Helter Skelter redux: The 50th anniversary of the Manson family murders hovers over 3 films

Two years after the Summer of Love in 1967 came the summer of blood. That is when the followers of cult leader Charles Manson killed actress Sharon Tate, wife of director Roman Polanski, as well as her unborn baby and  four other victims in her Los Angeles home. The coven-like collective would commit a total of nine murders in four locations in July and August of 1969.

The macabre deadly spree and the mad mastermind figure behind them became a cultural phenomenon, starting with the 1974 book, “Helter Skelter,” co-written by prosecutor  Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry. Manson took the term from a Beatles’ song. An acclaimed 1976 two-part TV film based on the book was nominated for three Emmys scored a household share of 36.5, making it the 16th highest-rated movie to air on network TV.

A half-century later, filmmakers are hoping that audiences will be drawn again to the skin-crawling horrors that Manson unleashed upon an incense and peppermints world.

Opening on April 5 is “The Haunting of Sharon Tate” (watch trailer above), which portrays the actress who starred in the 1967 cult classic “Valley of the Dolls” and earned a Golden Globe nomination. Hilary Duff portrays the doomed beauty as having premonitions about her fate. For what it’s worth, Tate’s sister Debra has totally discredited this account, telling People magazine, “It doesn’t matter who it is acting in it — it’s just tasteless.”

Arriving on May 17 is “Charlie Says,” starring “The Crown’s” Matt Smith as the cult leader and focuses on the relationship between Manson and his harem of female followers. Merritt Wever, Annabeth Gish and Chace Crawford are also in the cast. It’s directed by Mary Harron, whose “American Psycho” from 2000 also focused on a murderous creep. It had its world premiere at last year’s Venice film festival, where critics weren’t all that kind, as the movie’s 44% Rotten Tomatoes score suggests. (see trailer below).

But the third Manson-related release, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” is due July 26 and just might be the charm as Quentin Tarantino delivers his first film in four years. The trailer is expected to be released next Friday with Jordan Peele’s R-rated horror movie, “Us.”

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The character-driven comedy-drama pairs Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as a TV Western star and his longtime stunt double and best friend. Margot Robbie will bring Tate to life and it features the final screen appearance of Luke Perry as Wayne Maunder, an actor who co-starred on the TV Western series, “Lancer.” A cavalcade of other actors, including Tarantino regulars like Tim Roth and Michael Madsen, will show up.

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