I had despaired of ever doing another “Worst of Netflix.” I got movies I fully expected to qualify, but they somehow just… didn’t work. Mountaintop Motel Massacre was, oddly for a movie about a massacre, too uneventful. My review of Zzyzx turned into a discussion of my atlas-obsessed childhood, since the characters had such consistently random motives I couldn’t think of what to say about it. Martin gave me one good line, “George Romero is better at directing the living than the dead; the only thing active in this 1974 vampire rape romp is the garish wallpaper,” but otherwise didn’t give me much to work with.
Then, tonight, I saw it. I had put on my new polyester/silk blend bathrobe (I take back everything I ever said about Burlington Coat Factory, this cost 13 dollars and I live in it like a Golden Girl), fixed myself a nicer-than-usual dinner of buttered pasta with smoked salmon and asparagus (A SMALL PORTION) and settled in to watch a nice, uplifting little morality tale about a college student who gets possessed by Lizzie Borden’s ghost.
2006, NR, 121 minutes. "When college student Cassy (Danielle De Luca) takes a summer job at a museum devoted to the legend of Lizzie Borden, she has no idea how that job will come to dominate her life. Soon, she's obsessed with the mystery surrounding the notorious parent killer, even dressing the part of young Lizzie. When her own friends start dropping dead, however, the fun changes to fear as Cassy and her boyfriend realize they could be the next victims."
Whoo, Daisy. This movie has some serious things going on. Like most horror movies, it opens with an “ominous” line of poetry on the screen and a child’s laughter. We then see the fabled date “August 4, 1892,” and then heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Lizzie! She swings a hatchet kind of… near her stepmother as little splashes of blood fly onto the victim from offscreen. Her father shows up and gets his whacks with the same vague pantomime motion, and then we see Lizzie’s hand holding a brooch. She drops it, theatrically, onto her stepmother’s torso, where it lands with an echoing thud.
The production quality is… low. The camera is steady, but the opening titles look like they were done by a high-school student in Flash. The whole movie has that not-really-crisp look of amateur film, which they can’t help if they really are amateurs, but…
Now, I won’t go too deep into it, but the Lizzie Borden case is one of the most well-known and best-studied murder cases in American history. You’d think they’d make the murders a little bit accurate. I know it’s a movie, but Lizzie freaks know the case cold, and are also the kind of people who Netflix movies like, I don’t know, The Curse of Lizzie Borden? The victims were killed in different rooms, and one was very fat and one was old. The two middle-sized, middle-aged actors piled atop each other give the impression that someone’s parents volunteered an hour, a master bedroom, and a dropcloth. Also, her name wasn’t “Elizabeth,” it was “Lizzie” on her birth certificate. Lizzie Andrew Borden – can you blame her?
So now we’re in a college classroom. “Present Day… Los Angeles, California.” Most overused identifier ever. Some assholes are in an American folklore class, being assholes. Slow times at Ridgemont Community College. One pretty girl remembers the name “Lizzie Borden” and recites the “forty whacks” nursery rhyme with what passes for feeling in B movies. Everyone is impressed with how smart she is. (“I’ll take ‘American hatchet murderesses from Massachusetts with the last name “Borden,”’ for $200, Alex.”)
With no warning, Smart Girl has a vivid hallucination of herself committing the murders, as her classmates surround her chanting “Blood! Kill! Blood! Kill!” She does the standard horror movie jump and shriek, followed by “No, I’m fine. I’m fine.” Why is no one in these movies ever dismayed by the first hallucination?
We go outside for a brief, horrifying conversation, during which several interchangeable students agree that of course you think about killing your parents, fantasize about it, masturbate to it, but you don’t do it - THAT would be WEIRD. They disperse, and smart girl – Cassy – and a man we presume is her boyfriend process to “have sex,” or something. There’s a lot of close-ups of kisses and ear-biting, but she keeps her bra on.
The next day, we go on a field trip to a replica of the Lizzie Borden house. IT’s operated by a prim, fussy old woman of a man with heavily gelled curls who’s described as “a little ECCENTRIC” by the professor. Movies have ruined that word. I’m a little eccentric – I believe in voodoo and one summer I started smoking so I could take cigarette breaks – but in movies, if someone is described as “a little eccentric” they’re either a hatchet murderer or a devil-worshipping transvestite Communist with hooks for hands. The word for that is “freak.”
So, at this point, I thought The Curse of Lizzie Borden was going the way of Zzyzx and getting too incoherent to review, and I stopped taking notes. (I changed my mind because it got RULL funny at the end.) Cassy gets hired to dress up as Lizzie Borden and give tours at the museum. For some reason, this involves moving into the house. Her roommate and boyfriend try to dissuade her by making fun of her acting ability “Remember how bad the reviews were of your performance in Cats?” as though it were possible to do a good job pretending to be a singing cat.
Cassy moves in and starts wearing an old-fashioned blue dress. She looks like an extra from a high-school production of “Our Town.” The ECCENTRIC who runs the museum gives her the brooch that appeared in the first scene. Later that night she either kills him or hallucinates that she kills him – someone in a blue dress chases him with a hatchet, and then he gets too tired to run and prays as she catches up with him and chops him up. Then Cassy wakes up in bed, not wearing the dress, so supposedly they’re setting up suspense as to whether she did it, or something.
“Or something” turns out to be it, as in the next scene one of Cassy’s interchangeable friends shows up, and Cassy kills her with a hatchet. Now, I know of two horror movies with such convincing violence that the makers were actually brought before the law and made to prove that the violence hadn’t been real. (Cannibal Holocaust and Anthropophagus, for those who’ll want to Wikipedia.) This murder is the opposite of that. The ax gets waved a little, and then we see a close-up of the victim’s hands pushing link sausage covered in Karo-corn-syrup blood through a hole in her T-shirt. You’re supposed to think she’s trying to hold in her guts, but it looks nothing like that, to the point that you have to figure out what they’re trying to do. At one point you see her from behind just… spooling out link after link into a pile on the ground. If her bowels were divided into links like that, she wasn’t long for this world anyway.
We cut to two of Cassy’s friends – they have names, but whatever, they essentially function as one not-too-interesting character – talking about how they’re Worried About Cassy. Not a word about the friend that got axed.
Cassy waves her magic axe, and the professor’s head falls off.
The friends are still Worried. Not enough to act or anything, but enough to have looooooooooong conversations about how Cassy’s Acting Weird.
Her surviving friends go to see a preview tour, or something, at the museum. Cassy answers only to the name “Lizzie,” refuses to serve alcohol, and slaps her boyfriend for trying to kiss her. All this 21st-century freshness pisses her off so much that she excuses herself briefly to chop up a friend who has taken a smoke break in the back yard (all the murders so far have taken place by one sickly-looking orange tree, which emotes more than most of the victims). Upon returning to her surviving guests, she talks about how she was innocent, innocent, but everyone accused her anyway, so she sold her soul to the Devil for the chance of revenge, revenge!
Boyfriend: Cassy, you’re freaking me out!
Cassy: Oh, I’m so sorry! I was just practicing my act! Did you like it?
So then for some reason two of the friends go downstairs to the cellar, where they find the ECCENTRIC’S severed head, completely undecayed after three days in an un-air-conditioned cellar in August. Screaming, running, and then the three friends run out to the yard, where they are soon confronted by Cassy, who didn’t go upstairs to change at all, but instead ran to get her axe.
So, of course, the three friends run to the street, screaming for help. A neighbor calls the police, who arrive within five minutes and bring Cassy down in a hail of bullets. Just kidding, they actually stand in a row by the orange tree and try to reason with Cassy/Lizzie, who’s screaming about the Devil, revenge, and so forth. She swings the axe wide; two friends duck and it hits the third. Cassy takes the time to chop her up good, during which… the remaining two try to reason with her.
She swings, they duck. She swings, they duck. It’s like watching people play Marco Polo, except everyone’s eyes are open and there’s an axe. One guy taunts her, hoping she’ll turn on him and allow the other to escape, and it almost works: she does turn on him, but the other guy doesn’t run. She kills the taunter and then turns on her boyfriend, who says, “Fuck you. Go ahead and kill me. It’s not worth it. This isn’t worth it.” It’s not worth the effort to avoid being hacked to death. Move over, Clerks; this is the slacker movie to end all slacker movies. Cassy axes him in the chest. He punches her in the jaw and she goes down like a sack of doorknobs. He staggers around a little, swearing and showing off the hole in his chest (bacon and strawberry syrup, I think) and falls over dead.
WE cut to a disheveled Lizzie in a padded cell, chanting in an absent, little-girl voice:
“Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
And when she saw what she had done
I GAVE MY FATHER FORTY-ONE!”
And lunges at the camera. She’s so conventionally pretty that the twisted mask of hatred and rage the camera freezes on just looks like a good-natured sorority girl trying to make a scary face for the haunted house she and her Kappa sisters are running for kids at the cancer hospital.
There’s a sequel, PS. I haven’t seen it, but I can only hope it pits Cassy/Lizzie against an elderly Orthodox rabbi (let’s go all out and say he’s from Kiryas Joel) possessed by the ghost of the Boston Strangler. Rabbi/Strangler wins when he taunts Cassy/Lizzie about her meager body count, she swings, he ducks, and she buries her axe in an electrical transformer.