Was legendary ax murderer Lizzie Borden nothing more than a cold-blooded killer? That's the basis for Lifetime's latest film, which stars Christina Ricci as the titular woman standing trial for the murder of her parents.
While there are countless theories about Borden's crimes — including that her father Andrew Borden's illegitimate son committed the murders or Lizzie committed them during an epileptic fit brought on by menstruation — Lizzie Borden Took an Ax seems happier sticking to the general consensus that Lizzie did the deed.
"What we came up with was that [Lizzie] was somebody who has severe antisocial personality disorder and was very sociopathic and manipulative. [She] could only sort of express herself in needs and in a very narcissistic way," Ricci tells TVGuide.com.
While much research has been done on the Borden murders, many questions remained unanswered, and the Lifetime movie doesn't bother offering any theories of their own. In fact, the film only barely touches upon Lizzie's motives, vaguely alluding to an incestuous relationship with her father as well as the financially and socially conservative lifestyle being forced upon her.
Instead, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax focuses the majority of the time on the trial and how she got away with it. "What was more interesting for me to play was a guilty person trying to convince other people and possibly also herself that she is innocent," Ricci explains. And with such a flimsy alibi, Lizzie has a lot of convincing to do — especially with regard to her sister Emma (Clea DuVall), who is often brushed aside in retellings of the crimes.
Even after catching Lizzie burning the dress she wore on the day of the murders, Emma's faith in Lizzie remains mostly intact — though painfully strained — throughout the film. "There's this sort of alignment that they have," Ricci says. "And she admits that they have to protect each other because they understand what the other one has gone through."
All these years later, the legend of Lizzie Borden lives on — due in part to the unique circumstances of the crime. While most women kill with poison or a more hands-off murder approach, Lizzie chose to bludgeon her father and step-mother with an ax. "I think that shows a ton of rage and a desire to really kind of destroy and punish these two people," Ricci notes.
And even though Lizzie was realistically the only person who could have committed the murders, she was acquitted because in 1892 , mostly because it was unfathomable that a woman could possibly murder anyone, let alone her parents. It's the story's tabloid-ready appeal that perhaps makes it a perfect fit in the Lifetime Movie vault.
"It was one of the first really sensationalized courtroom dramas in our country," Ricci says of Lizzie's trial. "Especially [because] she was a young woman who was also an ax murderer who got away with it. I think that this was something that really captured and horrified the nation."
It was these darker aspects to the story that Ricci, a true crime fan, enjoyed tapping into with a morbid glee. "It's really fun to play something that's so extreme, something that's so outside the realm of possibility for you," she says. "It's more like the kind of playacting you did as a child, because it's just so in your imagination and far from who you are."
Plus, Ricci notes, "How many times are you naked with blood on you wielding an ax?"
Lizzie Borden Took an Ax airs Saturday at 8/7c on Lifetime.