Like CHARLIE SAYS, THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE is another in a slew of films and television shows put out this year, capitalising on the 50th anniversary of the crime. Based on the trailer and hostile reviews, along with my own disappointment in director Daniel Farrands' previous THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS (2018), I wasn't expecting much out of THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE. It's badly miscast and terribly acted, lacking in any sense of visual flair, and shows little respect for the memory of Sharon Tate herself, but I didn't find it the complete waste that so many others have. A tacky, tasteless and violent low-budget mix of speculative supernatural horror and true crime tabloid fact, THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE at least seems proud to wallow in its exploitative roots. I liked the opening credit sequence (utilising archival news footage) and the film does have quite a nice and effective ambient score, but it's really one just for the die-hard completists, or any masochistic Hilary Duff fans.
Friday, September 6, 2019
This latest film from longtime indie fave Mary Harron (I SHOT ANDY WARHOL, AMERICAN PSYCHO, THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE) was released in Australia last week by Defiant (DVD or digital download only), and seems to have slipped onto the market with considerably less fanfare than some other Manson-related film and television productions from this year. It's a pity Harron didn't have the budget to make it look a bit more aesthetically pleasing and stylistically accurate, because in just about all other respects CHARLIE SAYS ultimately emerges as one of the better, and more grounded, cinematic renderings of what is by now a quite familiar (though no less shocking) tale of events.
Based on Ed Sanders' notorious 1971 book THE FAMILY, as well as Karlene Faith's THE LONG PRISON JOURNEY OF LESLIE VAN HOUTEN (2001), CHARLIE SAYS tells it's tale from the anchor point of three years after the horrific 1969 crimes, when the convicted Family members had their death sentences overturned, and the California Institution for Women suddenly had to consider how Manson girls Susan Atkins, Patricia Kwenwinkle and Van Houten were going to occupy themselves for the rest of their lives. Still loyal to Manson and his beliefs, feminist professor and rights advocate Karlene Faith is brought in to spend time with the girls, teaching them classes on society and empowerment and encouraging them to read and make decisions and observations based on what they themselves think and feel, not what they believe Manson would feel of want them to say.
Interspersed of course with flashbacks to life in the Family and the inevitable descent into Helter Skelter, CHARLIE SAYS becomes quite effective at drawing the viewer in to an interesting and often neglected side of the story - that of the deprogramming of the three girls and just how hard it was to wash away the indoctrination which Manson had psychologically forced into them, and their slow re-acclimatisation to the real world and acceptance of their responsibility in the horror.
One-time Dr. Who Matt Smith is surprisingly impressive in the Manson role, understated but with a genuine edge of menace and charisma, and great eye movements. I liked that a lot of his character was based around his musical ambitions as well, as Smith pulls off the singing, strumming and groovin' Charlie particularly well. The onscreen violence is limited but effective - there are a couple of startling shocks heading into its climax - and Herron does build an effective atmosphere of growing tension throughout.
Definately worth a watch if you are into true crime-based cinema, it's probably one of the most surprisingly engrossing films in the genre I have seen since David Jacobson's DAHMER (2002), starring future Marvel hero Jeremy Renner in a terrific performance as the notorious cannibal killer.