There have been a bunch of Manson/Tate-related film and TV projects in the last few years – Aquarius, Wolves at the Door, Bad Times at the El Royale, House of Manson, Charlie Says – and the case threatens to be central to the next Quentin Tarantino movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I should declare an interest in that my novella ‘Another Fish Story’ features Manson (but not Tate), so I’m not one to decry the tastelessness of exploiting truly horrible real-life crimes for bizarre fiction – and, if the victims of the ‘creepy crawl’ suffered enough in real life and have had to go through it an excruciating number of times in subsequent films, then the same could be said for the women killed by Jack the Ripper, the men shot by Billy the Kid, the assassinated Kennedys, or any number of other victims whose legends live on. That said, writer-director Daniel Ferrands knocked this one out between The Amityville Murders and The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson – she he’s definitely on an auteur streak which might get him disinvited from a lot of dinner parties.
This opens with a black and white clip of Sharon (Hilary Duff, who also produced) talking about a prophetic dream of the night of the murders she purportedly had a year before the Family started calling, then skips through well-researched but clumsily-written biopic business (Roman Polanski was off in London having affairs and scripting The Day of the Dolphin at the time of the crimes) to play much the same game as Wolves at the Door, depicting the terrible evening as a home invasion horror as pregnant Sharon, her hairdresser pal Jay Sebring (Jonathan Bennett), bossy guests Abigail Folger (Lydia Hearst – Patricia’s daughter, and inspired casting) and Wojciech Frykowski (Pawel Szajda) and handyman Steven Prince (Ryan Cargill) are stalked and slashed by Tex (Tyler Johnson) and two hippie chicks (Bella Popa, Fivel Stewart) sent by the evilly glimpsed Manson (Ben Mellish). But, wait a minute, Manson wasn’t there … oh, it’s another, even more detailed dream and means the film climaxes in the middle with the true crime stuff before going off on a tear that has Sharon copping bits of hallucination (a rotting rabbit in the fridge) and pregnancy paranoia from Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby, neither of which she was in, but only looking at a poster for Dance of the Vampires, which she was.
The dream replays almost Groundhog style, and we even get a Scenes We’d Like to See version in which the home invaders get slaughtered by the Hollywood types, but we saw the aftermath at the beginning and know we’ll get back to it at the end. Duff looks more like Tate than many who’ve taken the role, but is stuck with truly clunky ominous lines – and the addition of semi-supernatural business involving backmasking on Manson’s demo tape (one of the late old lag’s songs is on the soundtrack) and his occasional presence as a boogey man feeds into the family’s delusions of grandeur rather than presents a viewpoint from their victims. It’s weird enough to have moments, but on the whole is just one of those films you have to acknowledge exists but want to skip past in the memory ever after.