Writer and director Daniel Farrands (Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers) finds a way to retell the story we all know of the Charles Manson murders but from a different point of view and with something actually new to say in The Haunting of Sharon Tate.
Inspired by an interview that actress Sharon Tate (Valley of the Dolls) did in 1968, in which she described events that are eerily similar to the circumstances of her own death at the hands of the infamous “Manson Family” cult, which would occur roughly a year after the interview. She talked about seeing herself and Jay Sebring tied up and their throats cut, and that interview provides the basis for this film.
Charles Manson and his followers are wisely kept mostly in the shadows, mere shapes of impending danger lurking on the outer edges of the frame. It’s not about them, but instead is clearly Sharon Tate’s movie.
It’s no spoiler to say that three of Manson’s followers brutally killed Tate, who was eight months pregnant with director Roman Polanski’s baby, and three others on an August night in 1969, and Farrands’ approach is to assume you already know the story, giving you what you expect only to then shift into totally new territory that I certainly did not see coming.
Again without spoiling anything, let’s just say that Farrands puts an entirely unique spin on an American tragedy we all know too well, but that doesn’t mean that he’s rewriting history either.
While the casting of former Disney starlet Hillary Duff as Sharon Tate may be distracting for some viewers, she does a decent job of capturing Tate’s sunny lightness amid the ever darkening world of Hollywood.
When the murders, the real life gruesome details of which have been widely publicized for the last 50 years, are played out on screen, it’s not gratuitous, but rightfully uncomfortable and intensely unflinching.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray include a behind the scenes featurette that runs about 15 minutes, as well as a feature length commentary with Farrands, which this release definitely gets extra points for after so many recent releases have not included commentaries.
I love listening to feature commentaries, and I found Farrands’ to be highly informing and entertaining, as he discusses wanting to honor and empower Tate and her friends rather than glorify Manson is any way. He also clarifies any possible misconceptions or confusion that viewers may have after watching the film, and goes into detail on exactly when and why artistic liberty was taken. Farrands also talks about using a certain house in the Hollywood hills that Quentin Tarantino also considered using in his own take on the Manson murders, the upcoming Once Upon a Time …In Hollywood, and he touches on Polanski’s influence on this film.
Obviously, watch the film before listening to the commentary or watching the featurette, as both are spoiler heavy.
In the end, the film asks much bigger questions than most audiences will likely expect going in, and it is the rare movie that is about the Manson murders but not about Charles Manson, a small catharsis for a national nightmare.
The Haunting of Sharon Tate is out now on Blu-ray, from Lionsgate. (Order it here.)
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