their hair.”
It’s a wonder that the movie bothers to put Wojciech Frykowski in the same scene with Abigail Folger when she asks, “you do remember that she’s married to your best friend, right?” since Folger is clearly speaking to the audience, not Frykowski. You can practically see the script in Lydia Hearst’s mind’s eye as she vacantly recites memorized lines like, “I’ll forever be known as Abigail Folger, queen of your morning cup of coffee.”
The real crime of the writing is how it hideously characterizes the Manson murder victims as charmlessly hollow husks who became complicit in their own deaths due to cavalier carelessness. Jay Sebring gets off relatively easy since he vanishes so effectively, save a moment intended only to put actor Jonathan Bennett in a banana hammock, you forget he is involved until he reappears for the gruesome finale. Tate meanwhile, descends into insistently irrational paranoia over her impending doom. In a truly bizarre turn, she even accuses close friends Folger and Frykowski, who have their hands painted red as spoiled freeloaders, of being conspirators in Manson’s plot to kill her.
If only Folger and Frykowski had listened to Sharon Tate’s repeated warnings instead of dismissing her as daft, the movie irresponsibly posits, they might still be alive today. Pinning blame on the victims for failing to prevent their own demise, and implying that predictive nightmares could have been their savior, is a ghoulish suggestion, not to mention paper thin as a premise. Injecting false airs of authenticity by using footage from Tate’s wedding as well as the crime scene exacerbates that gallingly disrespectful attitude. I don’t even know what to say about the wish fulfillment ending. Misguided is not nearly a strong enough term.
I’m as fascinated by Manson-related movies as anyone. But reimagining the Tate murders as routine B-movie schlock reeks of irredeemable exploitation. Daniel Farrands previously exhibited strong promise as a champion of genre entertainment, valiantly attempting to coalesce the convoluted continuity of “Halloween” by writing “The Curse of Michael Myers” (review here) and producing excellent projects such as “Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy” (review here). Sadly, Farrands seemingly sees fit to refashion himself as a purveyor of pulp fantasized from tabloid half-truths. “The Haunting of Sharon Tate” is just the center of that sandwich, with the equally tawdry “The Amityville Murders” (review here) on one side and highly questionable “The Haunting of Nicole Brown Simpson” on the other.
At some point during development, the filmmakers had to have asked aloud, “are we sure we should be doing this?” Shockingly, no one heeded the obvious answer, “no.” Born from a bad idea to begin with, “The Haunting of Sharon Tate” fulfills its promise by being a terribly trite thriller that no one would give a second thought to if it didn’t take advantage of a tragedy. Perhaps that’s what producers banked on all along. If not for its offensive brazenness, there’d be no reason to notice this movie at all.
Review Score: 40