1965’s Tomb of Ligeia marked the seventh and final Edgar Allen Poe adaptation and collaboration between director Roger Corman and star Vincent Price after House of Usher , Pit and the Pendulum , Tales of Terror , The Raven , The Haunted Palace , and Masque of the Red Death . (Note: Corman also made the Poe adapted Premature Burial in 1962, but it starred Ray Milland rather than Price.) It’s supposedly Corman’s personal favorite of his Poe films, and the director shot as much of it as he could away from his usual soundstages, with several scenes being shot outdoors (including the opening funeral scene). Unlike most of Corman’s Poe films, it is closely based on the short story ” Ligeia ” as opposed to being a loose, freestyle interpretation.
After the death of his strong-willed wife Ligeia (Elizabeth Shepherd), a lover of the occult who claimed her soul would live on, wealthy nobleman Verden Fell (Price) meets lovely look-alike countess Lady Rowena Trevanion (also played by Shepherd) near the tomb of his dear departed wife. Rowena finds herself inexplicably drawn to the brooding, seemingly humorless widower, and soon the two are married and prepare to spend their lives together in Verden’s dilapidated castle estate. But it appears that Ligeia’s spirit has indeed lived on and is haunting her husband’s property, tormenting Rowena by keeping Verden’s mind on his supposedly dead former wife. There’s even a violent black cat that seems to be carrying the dead Ligeia’s spirit, lurking in the shadows of the Abbey and scratching Rowena at every opportunity. One night Verden and Rowena host a dinner and invite family friend Christopher Gough (John Westbrook), Rowena’s boisterous father Lord Trevanion (Derek Francis), and Dr. Vivian (Richard Vernon). After dining, Verdon and Rowena engage in a live demonstration of the powers of hypnosis for their guests and accidentally contact the spirit of Ligeia, which takes over Rowena’s body and uses her as a mouthpiece to remind Verden that she will always have power over her former husband, even from her grave, where she will never rest in peace.
In the days that follow this creepy incident, Verden disappears for leaving poor Rowena alone in the sprawling castle with only house servant Kendrick for company. Rowena knows that Kendrick is aware of where Verden has been escaping off to, but the mild-mannered butler refuses to betray his employer’s confidence and apologetically tells Rowena he can’t help her. Rowena and Christopher eventually find Verdon in his hiding place deep in the Abbey, where he keeps the mysteriously undecayed body of Ligeia in a canopy bed and spends the day staring at it in a hypnotic trance that Ligeia placed him under just before her death. Only Ligeia has the power to release him from the trance, but with her dead it’s up to Rowena to impersonate Ligeia and break the hypnotic spell cast over Verdon.
The Tomb of Ligeia is a feverish psychological horror film that builds steadily to an intense climax. Vincent Price proves yet again that he was the preeminent American horror star of the ’60s and ’70s with a performance that is as hypnotic as Ligeia’s spell over Verden. Respected British film and stage actress Elizabeth Shepherd is marvelous in a difficult dual role, conveying a sense of enigmatic menace in the Ligeia role and graceful intelligence as Lady Rowena. It has sumptuous cinematograpy by the late Arthur Grant, who also photographed many great Hammer horror films including Curse of the Werewolf , The Devil Rides Out and Demons of the Mind .
The Tomb of Ligeia has the same fabulously gothic, often dream-like atmosphere of Corman’s Poe adaptations and is a stylish and intriguing end to the popular series. It’s required viewing for Price, Corman and/or Poe fans, as well as lovers of ’60s horror films, and rates an 8.5 of 10 from this impassioned aficionado of all of the above.