The Tomb of Ligeia
Cast & Crew
Verden Fell has his wife, Ligeia, buried in a churchyard in 1821 despite the parson's objections that Ligeia was not a Christian. A black cat perched atop the coffin screeches, and Ligeia's eyes open for a moment before the grave is closed. Several months later, Lady Rowena, the daughter of a local squire, is fox hunting when she is suddenly thrown from her horse near Ligeia's grave. Frightened by the surroundings and the loud wailing of a black cat, Rowena faints and is carried to safety by Fell. She finds herself strangely attracted to him in spite of his forboding manner and the gloomy Gothic abbey where he lives. The two eventually marry, but after they return from their honeymoon, Fell becomes more remote than ever and leaves Rowena alone at night. She begins to have dreams involving the black cat and Ligeia, and one night she discovers a dead fox in her bed. Christopher Gough, an admirer of Rowena, becomes suspicious, and after exhuming Ligeia's coffin, he finds a wax figure inside. Meanwhile, Rowena smashes through a mirror and finds Fell in the arms of the preserved body of Ligeia, who apparently had hypnotized Fell into believing that she would live forever. Rowena tries to help Fell, but he convinces her that she has become Ligeia. Possessed with the spirit of his dead wife, Fell sets fire to the abbey and tries to kill the cat. Christopher manages to rescue Rowena, but Fell dies in the flames, clutching the cat.
Kenneth V. Jones
The Tomb of Ligeia
In his book Vincent Price: The Art of Fear Denis Meikle quoted the actor, who took some of the credit for the unusual look of the picture: "The Tomb of Ligeia was vaguely based on an idea that Roger and I had once. I had said I had always wanted to do a picture in a ruin, but actually using the ruin as an actual place, with real furniture in it and the ruin around it, which I thought would be very effective. This is sort of what he adapted to The Tomb of Ligeia, which I think was the best one we ever did." The actual shooting location was at the ruins of Swaffham Priory in the county of Norfolk in East Anglia.
The film opens in 1821 in the English countryside as aristocratic Verden Fell (Vincent Price) is attending the burial of his wife Ligeia (Elizabeth Shepherd). Fell believes his wife is not truly dead because she had denounced the concept of death itself as a lack of will; when her eyes appear to open through the glass window of her coffin, Fell half-heartedly accepts it as a post-mortem response at first. But when a black cat perches on her headstone Fell takes it as a further sign of his wife's living spirit. Fell lives with his servants in an abbey near the burial site, and several months after Ligeia's death he comes to the aid of his neighbor Lady Rowena (also Elizabeth Shepherd) when she is thrown from her horse, landing near Ligeia's gravesite. Fell nurses her back to health and they fall in love. Despite the protests of her father Lord Trevanion (Derek Francis) and her former beau Christopher (John Westbrook), Rowena marries Fell. The marriage that follows is beset by odd circumstances to say the least: Fell disappears for hours at a time with seemingly no recollection of his doings, and Rowena is plagued by nightmare visions and a vicious black cat that roams the estate all possible signs of Ligeia's influence from beyond the grave.
The script for The Tomb of Ligeia was by Robert Towne, who had earlier written the ultra-low-budget Last Woman on Earth (1960) for Corman. Towne would later pen such iconic 1970s screenplays as The Last Detail (1973) and Chinatown (1974) in addition to being one of the most in-demand "script doctors" of the 1970s. His script for The Tomb of Ligeia was subtle and cerebral compared to earlier examples in the series such as those by Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont. As Meikle observes, "with The Tomb of Ligeia, a sense of realism finally intruded upon the Poe series not only because the tale was staged in natural surroundings, but because the script constantly questions the Gothic precepts which previous films had taken for granted. What Robert Towne attempted was a genuine ghost story...a real tale of the supernatural along the more suggestive lines of the Val Lewton thrillers of the 1940s."
The Tomb of Ligeia was the 2nd film in the Poe series to be filmed in England. The previous entry, The Masque of the Red Death (1964) had been shot, with very inventive use of color, by cinematographer Nicolas Roeg. For The Tomb of Ligeia, Corman employed Arthur Grant, longtime director of photography for many Hammer horror films, including The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Phantom of the Opera (1962), and Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969). Alas, the inventiveness and innovation of The Tomb of Ligeia runs out before the final reel is finished, and Corman falls back on a stock ending relying on a fiery climax (which recycles footage from his previous Poe films). Vincent Price later said (as quoted in A Daughter's Biography by Victoria Price) "I have been singed many times. While making Tomb of Ligeia, in which the whole set was sprayed with liquid rubber, someone lit a cigarette and the whole thing went up. But then Roger's a fire fiend. He's a firebug."
The Tomb of Ligeia earned some of the best reviews of any of the films in the Poe cycle. The writer for The Los Angeles Times found that "the fluid camerawork, first-rate color, sumptuous period sets, and an impassioned performance from Vincent Price blend perfectly to bring a great Gothic tale of terror to life on the screen." The London Times said, "Here at last Mr. Corman has done what it always seemed he might be able some time to do: make a film which could without absurdity be spoken of in the same breath as Cocteau's Orphee ." In The New York Times, Howard Thompson writes that "Mr. Corman has made stunning, ambient use of his authentic setting, an ancient abbey in Norfolk, England, and the lovely countryside. The picture is not nearly as finished as Masque of the Red Death, also shot in Britain and The Pit and the Pendulum  remains our favorite of all. But the Corman climate of evil is as unhealthy and contagious as ever."
Variety, meanwhile, panned the film saying, "More Poe but no go about sums up The Tomb of Ligeia, a tedious and talky addition to American International's series of chillpix based on tales by the 19th century US author. Roger Corman produced and directed a script that resists analysis and lacks credibility, with all performances blah monotones and color lensing of no help. Widescreen pic tries serious supernatural approach minimizing gore angles, but it doesn't jell." Most fans of Corman's Poe cycle have tended to disagree with this assessment over the years, feeling that the macabre romance and implied perversities of The Tomb of Ligeia provide a fitting capper to the series.
Producer: Pat Green, Samuel Z. Arkoff
Director: Roger Corman
Screenplay: Robert Towne, based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe
Cinematography: Arthur Grant
Film Editing: Alfred Cox
Production Design: Colin Southcott
Makeup: George Blackler
Music: Kenneth V. Jones
Special Effects: Ted Samuels
Cast: Vincent Price (Verden Fell), Elizabeth Shepherd (The Lady Rowena), John Westbrook (Christopher Gough), Derek Francis (Lord Trevanion), Oliver Johnston (Kenrick), Richard Vernon (Dr. Vivian), Frank Thornton (Peperel).
by John M. Miller
The Tomb of Ligeia
Vincent Price on DVD
Most definitely watchable and probably the pick of the Vincent Price releases is The Haunted Palace/Tower of London, both directed by Roger Corman. 1963's The Haunted Palace is loosely based on stories by H.P. Lovecraft, at the time known primarily to horror fans but today considered something of a minor American master. Corman says in an interview on the disc that they wanted to move away a bit from the popular Poe films though they kept a title from Poe just so they weren't too far away. The Haunted Palace has a somewhat familiar story about a man who inherits a castle and after moving there with his wife discovers that the inhabitants of the local town aren't too thrilled about this and neither, more unfortunately, are the long-dead former inhabitants of the castle. But the story isn't entirely the point. With an energetic and sometimes subtle performance by Price and the genuinely spooky atmosphere created by Corman, the film remains memorable.
1962's Tower of London is a somewhat threadbare account of Richard III's machinations but its sprightly pace and historical feel keep it continually interesting. Despite claims on the box and in an interview on the disc with producer Gene Corman (Roger's brother), there's nothing of Shakespeare's play here: none of the dialogue, none of the plot (excepting a small bit in the final scene) and even few of the characters. The film is more a remake of the 1938 film of the same title which also had one of Price's very first film appearances and from which this later film lifts some battle footage in a no-budget touch worthy of Orson Welles or Ed Wood. Tower of London is also not close to the actual facts of Richard III's life (but then neither exactly was Shakespeare) with several years of events compressed into a few days and important events missing altogether. But really that doesn't much matter and isn't far removed from what actor/writer Colley Cibber did in a version published in 1700 where he compressed Shakespeare's play and drastically increased the violence. Corman and his screenwriters similarly approach Richard as the center of more or less a horror story throwing in more ghosts, curses, witches and torture than many of what are actually marketed as horror films. Such elements along with the political intrigue and convincing portrayal of Richard's disintegrating mental state keep Tower of London fresher than it has any right to be.
The second Price disc has The Tomb of Ligeia (1965) and An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe (1970). Again, Corman directed the Poe film The Tomb of Ligeia from a script by future Oscar-winner Robert Towne (Chinatown), adding "Tomb of" to Poe's title "Ligeia" so that nobody would think this some artsy European import. For most of the film it's a fairly sedate psychological thriller about a man obssessed with his dead wife and a younger woman who falls in love with him. Corman brings an attention to detail among some quite impressive sets, at least until the final half hour which kicks into Gothic overdrive full of lightning, fire, a damsel in a nightgown, dark corridors and a chain-reaction of surprises. The disc includes two commentaries, one by Corman and one by star Elizabeth Shepherd. An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe is something of an oddity. Running barely 53 minutes, it was originally made for TV broadcast and is little more than Vincent Price performing four Poe short stories as monologues. The box claims Price thought this his best Poe work and it's easy to see why, not necessarily because it is his best but because it allowed Price a range of acting. Each segment is performed on an appropriate set and the stories have been trimmed and slightly rewritten so they will work better in this context. Price is lively and convincing even for something like "The Tell-Tale Heart" which could very easily have fallen flat. He's perfectly at ease with Poe's style, keeping the dialogue from sounding artificial. Unfortunately, the production lets Price down at times. The graininess of the video image isn't too big a distraction but the haphazard framing is. Even worse is intrusive music however sparse it might be and somebody's bright idea to make the words more literal with tricks like turning the screen blue when Price says "blue" or rhythmic zooms in time to a supposedly beating heart. Still, Poe and Price overcome such obstacles, leaving An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe a fascinating effort.
Another mixed bag is a disc with The Comedy of Terrors and The Raven, both written by Richard Matheson. The Comedy of Terrors, one of director Jacques Tourneur's final films, came out in 1964 and like other films of that year such as Advance to the Rear, Kiss Me Stupid and Dr. Strangelove aims at a kind of aggressive, freewheeling satire. Alas, like all but one of those films (you can guess the exception) The Comedy of Terrors simply comes out overwrought and frequently tedious. Price plays the scheming, misanthropic owner of a failing funeral home with Peter Lorre as his not-too-bright assistant, Boris Karloff a senile father-in-law and Joyce Jameson his shrill wife. Despite a promising opening, there's almost nothing else worth seeing except maybe Price delivering convoluted dialogue that would have defeated lesser mortals ("emissions of a laryngitic crow"?). The film wastes Karloff who almost literally sleeps through most of it and proves that whatever Lorre's talents, physical comedy was not one of them. Far better is 1963's The Raven, a Corman project that Matheson "adapted" from Poe's poem. In other words, Price reads about half the poem at the opening and the rest has nothing to do with Poe. Instead, The Raven is a light and mild-mannered comedy about three wizards fighting and scheming among themselves. Lorre in particular is a delight with his muttered asides and swings from a Keaton-ish poker face to Daffy Duck-style annoyance. Price's overly-civilized warlock and Karloff's hospitable "villain" work well together. The Raven also has one of Jack Nicholson's earliest screen appearances as Lorre's son of all things though you'd never suspect the career ahead of him from this performance. The disc has two relatively inconsequential interviews with Matheson (a much better novelist than screenwriter) and a more revealing one with Corman for The Raven.
The final Price disc only has one of his films (Cry of the Banshee) though the other is a Poe adapation (Murders in the Rue Morgue), both directed by the undistinguished Gordon Hessler. Unlike the other Price films, 1970's Cry of the Banshee is rated R and has enough explicit violence and nudity to keep it away from the kiddies. Unfortunately, the rest of us won't care much either. Price plays a mean-spirited local judge obsessed with wiping out witches, more or less repeating his role from the far superior The Conqueror Worm (1968). But amongst the witch hunting there's fighting among Price's children, townsfolk attacked by a wild dog (or is it?), a sky-clad occult ritual and a now-grown foundling who can more or less talk to the animals. All of which makes the film sound more interesting than it is though there is a Terry Gilliam credits sequence made around the time of Monty Python's first season. Oh, and the film inexplicably doesn't have a banshee, not even a Scooby-Doo fake one. Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971) is a bit more successful, running Jason Robards and Herbert Lom through one of the first detective stories though with horror elements liberally added. It's routine and obvious though the DVD has the original version of the film, restoring around eleven minutes.
by Lang Thompson
Vincent Price on DVD
Proposed titles included "The House at the End of the World" and "The Tomb of the Cat"
This was the last of Roger Corman's "Poe" series.
Roger Corman wanted to break away from his standard technique of shooting his "Poe" features entirely on soundstages. There are many scenes, including the entire first reel, that were shot outdoors.
Roger Corman gave up his producer credit to Pat Green in order to qualify for a British subsidy.
Location scenes filmed in Norfolk, England. Opened in London in November 1964. Working titles: Ligeia, The Last Tomb of Ligeia, House at the End of the World. Also released as Tomb of the Cat.
Released in United States 1965
Released in United States 1965