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TOMB OF LIGEIA, THE(director: Roger Corman; screenwriters: from the story by Edgar Allan Poe/Robet Towne; cinematographer: Arthur Grant; editor: Alfred Cox; music: Kenneth V. Jones; cast: Vincent Price (Verden Fell), Elizabeth Shepherd (Rowena Trevanian/Ligeia Fell), John Westbrook (Christopher Gough), Oliver Johnston (Kenrick, Fell’s servant), Derek Francis (Lord Trevanian), Richard Vernon (Dr Vivian), Ronald Adam (Minister at graveside); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Samuel Z. Arkoff/Pat Green; AIP/MGM Home Entertainment; 1965-UK)
“interesting in a morbid sort of way.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Roger Corman (“The Raven”/”The Fall of the House of Usher”/”The Masque of the Red Death”) directs this gothic horror tale based on a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. It was the last of Roger Corman’s eight films based on a Poe story. Corman films it at various English locations instead of inside the studio, where he usually films, which turns out to be the film’s main asset. It was scripted by Robert Towne, who in 1974 did the same for Chinatown (winning an Oscar for that effort).

The brooding moody photography, the ambiguous nature of the story line and the long twisted monologues by Vincent Price at his hammiest give the film a somewhat pleasing effect; at least, it takes away some of the film’s tedium.

Set in the English countryside of 1821 among the ruins of an abbey, where there appears an obsessive aristocratic widower Verden Fell (Vincent Price) dressed in black and wearing sunglasses because of his severe aversion to the light. He is there to bury his wife Ligeia (Elizabeth Shepherd), a recent suicide whom Fell believes is not dead since before her death she hypnotized him and made him believe she would live forever. Ligeia’s buried in a churchyard over the minister’s objections that she can’t be buried there since she’s not a Christian. Before she’s put to rest, a black cat perched on the headstone screeches and Ligeia’s eyes suddenly open. This convinces Fell his wife has not left him for good, that her soul now resides in the black cat. Several months later the still grieving Fell, who lives in the abbey nearby his wife’s burial site, rescues his neighbor Lady Rowena (also played by Shepherd) when she’s thrown from her mount after straying from her dad’s foxhunt, the Lord Trevanian (Derek Francis), and lands in the flowerbed by Ligeia’s tomb. This accident, where Rowena is nursed back to health in Fell’s digs, leads to a romance between the two blue bloods. I never believed she fell for Fell when the rational handsome aristocrat Christopher (John Westbrook) is cooing all over her with loving eyes and Fell is a weirdo downer pining all the time about the loss of his beloved first wife (but then again, what the hell do I know about aristocratic babes!).

The action picks up when Rowena finds hubby embracing Ligeia’s corpse in a hidden room in the creepy abbey and hubby acting all queer as if he’s possessed by his dead wife’s spirit. Before Rowena can flee, the nutty Fell torches the joint trapping them inside thinking Rowena’s now Ligeia and he will be with her forever. But to Rowena’s rescue comes the gallant lover boy Christopher, and the poor rich gal is brought back to her senses by the good guy nobleman.

It was interesting in a morbid sort of way, as Shepherd had the looks for the part but her acting was too stiff to either convey real terror or curiosity and Price had the eerie chatter all revved up but the scares just weren’t there.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”