Lizzie Borden Took an Axe (2014) & The Lizzie Borden Chronicles (2015)

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Lizzie Borden took an ax
And gave her mother 40 whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father 41.

Yet another TV series attempting to cash in on the historical horror zeitgeist, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles (2015) extends the story of the TV movie Lizzie Borden Took an Axe (2014). The original Lifetime Channel production simply told the story of Lizzie Borden’s trial and acquittal for murdering her father and stepmother — although the movie totally implicated her in the crime. In fact, it ends with her whispering a confession to her sister, Emma, causing Emma to leave home forever. Yet the series begins with the two sisters living together, a little tense, but mostly happily; the movie’s “ending” forgotten. Oh well!

Lizzie Borden

The real Lizzie Borden, 1892.

[FWIW, most everything in the historical story points to Lizzie as the murderer. A lack of physical evidence (some of which was destroyed) helped get Lizzie an acquittal, even though she was judged guilty by the public. This was pretty much the O.J. Simpson trial of the 1890s.]

Lizzie Borden Took an Axe

From the movie: A portrait of a happy family — NOT.

Both this movie and the TV series star Christina Ricci as Lizzie — yep, little Wednesday Addams is all grown up and killing people. If only the show had some of that Addams Family humor and camp. *sigh* It just falls flat most of the time. Ricci’s delivery is excellent, but the script doesn’t give her enough to work with. The dialog is plodding, and the overall pace is too slow for what should be a fun serial killer romp.

Lizzie Borden Took an Axe

If it fits, you must acquit, oh wait…

Lizzie in this series has the outline of an quirky, remorseless, female serial killer, and that could be a fantastic character to watch, something we just don’t get every day. Many of her victims are nasty types who at least partly deserve their fates. She slays an attempted rapist, a pimp, an animal abuser, and her own blackmailing, overly aggressive half-brother, among others. And she kills them all calmly, coolly, with a smile on her face. It’s not grim, and it’s just on the edge of wry and witty. However, instead of clever screenwriting, the producers rely on MTV-style camera cuts, way too much hand-held camerawork, and cheesy modern pop music to liven things up.

Lizzie Borden Took an Axe

Borden parents’ funeral scene in the movie. Note the tombstone dates.

 

Lizzie Borden Costumes

So, if it’s almost but not quite that entertaining, is it at least worth watching for the costumes? Well … sorry to say, the Lizzie Borden movie and TV series costumes are about the same quality as the writing. Meaning, almost but not quite there. Better than all rental stock, but this ain’t Penny Dreadful with an Oscar-winning costume designer and Showtime’s budget.

The Lizzie Borden Chronicles

Decent costumes on Lizzie & Emma in the TV series.

Lizzie Bordon Took an Axe had costumes designed by Marilyn Vance, who apparently hasn’t done any historical costume movies before.  The Lizzie Borden Chronicles has costumes designed by Joseph A. Porro who did Tombstone (1993) and Stargate (1994), but more interestingly, he’s designing costumes for the 17th-century witch fantasy TV show Salem (2014). I’ll be reviewing Salem soon, but suffice it to say for now that the costumes are far more goth-in-a-box than actual 17th-century historically accurate. That series is on WGN, which, like Lifetime, is an American basic-cable TV channel, not exactly known for big budgets or high production values. And it shows.

The Lizzie Borden Chronicles

Lizzie’s (soon-to-be ex-) friend Nancy wears this exact same outfit for four episodes in the TV series.

While the Lizzie Borden movie and TV series had different costume designers, they’re fairly similar. Both get the basic 1890s silhouettes right, but without any bells or whistles. The main difference is that Lizzie looks a bit more mature and grown-up in the series vs. looking young and innocent in the movie. Most of the costumes are generally accurate to the period, but they aren’t terribly exciting.

Usually, it’s the hair and accessories that are off. For example, in the movie, Lizzie wears random neckties with open-collar shirts — so NOT period. Button up that shirt and wear the tie in an actual knot around the neck, sure. The TV series dropped that crap, but still, the accessories look rather off-the-shelf — or bought from Etsy, in the case of the tiny top hats Lizzie wears. I spied a couple slightly better-quality hats in the later episodes, I’ll give them credit for that.

Lizzie Borden Took an Axe

Not a proper Victorian tie & shirtwaist, exhibit A.

Lizzie Borden Took an Axe

Not a proper Victorian tie & shirtwaist, exhibit B.

Lizzie Borden Took an Axe

Is the movie recycling 1950s hats here?

The Lizzie Borden Chronicles

This hat in the TV series reads very 1980s not 1890s.

Also, while I see people credited as “hair stylist” for both the movie and TV show, I wonder if anyone gave a glimpse at Victorian hair imagery. The women’s hair is typically done in a plain bun or limp updo with no volume, no braids, no curls, no nothing, just swept up and out of the way. Except for the one time Lizzie and Emma went to New York, when they added a few braids in their hairdos. But c’mon, Fall River, Massachusetts, wasn’t dinky at that time, it was a bustling industrial town, and these ladies were wealthy, they knew how hair was styled. I suppose we should be happy that it’s up and not hanging loose…

The Lizzie Borden Chronicles

See, they can have historical hair! But just for NYC.

The Lizzie Borden Chronicles

Emma & Lizzie wear a lot of capes & coats in the TV series — since the murders took place in summer, is this to differentiate the two productions? Or am I over-thinking it?

The Lizzie Borden Chronicles

Lizzie gets a whole lotta look in the TV series.

The Lizzie Borden Chronicles

Finally, a decent hat (it’s a later episode).

The Lizzie Borden Chronicles

Not a bad outfit overall (saving the good stuff for the end of the series?).

Many reports are calling The Lizzie Borden Chronicles an “eight-part miniseries,” but, being historical fiction, it could be very open-ended, so I wonder if there will be more. The TV show already jumped past the movie’s finale, so any conclusion at episode eight could be written past for a second season if the ratings are good enough.

The costumes start to get a tiny bit better around episode five, showing more accurate details and a few better accessories. Though, spoiler alert, Emma’s wedding gown, seen briefly, is both fugly and historically inaccurate, whether it’s new for her or supposed to be her mother’s! I can only hope that if there’s a season two, the aesthetics might improve.

 

Are you a fan of historical horror TV series or movies?  Have you watched Lizzie Borden?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. When she’s not dressing up in costumes, she can be found traveling the world with her sweetie and, occasionally, Kendra and Sarah. Her costuming and travel adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also maintains a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

7 Responses

  1. Michael L. McQuown

    Have been waiting for the commentary on the costumes, since it’s not my period. As for the history — forget it. Charlie Siringo had nothing to do with it and died elsewhere many years later. Why they dragged in a traceable historical character, I don’t know. Siringo also took a bad rap years ago for persecuting Etta Place (Elizabeth Montgomery), Butch Cassidy’s woman. Obviously, Ricci’s having fun, since she’s listed as executive producer. I’ll watch her in pretty much anything, but the comment about a certain lack of pizzazz is a valid one, Costumers sure love those 90’s shirtwaist outfits, don’t they? Artful Detective uses them a lot. Contrariwise, Yannick Bisson is forced to wear heavy wool suits even in 90-degree weather. I guess Canada doesn’t know about tropical weight wool.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      It’s really a thing these days to mix up historical characters in fiction (or even mix up a bunch of different fictional characters; see also Penny Dreadful). Notice Bat Masterson in the last ep of Lizzie Borden!

      Shirtwaist outfits can be so right, it’s sad when they’re done so wrong. It’s a smart look & was very common in the 1890s, I wish shows would stop trying to “fix” it or “jazz it up.”

      I really need to watch Artful Detective; I have eps recorded, but I have so many shows in my backlog to watch & review!

      Reply
      • Michael L. McQuown

        Has anyone commented on “Ripper Street”? Also, closer to our own time, “Foyle’s War” and “The Bletchley CIrcle”? Both in current showings are c. 1948, which I remember, being a war baby.

        Reply
      • The Author

        Artful Detective….is not so bad, but my question was how could Dr Grace be a “liberated woman!!!” and quit wearing corsets (set aside that well-fitted corsets are so much more comfortable than bras so that plot always makes me roll my eyes anyway) without having to have all her turn of the century clothes refitted? With my frontier side-tie petticoats from 150 years prior, sure, I can adjust, but tailored waistcoats and fitted skirts?

        Reply
  2. Kathleen Norvell

    Artful Detective (Ovation Channel’s title for Murdock Mysteries) has been mentioned before. I’m no authority on 1890s/early 1900s clothing, but it’s interesting to see the change in women’s clothing over the time period of the series, which starts around 1896 and has so far progressed into the early 1900s. Women discuss corsets; in fact, one episode revolves around a corset design and whether it could have killed a lingerie model. You can see the silhouette change over the years. Yep, a lot of shirtwaists. I love the hats. The designers try to distinguish the classes by the clothes they wear. We enter high-end hat shops, Eaton’s department store, jewelry stores. While Murdock wears his police detective “uniform” — the aforementioned black wool suit, we see the toffs in formal wear and driving outfits (love those dusters); modest bathing costumes (men and women); and boating, hockey, cycling, and baseball uniforms. If more knowledgeable folks are watching this, please review the costumes. I don’t get too many “squirrel alerts” from them, but I’m not an expert.

    Reply
  3. Andrea

    This has finally popped up on Netflix and I just came to mention the lavender nylon lace trimmed grey polysatin dress.

    I need bleach eye wash.

    Reply

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