The Tomb of Ligeia

Synopsis: Roger Corman and Vincent Price hook up for horror in Edgar Allan Poe’s “most terrifying” (L.A. Herald Examiner) tale of passion, possession and PURR-fect evil! When a dead wife sinks her claws into immortality – and comes back as a ferocious feline – she leads her husband’s (Price) new bride on a deadly game of cat and mouse. And when the fur starts flying, she soon learns that even in death… she can land on her feet!


The Tomb of Ligeia 6.25

eyelights: its outdoor location shooting. its willful female lead.
eyesores: its lack of suspense. its ridiculous finale. its poorly-conceived nightmare sequence.

“The eyes, they confound me.”

After the disappointing box office returns of ‘The Masque of the Red Death‘ , which had been popular but much less so than its predecessors in the Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe cycle, Corman and American International Pictures decided to return to the well (or grave, really) for their eighth Poe picture.

With 1964’s ‘The Tomb of Ligeia’, Corman revisited familiar themes, such as a premature burials and madness, which had served him so well in ‘House of Usher‘, ‘The Pit and the Pendulum‘ and ‘The Premature Burial‘. He even rehired Vincent Price as his lead, despite a few objections due to his incongruent age.

One key difference is that, like ‘Masque’, it was a British co-production – so Corman made his film in the UK. He also decided to eschew sets in order shoot on location more, giving the picture a much greater scope than any of its predecessors; his use of an abbey and the countryside in Norfolk really makes it breathe.

Another interesting touch is the strength of his female character, Rowena: played by Elizabeth Shepherd, Rowena is not just a love interest – she’s the seducer, a strong-willed young woman who flirts with Price’s Verden openly and challenges him. She also leads an investigation into the death of Verden’s ex, Ligeia.

Otherwise, though, ‘The Tomb of Ligeia’ seems all too familiar: soon after the death of his spouse, Verden meets Rowena at a chance encounter. She turns her back on her current suitor to wed Verden, despite his idiosyncrasies (sensitivity to light, violent streaks), only to find out that Ligeia may not be dead after all…

The first time I saw this picture, maybe a decade ago, it bored me – and yet I didn’t think it was a bad movie. This time, however, I couldn’t help but find fault in it. To me, it felt as though Corman was desperately trying to muster up some enthusiasm or excitement all the while remaining chained to the series’ conventions.

His heart just doesn’t seem into it; ‘Ligeia’ can be sloppy.

For instance:

  • Why hold a funeral at all, if the priest suddenly won’t allow Ligeia into the cemetery’s “sacred ground”? Didn’t he know ahead of time who they were burying? Seems a little late to reconsider, no?
  • The first encounter between Verden and Rowena couldn’t be more contrived: she leaves a hunting party to visit the nearby cemetery, falls off her horse when a cat scares her, and Verden just happens to be there. Then she ditches her friend, Christopher, and leave with Verden; Christopher mysteriously disappears from the picture. Um… what?
  • The relationship between Rowena and Christopher is unclear. Is he her suitor? Are they lovers? Friends? Family? He certainly seems fond of her… but is it romantic? Who knows!
  • Why is Rowena so turned on by Verden, this pasty, creepy older man? What does she see in him? Who knows! Even after he attacks her, and warns her not to come by unannounced, she remains moist in his presence – and then decides to marry him. WTF.
  • On their honeymoon, the couple is seen walking on a beach, in the field at Stonehenge, …etc. But the actors were obviously not on location (these were probably stand-ins) as their voice-overs are recorded in the studio. Poorly. So very poorly.
  • Where do the ruins of the abbey end and Verden’s mansion begin? Or are they one and the same? Does it even matter?
  • For whatever reason, to prove the power of hypnosis to his guests, Verden practices his mad skills on Rowena. And, for some reason, she’s briefly possesses by Ligeia – though nothing significant comes of it.
  • In his investigations, Christopher discovers that the interred body of Ligeia is actually a wax figure. As if no one would have noticed, wax being so lifelike and all…
  • In the finale, to snap Verden out of his madness, Rowena hypnotizes him. Um… how? Did she learn to do this by osmosis? And is Verden that susceptible a subject, anyway?
  • Verden fights a cat. Yep. Man vs muppet: my favourite kind of showdown.

And that’s just for a start.

Really, what makes this production appealing is the outdoor location filming in the cemetery and the ruins, as well as the foxhunt from the opening sequence. Given that Corman’s Poe films usually affect a theatrical quality due to being shot on low-budget sets, this added a rather pleasant dimension to the picture.

Though the usual Poe-related themes are ever-so-enjoyable, by this eighth picture they feel trite. Perhaps ‘The Tomb of Ligeia’ would have played better had it been the first in the series. But, as it stands, it’s difficult to muster up any interest in something that’s been done many times over – and a little bit better.

Thankfully, Roger Corman put the series to rest.


(Though AIP would try to keep it on life-support for many years afterwards…)

Story: 6.0
Acting: 7.5
Production: 7.0

Chills: 1.0
Gore: 2.0
Violence: 2.5

Date of viewing: February 28, 2017

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