The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

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tombofligeia.pngThe last of a series of Edgar Allan Poe film adaptations by director/producer Roger Corman & star Vincent Price, The Tomb of Ligeia (click here to reserve it online) is a haunting, troubling work that carries an undercurrent of despair and regret.  More than just a horror film, Tomb is a comment on how relationships can become overly possesive and ultimately stultified, restricting any independent thought or action.  The characters in this film are practically -and literally- stuck.

In 1820's England, widower Verden Fell (Price) still mourns, in a love-hate way, his late wife Ligeia, who had been suspected by the locals of being a witch.  Cutting himself off from his neighbors and living in a ruined abby, alone but for a very agressive black cat, Fell eventually meets and falls in love with Rowena (Elizabeth Shepherd), the daughter of a nobleman.  Rowena, it should be pointed out, is, besides lacking impulse control, the spitting image (except for her hair color) of the late Ligeia.  Anyway, after the couple return from their honeymoon, they find that Ligeia's spirit may still be running things...

There's so much subtext to read into Robert Towne's very intricate screenplay that I'll only focus on some of the plot devices and situations presented in this film. Fell, who with his dark glasses (he can't stand light) stays mostly indoors to sculpture artifacts of dead cultures and is socially and psychologically stunted by his (blind?) devotion to Ligeia's memory.  Fell's unable to break free from the abby (still in Ligeia's name, we find out) and, judging from his reluctance to comfort Rowena after their honeymoon, is frozen in some kind of mental -and physical?- impotence.  As symbolized by his glasses, Fell refuses to let any kind of light (spiritual and otherwise) enter his soul and surroundings.  He's, well, stuck!

Fell's devotion to his late wife is mirrored by Rowena's equally blind devotion (until things start getting really goofy during the last quarter of the film) to him.  All the signs are there that pursuing any kind of realtionship with a man who can't shut up about his first wife (and who really hates his cat!) would be unhealthy, but Rowena plunges in, oblivious to the pain she brings upon herself, her father (Derek Francis) and her still-smitten former boy friend (John Westbrook). 

And is Ligeia, even after death, really to blame for all of this emotional trauma?  We discover that she was strong willed enough to decry God and death, but is breaking free of her influence enough?

The Tomb of Ligeia is well directed by Corman, with solid performances by Price (apparently, according to Corman's audio commentary on the DVD, not the first choice for the role of Fell) and the cast, plus some great moody cinematography by DP Arthur Grant.  But it's the hidden undercurrents within the story that really elevate this film beyond just being a horror film.  That said, though, the final image we see of Fell will definitely keep you awake for weeks afterwards!  (Watch the trailer for the film here.)

(Also on the DVD is a presentation, done for TV in 1970, of Price's one-man show, An Evening With Edgar Allan Poe, where Price enacts scenes from the author's stories and poems.  Price is great, but the decision to use videotape, which doesn't lend well to innovative set-ups, blocking, etc., severely limits the production.)  

 

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This page contains a single entry by Ed published on March 10, 2011 12:47 PM.

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