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!
[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.]
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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…
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?