Film Review: The Adventurers (dir by Lewis Gilbert)


The 1970 film, The Adventurers, is a film that I’ve been wanting to watch for a while.

Based on a novel by Harold Robbins, The Adventurers was a massively expensive, three-hour film that was released to terrible reviews and even worse box office.  In fact, it’s often cited as one of the worst films of all time, which is why I wanted to see it.  Well, three weeks ago, I finally got my chance to watch it and here what I discovered:

Yes, The Adventurers is technically a terrible movie and Candice Bergen really does give a performance that will amaze you with its ineptitude.  (In her big scene, she sits in a swing and, with a beatific look on her face, begs her lover to push her “Higher!  Higher!”)

Yes, The Adventures is full of sex, intrigue, and melodrama.  Director Lewis Gilbert, who did such a good job with Alfie and The Spy Who Loved Me, directs as if his paycheck is dependent upon using the zoom lens as much as possible and, like many films from the early 70s, this is the type of film where anyone who gets shot is guaranteed to fall over in slow motion, usually while going, “Arrrrrrrrrrrrgh….”  A surprisingly large amount of people get shot in The Adventurers and that adds up to a lot of slow motion tumbles and back flips.  Gilbert also includes a sex scene that ends with a shot of exploding fireworks, which actually kind of works.  If nothing else, it shows that Gilbert knew exactly what type of movie he was making and he may have actually had a sense of humor about it.  That’s what I choose to believe.

Despite the fact that The Adventurers is usually described as being a big-budget soap opera, a good deal of the film actually deals with Latin American politics.  For all the fashion shows and the decadence and the scenes of Candice Bergen swinging, the majority of The Adventures takes place in the Latin American country of Cortoguay.  If you’ve never heard of Cortoguay, that’s because it’s a fictional country.  Two hours of this three-hour film are basically devoted to people arguing and fighting over who is going to rule Cortoguay but it’s kind of impossible to really get to emotionally involved over the conflict because it’s not a real place.

Ernest Borgnine plays a Cortoguayan named — and I’m being serious here — Fat Cat.  Seriously, that’s his name.  And really, how can you not appreciate a movie featuring Ernest Borgnine as Fat Cat?

Fat Cat is the guardian of Dax Xenos (Bekim Fehmiu).  Dax’s father is a Cortoguayan diplomat but after he’s assassinated by the country’s dictator, Dax abandons his home country for America and Europe.  While he’s abroad, Dax plays polo, races cars, and has sex with everyone from Olivia de Havilland to Candice Bergen.  He also gets involved in the fashion industry, which means we get two totally 70s fashion shows, both of which are a lot of fun.  He marries the world’s richest heiress (Bergen) but he’s not a very good husband and their relationship falls apart after a pregnant Bergen flies out of a swing and loses her baby.

Throughout it all, Fat Cat is there, keeping an eye on Dax and pulling him back to not only Cortoguay but also to his first love, Amparo (Leigh Taylor-Young), who just happens to be the daugther of Cortoguay’s dictator, Rojo (Alan Badel).  In fact, when Fat Cat and Dax discover that an acquaintance is selling weapons to Rojo, they lock him inside of his own sex dungeon.  That’s how you get revenge!  And when Dax eventually does return to Cortoguay, Fat Cat is at his side and prepared to fight in the revolution.  Incidentally, the revolution is led by El Lobo (Yorgo Voyagis), who we’re told is the son of El Condor.

The Adventurers is melodramatic, overheated, overlong, overdirected, and overacted and, not surprisingly, it’s eventually a lot of fun.  I mean, the dialogue is just so bad and Lewis Gilbert’s direction is so over the top that you can’t help but suspect that the film was meant to be at least a little bit satirical.  How else do you explain that casting of the not-at-all-Spanish Bekim Fehmiu as a Latin American playboy?  Candice Bergen plays her role as if she’s given up any hope of making sense of her character or the script and the rest of the cast follows her lead.  Ernest Borgnine once said that The Adventurers was the worst experience of his career.  Take one look at Borgnine’s filmography and you’ll understand why that’s such a bold statement.

The Adventurers is three hours long but it’s rarely boring.  Each hour feels like it’s from a totally different film.  It starts out as Marxist agitprop before then becoming a glossy soap opera and then, once Fat Cat and Dax return home and get involved in the revolution, the film turns into “modern” spaghetti western.  It’s a film that tries so hard and accomplishes so little that it becomes rather fascinating.

And, if nothing else, it reminds us that even Fat Cat can be a hero….

 

I Guess This Is Meant To Be A Teaser For James Bond 25


So, believe it or not, we’ve got a teaser for the next James Bond film.

Yes, even though the film itself is still being filmed, we have a teaser.  It’s not much of a teaser, to be honest.  Mostly, it’s a behind-the-scenes sort of thing.  So, if you had any doubt as to whether or not the production team was actually filming in Jamaica, now you know that they are.  Daniel Craig, Jeffrey Wright, Rami Malek, and a few others are briefly glimpsed.

Again, it’s not much of a teaser but I guess it was felt that something had to be done to combat the bad buzz that this film has been dealing with ever since Danny Boyle left the project.  It’s as if this teaser was specifically shot to say, “Yes, this is a real movie and no, Daniel Craig isn’t miserable and pissed off about playing the role again.”

I’ve seen some online speculation that Rami Malek is going to be playing Dr. No.  I sincerely hope not.  There’s no need to remake the old Bond films.  They’re still a lot of fun.  Plus, I still haven’t gotten over how they ruined Blofeld in SPECTRE.

Apparently, this is going to be Craig’s last outing as Bond.  I have no problem with that.  Craig’s a good actor but he’s always been a bit bland in the role.  At heart, Craig’s a character actor (just check out Lucky Logan if you want to see Craig at his best) and Bond needs to played by a star.

Anyway, here’s the teaser:

Film Review: The Wild One (dir by Laszlo Benedek)


Motorcycles have always been unbelievably sexy and, in 1953, so was Marlon Brando.

1953 was the year that Brando played Johnny Strabler in The Wild One.  Johnny’s the leader of the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club.  He wears a leather jacket and always has a cap tilted rakishly on his head.  When Johnny moves, he makes it a point to take his time.  He doesn’t run from anyone and, perhaps most importantly, he doesn’t run to anyone.  Johnny’s a rebel and he doesn’t care who knows it.  “What are you rebelling against?” Johnny is asked.  “Whaddya got?” Johnny replies and, when he says it, you not only believe him but you want to join him in his rebellion.

And yet, from the minute that we see Johnny, it’s obvious that there’s more to him than just his jacket and his attitude.  He speaks softly and when he smiles, there’s something almost shy about the expression.  You look into his brooding, soulful eyes and you know that Johnny isn’t just about making trouble.  He’s searching for something that society alone can’t deliver.  Johnny’s a bad boy, the type who you fool yourself into thinking that you — and only you — can reach and help heal.

At least, that’s the way that Kathie (Mary Murphy) feels about him, even though she’s way too smart to accept his invitation to go to a dance with him.  Kathie works at a diner in a small California town.  When Johnny and his gang ride into the town, all of the boring, responsible citizens want to force him to leave.  Kathie, alone, sees that Johnny’s not as bad as everyone assumes he is.  And if there’s any doubt about the fact that Johnny’s got a good soul despite his brooding nature, Chino (Lee Marvin) shows up to remind everyone of what a truly bad biker is like.

Chino and Johnny may both love their motorcycles but otherwise, they’re opposites.  If Johnny has the soul of a poet, Chino has no soul at all.  Johnny’s searching for freedom while Chino is merely searching for power.  Chino and Johnny were once friends, all part of the same gang.  However, Johnny eventually went off on his own and took the younger gang members with him.  Chino, in many ways, represents America’s destructive and wild path.  He’s an old west outlaw who rides a motorcycle instead of a horse.  Johnny, meanwhile, is a wanderer who represents the part of America that created Kerouac and Dylan.

(Interestingly enough, both Brando and Marvin were 29 years old when they made The Wild One.  However, Brando looked much younger and Marvin looked considerably older, which only added to the film’s theme of generational conflict.  Brando, himself, has never rode a motorcycle before making The Wild One and reportedly avoided the actual bikers who were hired to act as extras.  Lee Marvin, on the other hand, was an experienced rider and fit right in with the film’s cast.  To be honest, Lee Marvin is actually more convincing than Brando but Brando had the eyes and the wounded way of speaking whereas Marvin was every single guy who needlessly revs his motorcycle’s engine in the middle of the night.)

Anyway, needless to say, the townspeople are even less happy once Chino’s gang shows up.  Unfortunately, few of them understand the difference between Johnny and Chino.  In fact, the majority of the upright citizens prove themselves to be just as and, in some cases, more violent than the bikers that they’re trying to run out of town.  It all leads to violence, tragedy, and, ultimately, understanding.  This was a 50s film after all.  Director Laszlo Benedek may have played up the more sordid aspects of the story but the film was produced by the reliably and safely liberal Stanley Kramer and the film concludes on a very Krameresque note.

If you only know Marlon Brando from the latter half of his career, when he was best known for his weight, his eccentricities, and his personal tragedies, than watching The Wild One is quite a revelation.  It’s a well-directed film with a host of effective supporting turns but it’s Brando who makes the film unforgettable.  Watching the film, you understand why Brando became a star and you also see just how much he inspired so many of the actors who came after him.  James Dean’s performance in Rebel Without A Cause owes a huge debt to Brando’s work here.  In fact, every rebel owes a debt to The Wild One.  In the role of Johnny, Brando invites and inspires us all to ride down the road and see what we find.

The Wild One was a huge hit in 1953, leaving teenagers excited and parents concerned.  That same year, Brando also played Mark Anthony in Julius Caesar and received an Oscar nomination for the performance.  The Wild One was ignored at the Oscars but lives on whenever anyone hit the road and goes searching for America.

Lifetime Film Review: My Stepfather’s Secret (dir by Michael Feifer)


Bailey (Paris Smith) comes home from college and discovers that things have changed since she left.

For instance, her mother, Tina (Vanessa Marcil), is now a vegetarian!  Also, Tina’s suddenly really into exercise and yoga and stuff.  In fact, Tina seems to be happier than she’s ever been and that’s a good thing since Tina previously had some issues with alcohol.  Of course, that’s understandable when you consider that her husband was mysteriously murdered a few years ago.

So, why is Tina so happy now?

Meet Hugo (Eddie McClintock)!  Hugo is some sort of weird New Age massage therapist person and it turns out that he and Tina are going to get married!  They’ve known each other for like two weeks and they’re totally in love!  Bailey is like, “Mom, don’t you think things are moving too fast!?” and the previously cautious Tina is all like, “I love him!”

However, Bailey is convinced that her new stepfather has some secrets and it turns out that she’s right!  But what exactly are those secrets?  Why has he been using Bailey’s computer without permission?  Why is he using her webcam to spy on her?  Why is he constantly getting strange calls and why does he often seem to be distracted by something that only he sees?  Even more importantly, why is Tina acting so weird?  Whenever Bailey tells her about Hugo’s strange behavior, Tina just shrugs it off.  Has Tina been drugged or brainwashed and what, if anything, does that have to do with Hugo’s secrets!?

I have to admit that, as I was watching this movie, I kind of related to Bailey.  After my parents got divorced, I went out of my way to chase off any new guy who thought he was going to be my stepfather.  It wasn’t that I wanted my parents to get back together because I knew they were better off separated.  Instead, it was more that I resented the idea of some stranger suddenly showing up and expecting me to care about what he had to say or anything else.  For a few years, “You’re not my father” was my mantra.  You’re going to be stepfather?  No way!  Of course, for the most part, I was just being an immature brat and, eventually, both my mom and my sisters told me to grow up and knock it off.  Unlike me, Bailey has good reason to be suspicious of her stepfather.

In fact, you could argue that she has a few too many reasons to be suspicious of Hugo.  This film doesn’t leave much doubt that Hugo is a bad guy.  From the minute that he first appears, he might as well be carrying a sign that reads, “I’m Evil, pass it on.”  Amazingly, no matter how obviously evil Hugo may be, Bailey seems to be the only person capable of noticing.  In fact, everyone else seems to be so oblivious to Hugo’s evil that I suspect that the film was meant to be at least a little bit satirical.  With the exception of Bailey, everyone in the film is so incredibly dense that it’s hard not to believe that we’re not really meant to take any of them that seriously.

Anyway, we do eventually learn Hugo’s secret and it’s all pretty silly.  Hugo is not only evil and creepy but he also apparently has a thing about coming up with ludicrously overcomplicated schemes.  Fortunately, the action concludes at a cabin in the woods because it’s a Lifetime film and all true Lifetime films conclude at a cabin in the woods, or at least they should.

Anyway, My Stepfather’s Secret is an almost prototypical Lifetime film, with its untrustworthy male interloper threatening to tear apart an otherwise perfect mother/daughter relationship.  Usually, in these films, it’s the mother who knows best but, in this case, the role are reversed.  Enjoy it while you’re watching it and don’t worry about it afterwards.

Lifetime Film Review: Death of a Cheerleader (dir by Paul Shapiro)


Kelly Locke (Sarah Dugdale) appears to have it all.  Even though everyone agrees that she can occasionally be a little bit mean with some of the things that she says, Kelly is still one of the most popular students at Hollybrook High.  She’s a cheerleader.  She’s the leader of the Bobbettes, the school’s most prestigious social group.  She gets good grades, she lives in a big house, and her family has a lot of money.

Bridget Moretti (Aubrey Peeples), on the other hand, wants to have everything.  She’s shy and desperate to fit in.  She wants to be a member of the Bobbettes.  She wants to be a cheerleader.  Even more importantly, she wants Kelly to be her best friend.  Kelly, however, thinks that Bridget’s a little bit strange.  In fact, when Bridget lies to Kelly about there being a party as an excuse to get Kelly to spend time with her, Kelly accuses Bridget of “wanting to be me.”  Kelly then says that she’s going to tell everyone at school about what a weirdo Bridget is so Bridget stabs her to death.

Now, you would think that Bridget would be the number one suspect.  After all, Bridget’s not that smart and it’s not easy to get away with murdering someone, especially when it’s an impulsive act.  However, no one suspects Bridget.  Bridget’s just too shy and nice for anyone to believe that she could possibly be a murderer.  Instead, everyone assumes that another student, Nina Miller (Morgan Taylor Campbell), is the killer.  After all, Nina used to be popular until she dyed her hair and started hanging out with the stoners.  Nina even threatened to kill Kelly once.  Nina says she was just mad and that she wasn’t being serious but that doesn’t stop strangers from calling her house and demanding that she confess….

Now, if this story sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a true story and it’s one that has been recreated on countless true crime shows, including Deadly Women, 1980s: The Deadliest Decade, and Killer Kids.  It was also turned into a made-for-TV movie in 1994, A Friend to Die For, starring Kellie Martin as the murderer and Tori Spelling as her victim.

Death of a Cheerleader is a remake of A Friend to Die For, telling the same basic story but attempting to give it a more modern spin, which in this case amounts to a lot of hand-held camerawork and a far less judgmental attitude towards casual drug use.  The remake also slightly differs in the way that it views its main characters.  If the first film was sympathetic to Bridget, the remake is a bit more ambiguous.  Bridget is portrayed as being slightly off from the beginning and far more openly bitter over Kelly’s success than in the original film.  At the same time, Kelly is portrayed a bit more sympathetically in the remake than in the original.  Tori Spelling played the role as being a straight-up bitch, whereas Sarah Dugdale instead plays her as someone who puts a lot of pressure on herself and who often doesn’t understand how cruel her comments can sometimes be.  The biggest difference between the two films is that the remake focuses for more on the wrongly accused Nina, even allowing her to narrate the story.  If anything, the film’s main message seems to be about how messed up it is that brave nonconformists like Nina are always going to be unfairly blamed for the mistakes of mousy conformists like Bridget.  That’s a good message and one that I certainly appreciated.

The remake of Death of a Cheerleader works well enough.  The hand-held camera work gets to be a bit much but Sara Dugdale, Morgan Taylor Campbell, and Aubrey Peeples all give great performances and the film actually does a better job than the original of capturing the strange culture of high school popularity.  While it may not feature any scenes as iconic as Tori Spelling melodramatically lighting up a joint, Death of a Cheerleader is still an effective Lifetime film.

Film Review: Model Shop (dir by Jacques Demy)


The 1969 film, Model Shop, plays out like a dream.

The film tells a simple enough story.  In fact, it’s tempting to say that Model Shop is plotless though it actually isn’t.  There’s a plot but, in many ways, the film is more about how the story is told than the story itself.  Gary Lockwood plays George Matthews, a former architectural student who is currently living in Los Angeles with his girlfriend, Gloria (Alexandra Hay).  Gloria is an actress while George …. well, George is just a drop out.  Throughout the film, we get clues that George might have once cared about things (for instance, some of his friends are putting out an underground newspaper while another is into creating protest music).  However, by the time we meet him, George seems to be rather detached from life.  Of course, some of that may be due to the fact that, because he’s no longer in college, George is now eligible to be drafted and sent to Vietnam.  (The film was made in 1969, after all.)  In fact, George has just received his induction notice.  He basically has a week left before joining the army.  At one point, in a flat tone of voice, he says, “It feels like a death sentence.”

Getting drafted is not George’s only problem.  He’s also about to lose his beloved car!  George has a day to come up with a few hundred dollars so he can keep his beloved green roadster from being repossessed.  (In George’s defense, it is a pretty nice car.)  While Gloria goes off to shoot a soap commercial, George spends his day driving around Los Angeles and searching for money.  George has a lot of friends but most of them are too busy making music and setting up love-ins in Griffith Park to help him out.  George doesn’t want to call his mother for the money and when he tries to call his father, he gets a lecture about how his older brother served in Korea.  No one is willing to make any sacrifices to help out George.  That may have something to do with the fact that George is, at times, a tad whiny and a bit self-absorbed.

It’s while wandering around Los Angeles that George spots the beautiful Lola (Anouk Aimée).  The glamorous but sad Lola works at a model shop, a sleazy establishment where men pay to take her picture.  Lola has a tragic story of her own, one that finds her stranded in Los Angeles.  It all leads to a brief romance that’s as bittersweet as ennui in May.

(Ennui in May is also the title of a musical that I’ve been writing, off-and-on, since 2012.  Keep an eye out for more details!)

Model Shop was the first (and only) English-language film of French filmmaker Jacques Demy and one reason that the film seems so dream-like is because Demy wrote the dialogue-heavy script in French and then had it translated into English.  As such, this is an extremely talky film in which no one ever seems to have a real conversation.  (It should also be noted that what sounds beautiful and poetic in French can come across quite differently in the harsher tones of the English language.)  George, Gloria, and Lola all speak in pedantic, declarative sentences.  There’s none of the individual verbal quirks or changes in tone that would make it seem as if these were people having an actual conversation.  As well, nobody ever talks over anyone else.  No one ever attempts to interrupt anyone else’s train of thought.  At times, it seems like the cast is performing under the influence of hypnosis and they’ve been told, “Do nothing while anyone else is speaking.”  It creates a rather odd atmosphere.

Also adding to the film’s dream-like feel is Jacques Demy’s direction.  The pacing feels just a little bit off.  It’s not so far off as to harm the film.  In fact, the fact that everything seems to be moving just a little bit slower than expected is actually one of the film’s biggest strengths.  If nothing else, it reflects George’s own feelings of being on borrowed time.  Beyond that, though, Demy often seems less like a director than an anthropologist.  A good deal of the film is simply made up of shots of George driving around Los Angeles and one gets the feeling that Demy was more fascinated with capturing the unique style of America than with telling George’s story.  Demy directs the film like an outsider looking in and, as a result, he often seems to focus on the details of daily life — like the television and the billboards and the red Coke signs hanging over every store window — that Americans takes for granted.  At the start of the film, the camera lingers over an oil derrick, as if Demy is looking at this symbol of Americana and looking for clues to understand what makes America what it is.  Much as Michelangelo Antonioni did when he made Zabriskie Point, Demy seems to be trying to use this film to solve the riddle of America and how Americans — even with the country embroiled in an unpopular war — could remain so youthful and optimistic about the future.  Unlike Antonioni, Demy seems to be more bemused than angered by America’s contradictions.  Anonioni ended Zabriskie Point by blowing up a luxury, mountain-side home.  One gets the feeling that Demy would have found the same house to be rather charming.

Of course, the late 60s were a time when Hollywood studios felt that they were under attack, not just from television but from foreign films as well.  With all the critics talking about European films were superior to studio films in every way and young filmgoers flocking to foreign films, it would only make sense that the studios would would bring filmmakers over from Europe.  For the studios, it was a chance to try to convince people that they weren’t run by out-of-touch dinosaurs.  For the filmmakers, it was a chance to try to capture and explain America on film.  The end results were mixed, with many of the directors — like Fancois Traffuat and Michelangelo Antonioni — later testifying to the difficulty of trying to work with an American studio while having a European sensibility.  This was also true of Demy, who never did another English-language film after Model Shop.  Reportedly, Demy wanted to cast an unknown actor named Harrison Ford as George but Columbia Studios demanded that Demy use Gary Lockwood.  (Lockwood, of course, is best known for not showing a hint of emotion, even while hurtling to his death, in 2001: A Space Odyssey.)

Model Shop is definitely a film of it’s time, which is why I enjoyed watching it.  Yes, it’s pretentious and kind of silly.  But, at the same time, Demy is so fascinated with the Los Angeles of the late 60s that it’s hard not to share his fascination.  The film plays out like a dream of the past, like a time machine that puts you to sleep and then fills your head with images that you can see but you can’t quite reach.  It’s a time capsule, perfect for history nerds like you and me.

Someday, if films like Back to the Future and Happy Death Day 2U are any guide, we’ll have time machines and we’ll be able to personally experience the past.  Until then, we can watch films like Model Shop.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: The Haunting of Sharon Tate (dir by Daniel Farrands)


The Haunting of Sharon Tate is a frustrating film to review.

On the one hand, it’s an undeniably well-made horror film.  It’s surprisingly well-paced.  It creates an atmosphere of nonstop dread.  It’s the type of movie that makes you keep an eye on the shadows in the room.  This is the type of movie that makes your heart race and leaves you uneasy about every unexpected noise that you hear.  It’s a dark and disturbing horror film and it features an excellent lead performance from Hillary Duff in the title role.  While watching the film, you care about her and you don’t want anything bad to happen to her.  That makes the film’s shocks and scares all the more frightening.

On the other hand, though, The Haunting of Sharon Tate features a premise that will leave even the most dedicated grindhouse horror fan feeling more than a bit icky.

The Haunting of Sharon Tate is hardly the first horror film to be based on the infamous Manson murders.  In fact, it’s not even the only one to be released this year.  We’re approaching the 50th anniversary of the Tate murders so last May saw the release of Charlie Says and Quentin Tarantino’s highly-anticipated Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is set to be released in July.  What sets The Haunting of Sharon Tate apart from the other Manson films is that it’s told totally from the point-of-view of Manson’s victims.  Manson is only seen briefly and the other members of his so-called “Family” wander through the movie like dead-eyed zombies.  This is the rare Manson film that doesn’t try to portray that grubby little racist hippie as being some sort of outlaw folk hero and, regardless of what you think of the rest of the film, that’s definitely a good thing.

Instead, this movie focuses on Sharon Tate.  The film opens with a black-and-white recreation of an interview that Sharon gave a year before her murder, in which she discusses whether or not dreams can tell the future.  We then jump forward to August of 1969.  Sharon is 8-months pregnant and staying at 10050 Cielo Drive.  Her husband, Roman Polanski (who is kept off-screen for the entire movie), is in Europe.  Staying with Sharon is her ex-boyfriend, Jay Sebring (Jonathan Bennett) and her friends, heiress Abigail Folger (played by real-life heiress Lydia Hearst) and Abigail’s boyfriend, Wojciech Frykowsky (Pawel Szajda).  Also on the property is caretaker Steve Parent (Ryan Cargill), who is staying in a trailer and enjoys working on electronics.

(For the most part, the film sticks to the generally established facts when it comes to depicting the friendship between Sharon, Jay, Abigail, and Fykowsky.  However, it takes a lot of liberties with its portrayal of Steve Parent.  As opposed to how he’s portrayed in the film, Parent was actually an 18 year-old friend of the property’s caretaker who, because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, became the first victim of the Tate murders.  By most accounts, he never met Sharon or any of the other inhabitants of the main house.)

In the film, Sharon is haunted by premonitions.  She has dreams in which she sees her friends being murdered by feral human beings.  She gets disturbing phone calls and she hears weird voices talking about someone named Charlie.  Her friends keep telling her that the nightmares are just a result of the stress that she’s under but Sharon is convinced that they’re a warning.  (Oddly, some of the scenes in which her friends dismiss her concerns are reminiscent of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby.)  After an hour of build up, the Family finally arrives at Ceilo Drive and, because of her dreams, Sharon is ready for them and able to fight back.  Or is she?  Can history be changed? the film asks, Or has our fate already been determined?

So, here’s the good thing about The Haunting of Sharon Tate:  It’s clearly on Sharon’s side.  It doesn’t glorify Manson and his family.  Hilary Duff gives a touching and, at times, heart-breaking performance as Sharon Tate and the film holds her up as a symbol of hope, optimism, kindness, and everything else that was lost as a result of Manson’s crimes.  The film itself is well-directed and genuinely scary and the final shot is haunting.

Here’s the bad thing about The Haunting of Sharon Tate:  It may be well-made but it’s still exploiting a real-life tragedy, one in which six people lost their lives.  (That’s not counting all of the other murders that Manson ordered.)  To be honest, if the film was called The Haunting of Jessica Smith, I probably wouldn’t have any reservations about recommending it to horror fans.  Instead, it’s called The Haunting of Sharon Tate and that makes it very hard to watch the film with a clear conscience.  Do the film’s technical strengths make up for the film’s inherent ickiness?  That’s the question that every viewer will have to ask and answer for themselves.

I will say this: I do think that The Haunting of Sharon Tate is a thousand times better than something like Wolves At The Door, in which Sharon was portrayed with all the depth of a Friday the 13th summer camp counselor.  The Haunting of Sharon Tate left me feeling feeling frightened, disturbed, and, because of my struggle to reconcile the film’s technical strengths with its morally dubious premise, more than a little annoyed.  It also left me mourning for Sharon Tate and every other victim of Manson and his brainwashed gang of zombies.  Is the film a tribute to Sharon or a crass exploitation of her memory?  At times, it seems to be both which is one reason why it’s such a frustrating film.

Well-made and problematic to the extreme, The Haunting of Sharon Tate is as close to a modern grindhouse film as we’re going to get in today’s antiseptic age.  Whether or not that’s a good enough reason to sit through it is a question that each viewer will have to decide for themselves.