Lifetime is going gothic this month with movies that tell the tales of two twisted families with very dark secrets.
First up is “Flowers in the Attic,” which is based on the scandalous V. C. Andrews novel you might have secretly read when it was passed around in grade school. It tells the story of the Dollanganger family, who look like the perfect 1950s family on the surface. However, the idyllic life of this beautiful family of blondes abruptly comes to an end when tragedy strikes. Mr. Dollanganger gets killed in a car accident, leaving the rest of the family with no way to survive on their own. Corrine Dollanganger (Heather Graham) convinces her four children to hide in the attic of their wealthy grandmother’s mansion so that she can try to reclaim her family fortune.
There’s a reason why the children must be hidden, and it’s related to the horrible abuse that they suffer at the hands of their cruel grandmother (Ellen Burstyn). The children also get neglected by the mother who they adore. Left in isolation while they go through puberty, the two oldest children, Cathy (Kiernan Shipka) and Christopher (Mason Dye), begin an incestuous relationship. It’s this part of the story that made “Flowers in the Attic” so sensational, along with the hot tarring, blood drinking, and arsenic poisoning.
A 1987 movie based on the book altered the ending and cut out Chris and Cathy’s incestuous relationship. Instead their grandmother just wrongly suspected that something was going on between the “devil’s spawn.” According to Entertainment Weekly, screenwriter Kayla Alpert said that the new TV movie will stick to the book’s story. However, it won’t go too far.
“It’s actually more fun being less explicit,” Alpert said. “I think just like in the novel, the teasing out of some of the violence and sexuality, it’s almost more fun to imply it than to show it.” She also commended Kiernan Shipka and Mason Dye for how they coped with portraying Chris and Cathy. “The actors were up for it and it was handled very sensitively, I hope, on set and on the pace as well. I feel like we really went for it. We didn’t pull any punches.”
The trailer sets the tone for the movie with its stripped-down version of the Guns N’ Roses song “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and it features lots of lusting, lashings, and verbal thrashings. It definitely looks more promising than the 1987 movie, and there’s been so much interest in “Flowers in the Attic” that Lifetime is already producing a movie based on the novel’s sequel, “Petals on the Wind.” Heather Graham could return to play Corrine, but Kiernan Shipka will be too young to play an adult Cathy on a quest for revenge. Lifetime should really consider casting “American Horror Story: Coven” actress Emma Roberts as the older version of the character.
The network’s second dark TV movie airing this month is “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax.” It stars another doe-eyed movie actress in Christina Ricci, who is brilliantly cast as another character that might have fascinated you in grade school. Remember that old jump-roping rhyme about Lizzie taking whacks at her father and stepmother? Ricci has plenty of experience with the horror genre after starring in movies like “Sleepy Hollow” and “After.Life,” and it’s very easy to imagine sadistic Wednesday Addams growing up to become Lizzie Borden (but she probably would have used the ax on her brother Pugsley, not her parents).
Lizzie was acquitted of the 1982 murders that gripped the nation by catering to its morbid fascination with gruesome crimes. However, there’s been plenty of speculation that she really was the one responsible for the unsolved murders.
According to the “LA Times,” “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax” actually puts the ax in Lizzie’s hand, and it uses incest to explain her actions. Ricci revealed the theory that she used to develop her sociopathic take on the character. “One of the main theories is that the father was living for a long time with his two daughters as wives, so that was disrupted when the stepmother came in,” she explained. “So the theory is that Lizzie hated her for replacing her role with her father, or that the stepmother came in and was happy to let the father continue and not be the savior that these girls needed.” Ricci’s version of the character will also borrow from “The Legend of Lizzie Borden” by having her commit the murders in the nude. “Bewitched” actress Elizabeth Montgomery played Lizzie in the 1975 TV movie.
Ricci told “The Today Show” that it’s a lot of fun to play a character that is “such an extreme,” and you can definitely see some extreme emoting by Ricci’s expressive eyes when you watch the trailer for the movie. Ricci also revealed that she got “really built” after weilding that ax—she had to make her swings historically accurate by swinging it 29 times. It’s hard to imagine the petite star living up to the nursery rhyme, however—it had Lizzie using the ax for a grand total of 81 whacks. In case you’re wondering, Christina Ricci doesn’t believe that Lizzie was innocent.
“Flowers in the Attic” airs Jan. 18 at 8 p.m. EST, and “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax” premieres on Jan. 25 at 8 p.m. EST. Are you going to check out either of these dark dramas?
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