The very last of Roger Corman's uncannily successful Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, The Tomb of Ligeia is yet another winner. Starring Vincent Price (I'd seriously watch the man read the phone book) as Verdon Fell and treasured Film Buff East customer Elizabeth Shepherd as The Lady Rowena Trevanion, Ligeia breaks somewhat with Corman/Poe tradition as there are many outdoor settings and many scenes shot in daylight. Still, Corman's trademark gothic chill pervades the film, and several of the more unsettling scenes are clothed not in satin drapery but bright sunshine.
The story begins with Fell burying his newlydead wife, the Ligeia of the title, although there is some doubt as to whether or not she is actually dead. A priest implores Fell that he cannot bury his wife in consecrated ground as she died unnaturally. Price chews up this scene, spewing forth dark prophecies about his wife's will being too strong for her to die, and comes across somewhat like the devil himself. A black cat jumps on the coffin and Ligeia's eyes flutter open! Fell informs the priest and the pallbearers that it is simply an effect of rigor mortis.
Later, on a fox hunt, Rowena stumbles across the crumbling abbey where Ligeia is interred, but is thrown from her mount when the black cat returns and spooks the horse. Fell appears from behind a wall and startles Rowena to fainting. From this point on, Rowena is transfixed by Fell's wounded widower, and becomes intent on marrying him. However, that seemingly vengeful cat just won't go away, and interrupts any attempt at intimacy between Fell and Rowena. Is the cat actually the reincarnated soul of Ligeia, who will not rest while any potential suitors for her husband live? Or is the answer more grounded in a shadowy reality, where everything is not as it seems, and those who project a noble countenance actually carry a dark purpose? Such is the beauty of these Corman/Poe adaptations: likely owing to the original literary source, things are rarely as simple as they seem, and there almost always (as there are here) undercurrents of madness, obsession and brooding, buried sexuality.
As always, Price looks likes he's having an absolute blast with the character of Verdon Fell, and when the truth of his wife's "death" comes out at the end, the mixed sympathies we feel for him throughout the film come crashing down like the mossy stones of the the abbey. While I would have a hard time picking a Price/Poe favourite, this one stands up with the best of them. I still have a couple to watch - and I don't think anything will top Witchfinder General or The Masque of the Red Death - but Ligeia is a fun, occasionally spooky descent into necrophiliac lust and the supernatural. Worth it.
And I can't wait for Ms. Shepherd to brighten our humble shop's door again; I've got many questions (and a few compliments) for her.