This is a reprint of a column that originally ran in the October 2007 issue of The HWA Newsletter, on the Vincent Price movie THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964). It’s reprinted in the current October 2015 issue of the HWA Newsletter as well as here. And don’t forget: if you like this column, you can read 115 more in my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT collection, available both as an EBook (www.neconebooks.com) and in a print-on-demand edition (https://www.createspace.com/4293038.).
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
I prefer horror to be an emotional experience, which is why, sometimes Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations don’t work for me.
THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964), starring Vincent Price, Corman’s eighth and final Poe adaptation, is a perfect example.
Technically, the film is flawless. It’s arguably Corman’s best job at the helm. The film looks phenomenal, there’s great use of locations, and the camera work is extremely stylish. For these reasons alone watching THE TOMB OF LIGEIA can be as rewarding and mouthwatering as reading a good novel. Your intelligence won’t be let down.
It also has a decent screenplay by Robert Towne, which lives up to its source material.
However, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA has never been one of my favorites because as it plays out, it’s as cold as a corpse with about as much life (unless of course you’re talking vampire and zombies, which get around rather well, but there ain’t no vampires or zombies here!). Perhaps this is on purpose, and perhaps it’s just another sign of Corman’s genius. Could be. But for me, the fact remains that as I watch THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, and as I recognize while watching that “hmm, this movie is extremely well made,” I also realize I’m not emotionally invested in the characters or the situations.
THE TOMB OF LIGEIA tells the story of Verden Fell (Vincent Price) who’s— what else?— brooding over the death of his wife, Ligeia. When a new woman, the Lady Rowena (Elizabeth Shepherd, in a dual role, as she also appears as Ligeia) expresses interest in Verden, the ghost of Ligeia takes offense, setting off the usual, standard ghostly shenanigans. We learn that Verden isn’t mourning his deceased wife— he’s afraid of her, afraid that she’s not really dead. Turns out Ligeia was a bold, energetic woman who had asserted she would never die, and she definitely got inside Verden’s head.
It’s this part of the film that works best for me. Is Ligeia really a ghost? Or is it Verden? So mind-washed by his deceased wife that he himself is causing the mayhem? On this level, the film works well.
And the performances by the two leads are terrific. Price stands out as Verden. His look, with the dark brown hair and dark glasses, to shield his ultra-sensitive eyes from the light, is unique to this movie. Price moves through this role effortlessly, as if he could do it in his sleep. Elizabeth Shepherd is just as good as The Lady Rowena. Her portrayal of Rowena as a strong woman who is not intimidated by evil spirits is refreshing.
But THE TOMB OF LIGEIA fails to connect on an emotional level. Price’s Verden isn’t that likeable, and while Shepherd’s Lady Rowena is, she’s not a central enough character to carry the movie on her own. I don’t really care about these characters, and as a result, I don’t care all that much about what happens to them, which makes for a lackluster movie viewing experience.
THE TOMB OF LIGEIA is a mixed bag, which for Halloween, is OK. In a trick or treat bag, chances are you’ll get candy you’re not crazy about along with your favorites, but still, it’s candy, and you’re not going to throw it away. Likewise, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA is a stylish, almost beautiful horror movie that is pleasing to the eye and to the intellect, but not so attractive to the heart. For those of us who tell tales, the heart can be the difference maker. Still, it’s Corman, it’s Price, it’s Poe, it’s candy.
It’s Halloween. Eat up.