Film Review: “The Haunting of Sharon Tate”

Starring: Hillary Duff, Jonathan Bennett, Lydia Hearst
Directed by: Daniel Farrands
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 34 mins
Saban Films

As a child of the 60’s, I grew up in a time full of tragedies.  Some of these events (among them, the assassinations of JFK and RFK) intrigued me to the point of learning everything I could about them.  Another were the murders of Sharon Tate and her friends at her home in August 1969.  Which really made me want to see the new film, “The Haunting of Sharon Tate.”

In 1969, Sharon Tate was on her way to becoming a movie star.  With roles in films like “The Fearless Vampire Hunters,” where she was directed by her future husband, Roman Polanski, and “Valley of the Dolls” she proved to be a very beautiful woman whom the camera loved.  A year earlier, during an interview, Sharon Tate spoke of a premonition she had of her death, one that was very disturbing. 

After a brief clip from the aforementioned interview, the film picks up in August 1969, when Sharon Tate (Duff) returns from London, where she is visiting her husband while he prepares for his next film.  8 ½ months pregnant, Sharon is happy to be home, surrounded by her best friend, Abigail Folger (Hearst), Folger’s boyfriend, Wojceich Frykowski (Pawei Szadja) and family friend (and Sharon’s former lover) hair stylist Jay Sebring (Bennett).  One day a knock on the door reveals a small, bearded man asking to speak to “Terry.”  Despite being told that Terry no longer lives there, the man drops off a package and leaves.  Sharon is told that the man and his friends has been coming by constantly, looking for the former owner of the home, record producer Terry Melcher.  That night, Sharon has a vision of a very violent encounter with the mystery man, one that continues to grow in violence and intensity.

I’m completely torn in how to review this film.

On the plus sign, I give much credit to writer/director Daniel Farrands, who has done an incredible amount of research and ensured that everything noted in the film, from the red mailbox at 10050 Cielo Drive to the name of Sharon’s dog (Dr. Sapesrstein) is faithful.  There were a few factual errors but, creative license being what it is, I’m not going to quibble.  The performances are also strong.  Though Hillary Duff looks nothing like Sharon Tate (while Ms. Duff is certainly attractive, I can honestly say that, at the end of the 1960s, Sharon Tate was one of the most beautiful women in the world), she gives a fine performance of a woman slowly descending into a nightmare she cannot prevent.  The supporting cast is also well cast and deliver good work. 

On the negative side, the film is horribly violent.  A quick intro using actual news and crime scene footage opens the film, and the murder scene including Sharon Tate’s body is shown, though her body has been retracted from the image.  However, as Sharon’s vision continue to grow, so too does the violence.  In the real attacks, Ms. Folger was stabbed almost 30 times…Mr. Frykowski over 50…and you get to witness almost every one of them.  That and the fact that Ms. Tate was pregnant make the violence horrific to watch.  Eventually you become numb to the violence being inflicted, taking away from the horror of the situation.

So I’ll leave it up to you, the reader.  If you’re looking for an interesting take on a very familiar story, you might want to check this film out.  If you’re not a fan of multiple murders, repeatedly depicted, you may not.  Or, like me, you’re just waiting for Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming take on the story, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

Sharon Lawrence talks about new Season of “Rizzoli & Isles”

Nominated for four Emmy awards, Sharon Lawrence is probably best known for her six seasons on “NYPD Blue.” Since leaving the show she has kept busy with roles in both film and television, including the upcoming new season of “Drop Dead Diva.” This week Ms. Lawrence begins a run as Dr. Hope Martin on “Rizzoli and Isles.” Recently Ms. Lawrence graciously took time out to talk with Media Mikes about her new role as well as her strong support for the Women in Film movement.

MIKE SMITH: Can you tell us about your character on “Rizzoli and Isles?”
SHARON LAWRENCE: I play Dr. Hope Martin, Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander) birth mother, who she believed was long lost and had given her up from birth. But by the time my character arrives at the medical examiner’s office after being called in to consult on a case, the audience is aware that the mother didn’t give her up at birth but had thought the baby had died. This character is also a scientist and she shares the same passion for a particular type of forensics. Maura is the first to know that this woman working alongside her in the lab is the mother she has always wondered about and longed for. But Hope is not aware. So it’s a very interesting dynamic to play. And it’s played so masterfully by Sasha Alexander, who had to play such a complex balance of awareness and longing and joy and pain. And to unlocking the secret that Hope is the key to understanding who she is.

MS: How did you get involved with the show? Did they come to you because they felt you were the right actress for the part? Were you a fan of the show before hand?
SL: Yes to both! (laughs)

MS: I have a question that I also asked Angie Harmon, who of course appeared on “Law and Order.” After having appeared for six seasons on one of the greatest television shows ever, “NYPD Blue,” does that effect your choices as an actress when you’re asked to do television?
SL: Well I certainly agree with you that it was one of the greatest television shows ever made and it certainly stands the test of time. I just saw an episode recently. But I’m a different person now. I could never base my choices and things that are decades in the past. I play different things now. I have different wisdoms. I have different experiences. I have a different role to fill in any story. And I’m so gratified that now I get to play mothers to these remarkable women. Whether it’s to Sasha on “Rizzoli and Isles” or on “Drop Dead Diva,” a delightful show that has a magic realism about it. I’m really fortunate that my career is not held in the past or held to one particular type of character or stage in a woman’s life. And what’s also very exciting is that I’ve been working with Women in Film for the past ten years. It’s a group that’s not just for networking but for promoting women in the executive and creative capacity of our business. And now I see so many women that are creating the material and telling the stories from their perspective. Whether it’s as show runners or writers or as directors, it’s nice to see that these women are building careers and not just one-offs. Knowing that there are female executives at networks like TNT and Lifetime that understand the complexity that we expect to see in our stories and that really resonate with us. So yes, “NYPD Blue” was glorious and these stories that we’re telling now are very exciting too.

MS: Since you mentioned Women in Film, do you have any interest in going behind the camera? I know you’ve produced in the past but do you want to take on more, perhaps as a director?
SL: I’m developing a movie about the breast cancer survivors who, just recently, after 20 years together as the first Dragon Boat racing team, was invited to be part of the Queen’s flotilla for the Jubilee. It’s an exciting process to get to interview those women and doctors and to prove that women not only can survive a diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer but grow stronger.

MS: Besides “Rizzoli and Isles,” what else do you have coming up?
SL: “Drop Dead Diva” begins in August and I’m also in a feature film called “The Middle of Nowhere,” which just won the Best Director Award at Sundance, which was a first for an African-American director. I’m also in a feature with Kathleen Turner called “The Perfect Family.” It’s currently out on DVD. And again, it’s all female writers, director and producers. I’m happy to help support them.


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