In 2019, Hilary Duff starred in a movie called The Haunting of Sharon Tate, a slow gorefest released direct-to-video a few months ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Manson murders (it was deservedly, significantly overshadowed by Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood). But I personally have been haunted by The Haunting since February of 2018, when Duff took to Instagram to share a photo of herself, presumably taken on the film’s set. She is dressed as Tate, holding a teddy bear swaddled in an infant’s blanket. The caption? “Had the baby.” She included the flushed face emoji and the bear emoji for emphasis.
The comments are full of appalled fans (“shame shame shame on you and your castmates!” “Sharon Tate didn’t get a chance to even hold her baby. Debra deserves an apology!,” etc.). So how did Duff’s publicist or whatever never make her delete the post? Who took the time to swaddle the teddy bear so expertly? If she‘s supposed to be Tate, why are her roots so long? At least her makeup is mostly on point, if period-inaccurate – it’s a bit too smokey, and so many Tate-inspired looks forget eyeliner swiped on the crease of the eyeball.
Duff’s caption does imply a tiny bit of shame; the flushed face emoji acknowledges naughtiness, a small yikes. Multiple comments call Duff “heartless,” but is she actually just far drier than her work on Younger would imply? They do say comedy equals tragedy plus time.
Duff’s biting sense of humor, however, did not translate to critical or commercial success in this case. The Haunting, which she also executive produced, boasts a 15% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film’s conceit is that Duff/Tate had premonitions of being murdered in her home on Cielo Drive in Los Angeles in the days before her death, which you’d think would inspire the character to go get a room at the Chateau or something. Debra Tate, Sharon’s sister, called the project "tacky” and "exploitative." Duff clearly has a thing for feuding with figures from Hollywood’s second Golden Age.
The movie includes a lot of dialogue about fate. Duff speaks said dialogue in an accent that, like Tate’s, tries for Mid-Atlantic; her lips purse around words like “aware” and “important,” like a lisping Hepburn. When playing a board game that predicts the future, she wonders if she will live “a long and happy life,” and her die lands on “no.” She asks Aaron Samuels from Mean Girls if he thinks “we are slaves to our own destiny.” The camera routinely lingers on her pregnant belly.
Manson, affectionately known here as Charlie, pops up in mirrors and behind doors. His song “Cease to Exist” also features heavily on the soundtrack, which is all the man ever wanted. And unlike Tarantino’s film, which – spoiler – steers clear of real-life horror in favor of a comic sequence in which Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton blasts Manson acolyte Susan Atkins with a flamethrower, The Haunting restages the murders of Tate, 18-year-old groundskeeper Steve Parent, and her friends Sebring, Abigail Folger, and Wojciech Frykowski twice. In the final scene they, like Tarantino’s heroes, beat the satanic hippies and survive – only to stumble upon a crime scene featuring their corpses, the film making some half-baked metaphor about alternative universes.
Duff wears the dress from her Instagram throughout the film’s final act, including during Tate’s murder, recreated with nylon rope and knives. The teddy bear came from a scene showing a nursery for a baby that was never born. “Cielo,” Duff says, “means heaven in Spanish.”
“Remember When?” is a series in which we remember things long forgotten. Previously: Remember When Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau Sang a Song for Her Daughter, for MLK?