Forty six years ago today, on 8 August 1969, the actress Sharon Tate was brutally murdered at 10050 Cielo Drive, the rented home she shared with her film-maker husband Roman Polanski, by members of the Manson Family – followers of criminal guru Charles Manson.
Over the coming days I’m going to look at the films that Tate starred in before her untimely death, starting with “Eye Of The Devil”, her first starring role filmed in 1965 and released in the UK during the summer of 1966.
Directed by J. Lee Thompson (“The Guns Of Navarone”, “Conquest Of The PLanet Of The Apes”) the movie was based on a novel by Philip Loraine titled “Day Of The Arrow”.
Philippe de Montfauçon (David Niven – “Murder By Death”, “The Pink Panther”) is a wealthy vineyard owner who becomes concerned when he learns that his crops have failed for the third consecutive year.
He heads off to the family estate at Montfauçon Castle in Belenac to rectify matters, but tells his wife Catherine (Deborah Kerr – “From Here To Eternity”, “The Sundowners”) that he does not want her or their children to go with him, something that Catherine is none too pleased about.
Arriving in Belnac, Philippe is greeted by the village priest, Father Dominic (Donald Pleasence – “The Eagle Had Landed”, “From Beyond The Grave”), who makes vague references to a duty which he says that he was sure Philippe would not refuse when the time came.
Still at their home, Catherine is disturbed when the couple’s young son Jacques (Robert Duncan – “Rasputin : The Mad Monk”) has a sleepwalking episode during which he talks of going to see his father, leading her to decide that she needs to take the children out to the estate.
When Catherine gets to the castle she is unsettled by a pair of mysterious siblings. Christian de Caray (David Hemmings – “Blow-Up”, “Barbarella”) who likes to wander around the castle grounds shooting birds with his bow and arrow and his sister Odile de Caray (Tate) who has a hypnotic effect on those around her.
When Catherine sees the siblings sneaking into the castle with a dove that Christian had killed and follows them to witness some kind of pagan ritual taking place. Spying hooded figures in the woods has Catherine further spooked and fearful for the safety of her husband…
Tate apparently met with the High Priest and High Priestess of Alexandrian Wicca in the UK to prepare for her role.
Although she and Hemmings both have relatively minor roles in terms of speaking parts, their presence is essential to the feel of the film and Tate, in particular, is quite spellbinding – beautiful and also projecting an ethereal quality that, for me, really made the film much more effective that it might otherwise have been.
Also known as “13”, this is certainly an interesting film with clear parallels with “The Wicker Man”, especially in terms of how it treats paganism and pagan rites and the narrative about sacrifice with regard to failed crops, and the isolated and insular community involved. Whilst it isn’t in the same league as its more famous counterpart this particular film is still well worthy of watching.