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Review: Daniel Farrands’ “The Haunting of Sharon Tate”

Daniel Farrands is really doing his thing when it comes to taking iconic, real life horror stories and infusing them with his own artistic liberties. This can already be seen with the recent release of The Amityville Murders, and Farrands’ target audience will see it again when The Haunting of Sharon Tate hits theaters and digital markets on April 5, 2019. Now, let me be honest here. When I heard Daniel was adding a supernatural aspect to the Manson Cult Murders and that former teen queen and pop star Hilary Duff was playing Sharon Tate, I was on the fence about it because I felt like these two crucial elements would subtract from the overall appeal of the movie. The Manson Family Murders were/are horrific enough without the addition of the supernatural, and Hilary – who’s last album, “Breathe In, Breathe Out,” topped the Billboard 200 at #5 in 2015 – was a Disney Darling and wholesome, household name. Well, having viewed The Haunting of Sharon Tate today, I can say that some of my earlier reservations have dissipated. I say “some” and not “all” because Saban Films’ upcoming release is far from perfect, but it’s a lot better than I was expecting. This is going to be a long winded review, folks, so buckle your seat-belts and hang in there! (No, really, who knew Hilary Duff would star in a horror flick about Sharon Tate one day? Not me.)

A collaboration between Voltage Pictures and Skyline Entertainment, and based on the screenplay by director Daniel Farrands (The Amityville Murders), The Haunting of Sharon Tate sees the late model and actress known for Don’t Make Waves and Valley of the Dolls on the days leading up to her infamous murder on August 8, 1969. Surrounded by her friends and assistants at a rented home in the hills of Los Angeles, four members of the Manson Family cult descend on Sharon and her unborn baby, resulting in a massacre that shocked the nation. In this version of events, though, Sharon is plagued by visions of her death and receives ominous hints from beyond that darkness is lurking just behind her. By the time Sharon listens to the warnings, it’s too late and she comes face to face with true evil. Hilary Duff (“Lizzie McGuire,” “Gossip Girl”), Jonathan Bennett (Mean Girls, “Celebrity Big Brother USA”), Lydia Hearst (“South of Hell,” “Z Nation”), Pawel Szajda (“The Enemy Within”), Ryan Cargill (“WITS Academy”), Bella Popa (The Institute), Fivel Stewart (“T@gged”), Tyler Johnson (Men in Black 3) and Ben Mellish stars as Charles Manson in a supernatural horror-thriller produced by Daniel Farrands, Eric Brenner and Lucas Jarach. The basis of this version of events comes from a supposed interview Sharon Tate had one year before her death, in which she says in the piece that she had a nightmare that two men entered her home at night and harmed her. Farrands took the idea and expanded into a feature film that’s rattled the film world.

When Hilary Duff was announced as playing Sharon Tate, the horror film community had a lot to say about it, myself included, namely about the choice in casting a pop singer in such a pivotal, tragically iconic role. It’s somewhat akin to the backlash of casting Lady Gaga in “American Horror Story.” In terms of The Haunting of Sharon Tate, though, I wonder what happened with directing Duff and shaping the character. I took the time to watch Sharon Tate interviews on YouTube, and while Duff certainly looks the part, she recites her lines with an odd, almost British accent that’s nowhere close to the tone and manner of Sharon Tate. I’m confused as to why no one pressed the “Lizzie McGuire” actress to tell her it’s not a wise decision. So, looking back now, I half-way agree with all the people griping about the casting choice. Hilary Duff looks the part, and who knew she was capable of crying on cue, but the acting chops just weren’t there for this role. I found myself gravitating to the other characters and their backing actors, especially the men, much more than the woman the film centered around. The house in The Haunting of Sharon Tate where the murders take place isn’t even a close replica of the original 1969 ranch house, but that’s just me being nitpicky. I guess what I’m trying to say is Farrands previous film, The Amityville Murders, was so spot on and frightening, that it becomes apparent that the ball was dropped on The Haunting of Sharon Tate. Some decisions just fell through the cracks.

The Haunting of Sharon Tate sees cinematography from Carlo Rinaldi and editing from Dan Riddle. The mood and atmosphere of the late 60’s aren’t as present here as I’d like them to be, but the production design – from the cars, electronics, clothes, etc – was on point. If you’re looking for a flick that accurately mirrors the late 60’s, The Haunting of Sharon Tate looks the part, but it doesn’t necessarily feel the part. I wanted to vibe, yal. Still, this movie was a high caliber production and it’s definitely more than deserving of seeing a theatrical release on April 5, 2019 courtesy of Saban Films. And the on demand release will also follow that day. To it’s biggest strength, The Haunting of Sharon Tate will reel in an audience due to its story that’s gone down in history as one of the most brutal massacres in Hollywood history. Because of this, the movie oozes uncomfortable and suspenseful waves, as you know the outcome of the story going in. It makes you sympathetic, sad, and on edge the whole time. And when the shit hits the fan near the end, director Farrands geniusly filmed it like a slasher film – with the cult members playing the part of the killer and Sharon Tate playing the role of survival girl. Of course, we know how that ends, too. Now, another point of contention, even though it was just in dream sequences, is the presence of Charles Manson at the ranch. I know audience members would like to see him, but he was never there in real life. And his presence is welcomed but muddies the plot at the same time.

And as for the supernatural horror elements added to the story, here’s where the artistic liberties come in to play to spruce up the story and turn it in Farrands’ direction based on that one quite. The film features a spirit board of sorts, though there was never one on the property. Encountering the Manson women prior to the attack, a record player yelling “Helter Skelter!” and a drowning in a bathtub were all ways that Farrand pushed the story from commonplace to something new. I think it’s going to be up to each individual viewer to decide if these additions are encouraged, silly, or downright disrespectful. When you throw in the traditional jump scares, odd warnings and bloody scenes of madness, The Haunting of Share Tate is actually a step or two above most movies of this scale in terms of delivering the goods. At least in my opinion. I watched in silence, all while jotting down my notes. Because as much as I can nitpick certain things and say “I wouldn’t have done that,” The Haunting of Sharon Tate is still a pretty good movie. It missed the mark on several occasions, but overall it’s probably my favorite Charles Manson themed movie to hit the market in recent years. And, oh so surprisingly, it grew on me as the story progressed. Give this one a chance. With an internal time bomb of sadistic and sinister horror waiting to re-tell history, The Haunting of Sharon Tate reboots the original, real-life story without going too far with the gag. Final Score: 7.5 out of 10.

Written by Michael Therkelsen

(Senior Editor)