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Tomb of Ligeia, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Some people really can't let their ex go."
4 stars

Roger Corman and Vincent Price made seven films based upon the works of Edgar Allen Poe in the 1960s, of widely varying quality and fidelity to the original works. My knowledge of Poe is incomplete and rusty enough that I can't say how closely "The Tomb of Ligeia" adapts the original story, but I can say that it is one of the most entertaining of the group.

Years ago, Verden Fell (Vincent Price) buried his beloved Ligeia in his family plot despite the objections of the local clergy to her pagan beliefs. Now, the abbey where they lived is a crumbling ruin that the Lady Rowena Trevanion (Elizabeth Shepherd) and her friend Christopher (John Westbrook) happen upon during a fox hunt. Verden has long been a recluse, but sparks soon fly between him and Rowena, and they are married. Ligeia's presence dominates the abbey - but is it just in Rowena's head? Or is there something sinister to the black cat that wanders the grounds? Or perhaps Fell is insane?

The Tomb of Ligeia is a handsome film, with Corman and company venturing out onto location much more than usual. Aside from the English countryside just plain looking nicer than a set built on a soundstage, the openness makes Rowena's adventurousness a nice counterpoint to Verden's tendency to shut himself in. The interiors of the abbey is nicely realized, too, giving the characters plenty of room to maneuver. A lot of horror movies, especially in the budget range where Corman tended to work, look like they're trying to cut corners, but this one almost never does.

Corman turns in a fine job directing. Working from a screenplay by Robert Towne, he spends just enough time on setting the scene to get us to believe in the movie's world, but never gets mired in minutia. Corman and Towne, in adapting the short story, don't over-complicate things - for example, while Christopher's obvious feelings for Rowena are never far from the audience's thoughts during Westbrook's scenes, the filmmakers don't let the potential triangle among the living elbow the one that involves the dead out of the way. They do a nice job of keeping just what is going on vague without being frustrating, so that there's plenty of genuine tension in the last act with potential sources in both the supernatural and human madness.

The cast is very good as well; one of the best in the series. Price gets one of his better roles as Fell, able to play forbidding, romantic, worried, and mad in turn. Price became a horror icon perhaps even more for his charm than for his ability to be ferocious, and he puts that charm to good use here while only occasionally seeming fangless. Elizabeth Shepherd is a nice complement as Rowena, intelligent and fairly sure of herself, in a way that is not undercut when circumstances call on her to scream. John Westbrook, Derek Francis, Oliver Johnston et al fill out the cast without creating a dip in quality.

And that can happen in relatively low-budget films. There are certainly times when it's clear that Corman didn't have a whole lot of money to throw around. Bits of the finale look to be recycled directly from House of Usher, for instance, and as well-done as most of the film is, there are still moments when you might think that one more take or run through the script might have helped.

They're relatively minor, though, and for the most part Corman and company do a good job of telling a gothic romance without overdoing the atmosphere. This is the sort of movie that could easily become a parody of itself, but instead manages some genuine scares.

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originally posted: 10/21/09 14:42:43
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User Comments

10/25/15 The Big D Not bad, but a little slow. The cat steals the show and upstages Vincent Price. 3 stars
9/20/10 Charles Tatum Nice direction and acting, but deadly dull spots in script 3 stars
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Directed by
  Roger Corman

Written by
  Robert Towne

  Vincent Price
  Elizabeth Shepherd
  John Westbrook
  Derek Francis

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