Hollywood's Manson murders fixation: Tinseltown marks 50 years since Sharon Tate murders
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the killing of Sharon Tate, and at least five movies and shows will mark the date
The Sharon Tate Murders and the Manson Family cult that committed them have always been a source of morbid fascination in popular culture. The story is already stranger than fiction - a beautiful, and heavily pregnant, starlet and wife of one of Hollywood’s leading directors (a rising Roman Polanski), along with four of her friends, is brutally murdered during a home invasion by members of a quasi-religious cult with a predilection for occultism and hallucinogenics, led by a wild-eyed but charismatic fanatic with a messiah complex. The tale already reads like a movie script, so it’s probably no surprise that it’s inspired films including 1973’s Manson, 1997’s The Manson Family, and 2004’s Helter Skelter.
Musicians have been influenced by the events too, with Nine Inch Nails and Siouxsie and the Banshees among those who have recorded tracks about that fateful night in 1969. Shock Rocker Marilyn Manson even named himself after the cult’s leader Charles Manson. Conversely, Manson himself insisted that his predictions of an apocalyptic race war were themselves inspired by a pop song, thanks to his unique interpretation of the lyrics to The Beatles’ Helter Skelter.
August 9 this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the murders, and Hollywood is once again stepping up to commemorate the events, with at least five films or shows based on the Tate Murders currently slated to release this year.
The Haunting of Sharon Tate
First up on April 5, The Amityville Murders director Daniel Farrands gives us Hilary Duff playing Tate in his horror The Haunting of Sharon Tate.
The film is based on an interview Tate gave to the Hollywood correspondent of the Newspaper Enterprise Association a year before her murder. In the interview, the actress described a spooky dream she had recently had: "I saw something or someone tied to the staircase," she said. "Whoever it was- and I couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman but knew somehow that it was either [her friend and celebrity hairdresser] Jay Sebring or me- he or she was cut open at the throat."
The dream proved to be an uncanny premonition. Sebring and Tate were both murdered in her house the following August, their necks tied with rope, and stabbed repeatedly.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Undoubtedly the biggest Manson-related film coming out this year is Quentin Tarantino‘s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which stars Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate and will weave fact and fiction into a story about Hollywood in 1969. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt will play Tate’s neighbours, an actor and his stunt coordinator based on Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham. We don’t know too much more about the film yet, but we do know that Damon Herriman will play Charles Manson and that Dakota Fanning, Lena Dunham, Margaret Qualley, and Victoria Pedretti will play Manson Family members. Tate’s sister Debra is notoriously protective of her sister’s legacy, and initially criticised Tarantino’s choice of subject matter. After meeting with the director and reading the script however, Tate relented and gave the film her blessing.
Tarantino’s take on events will release in July.
One film that didn’t have to worry about Debra Tate’s approval is Tate. She is producing the film along with Kate Bosworth, who will play Sharon, and Bosworth’s husband, Michael Polish, who is directing. This film promises not to focus on her death, but instead tell a loving story about the life of a woman whose fate – and the fate of her unborn child – was snuffed out by a horrific act. No release date has been announced, but it’s set for 2019.
American Psycho director Mary Harron is probably as well qualified as anyone to direct a film about real-life American psycho Manson. Her film Charlie Says, which stars The Crown's Matt Smith as Manson, premiered at Venice last year to mixed reviews. This film is not technically about the Tate Murders per se, but rather focuses on the psychology of Manson and his army of devoted, mainly female, followers. There’s no confirmed release date for this film yet, but it’s expected to hit theatres and/or DVD/VoD at some point this year.
Finally, Netflix has revealed that Charles Manson will be a major feature of the second season of its David Fincher-produced/directed hit psychological crime drama Mindhunter later in the year. There’s no confirmed release date as yet, though season one debuted in October 2018, so that could be a good guide. What we do know is that, in either an uncanny casting coincidence, or a worrying typecasting trend for the actor, Damon Herriman, who also plays Manson in Tarantino’s film, will again be portraying the hard-staring megalomaniac.
Even 50 years after the events of that bloody California night, and over a year after Manson’s death while still a guest of California State correctional services in November 2017, the Manson Family and the Tate murders still seem to have a strangely captive hold on the public imagination, eerily mirroring the hold Manson had over his followers, and there seems sure to be an enthusiastic audience for all these films as they drop over the course of the year.
Updated: January 25, 2019 12:23 PM