The Tomb of Ligeia (1964/65 UK)

filmAh, those pesky British tea breaks. They drove director Roger Corman up the wall. Why can’t the Yanks understand the Brits love their cuppa, even if they are a film crew working on a set for an exploitation director from Wherever USA.  Instead of taking 15 days to shoot this tepid horror tale, it took 25. Oh, the humanity! We’re lucky a third Anglo – American War didn’t break out. The second one was over tea as well. Tea is an important theme to this blog. If I believe in anything with a religious fervour, its tea. So Mr Corman can take a running jump!

Back in the world of sanity and to the business at hand…This is an unusual horror film in that much of it takes place not only outdoors but also in daylight so I ain’t afraid while gazing at the screen. Verden Fell (Vincent Price, who else?) lives in a gloomy, crumbling, cobwebbed manor house close to the ruins of a mediaeval abbey. The sort of images of ruin and decay traditional in horror films are contrasted with sunlit scenes of the beautiful, verdant English countryside. The difference between life and death is the central idea of the film- which ends with a quote from Poe himself: “The boundaries which divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends and where the other begins”- so this contrast is possibly symbolic, with the outdoor scenes symbolizing life and the indoor ones death. The seven previous Corman-Poe-Price films had been very studio bound so this one is very different in the tone it strikes. The acting is more realistic for a start.

abcdThe eighth and final AIP movie made based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, this is the most subtle and understated of them all. Vincent Price, in top hat and strange sunglasses in many scenes (his vision being “dangerously acute”) seems a bit too old for the role, but still manages to come through with an effective performance. Roger Corman has always been underrated for effectively capturing period detail on a limited budget and it’s his keen eye for the crumbling ruins, lush green countrysides, oceanfronts and shadowy castle corridors that make much of this production work. Now to the main weak point of this (for me) : the casting of Elizabeth Sheppard as Rowena. She seems too pasty in looks and lacking in presence. No wonder she lost the role of Emma Peel to Diana Rigg in TV’s The Avengers around this time. Ms Sheppard gives it her all but I would have liked to see an actress with more depth and sex appeal like Hazel Court or (dare I say it?) Barbara Shelley.

Heck, even Barbara Steele would have been an improvement in giving the character of Rowena a creepiness that Sheppard can’t. But we must take what is and what not I would like it to be. Then there’s the cat. A black moggie. And this cat is really the true star of the film, watching, attacking, influencing. A very intelligent puss, he/she manages to make a fool of Rowena, trapping her in a bell tower while her husband gives a marvellously poetic voice over that really makes this sequence a classic. Vincent Price could read the telephone directory and make it seem Biblical and ominous. There are plenty of other charismatic meandering monologues delivered in that urbane velvet voice. Another bonus is the surreal dream sequence that happens somewhere in the middle of the film. A trademark Corman treat, this scene is filled with vivid colours, brilliantly otherworldly camera-work and bizarre, nightmarish imagery. It’s one of the scariest moments, and also one of the director’s most memorable set pieces. This is quite a unique work. I mean, where else will you see a cat stealing a pair of glasses and some wonderful footage of Stonehenge?

cat

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Comments

  1. It’s been a very long time since I last saw this. I recall being rather underwhelmed, but that could be because I was expecting something more in the vein of Masque of the Red Death. I think I will give it another shot.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a horror this is weak by today’s standards with no real sense of threat and a very bright picture quality. So I see it as an enjoyable fantasy instead, with just the odd creepy moment.

    Like

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