Lifetime’s ‘Lizzie Borden Took An Ax’ Is Another Reminder of Lack of Female Villains in Horror

By  · Published on November 19th, 2013

Lifetime, the Network for Women Who Have Been Scorned and Are Going to do Something About it, Damnit, is at it again. With the channel’s new penchant for producing stunning, over-the-top biopics of trainwreck starlets and their old go-to of churning out stories about women in grave danger/psychosexual affairs, they have finally found the perfect hybrid in their latest creation: Lizzie Borden Took An Ax.

As in, “gave her mother forty whacks,” Lizzie Borden, the woman technically acquitted of brutally slaying her father and stepmother with a hatchet in the summer of 1892, but history and Lifetime don’t really care about that detail. This movie will be about Borden the murderer, with Christina Ricci doing the honors of bringing the long-dead killer back to life on the small screen; as that truly, truly beautiful tagline says – “it’s time to bury the hatchet.” Since this is Lifetime, the poster has Borden re-imagined as a sultry murderess in an off-the-shoulder nightgown with just the cutest smattering of blood on the hem, but looking at Ricci’s coy face and the drag of the ax means that there’s going to be some quality campy murder happening here.

While Ricci’s take on the iconic (alleged!) killer will be enjoyable, it can’t go without being said that the fact that a movie about a big-time female killer is being made is a big deal. While the horror genre has always been hospitable to women in terms of heroes and protagonists – the Final Girl being a role unique to the genre in itself – the rarity of female villains in horror is palpable.

While there are several notable female horror icons, the number in comparison to their overall male counterparts is less than even. Yes, there are the Carrie Whites ruining proms, the Samaras at the bottoms of the wells and the Annie Wilkeses knocking out ankles with sledge hammers, but it’s fair to say that none of the female villains have gotten the same notoriety or sheer variety as the men. Where are the lady Freddy Kruegers, Michael Myers, Pinheads? Even in the first Friday the 13th, when it was revealed that Pamela Voorhees was the true killer, Jason Voorhees and his hockey mask became the face of the franchise and the resident murderer in every film from there on out.

And why is that? In many of these cases, men are just allowed to be villains, no explanation necessary. We don’t really care to know why Jason Voorhees is out there destroying campers’ special summer romances at the lake, one slash at a time, but we know in great detail that Samara from The Ring has taken to climbing out of televisions and destroying faces because she was severely mistreated as a child and put down that well by her own mother. Even with Carrie we know what happened all along in that awful high school, so despite the hellfire raining down on prom, we’re well aware how we got to this point.

It’s an interesting situation, in that it’s not that the female villains are being seen as too weak to handle the job, but a little bit too complex for the task. People aren’t always looking for a sprawling backstory when they’re hitting up the latest frightfest for some jump scares; they’re looking for a slasher to be leaping out around corners with a bloody knife in hand, waiting for the next fresh kill.

Of course, there’s a lot more at play here than just the complexity of the women involved. Obviously there is always going to be some yahoo who won’t see a film because they think that having a female lead won’t be scary enough, but pop in Audition some time, my friend. Just as there are people who believe that women can’t carry films in any genre.

Though a Lifetime movie probably isn’t going to garner huge success, the Lizzie Borden movie is a step in the right direction for the women of the horror genre who aren’t there to duke it out as the Final Girl. Here we have a bloody, brutal murder done by a woman with no real, solid notion of why she went through with the crime. Hell, there’s even a nursery rhyme about her. Naturally, Lifetime will be taking care of her motive in a probably salacious manner, but hopefully most of those 90-odd minutes will be spent burying that hatchet. Now, if only the filmmakers in the horror world can start making better – and more – evil women, then maybe I can stop having this ax to grind.

Lizzie Borden Took An Ax premieres on Lifetime January 25, 2014.