Even dead and buried in her tomb, Ligeia continues to haunt her husband, Verden(Vincent Price)from beyond the grave. A form of hypnosis lies at the heart of Verden's misery, his eyes needing special protective glasses against the sun due to his mysterious late night activities. An aristocrat's beautiful daughter, Lady Rowena(Elizabeth Shepherd who also portrays Ligeia)encounters Verden while riding horseback curiously searching through the damaged ruins of Ligeia's abbey, falling from her steed when it bucks out of fear from a black cat..the black cat which was resting comfortably upon Ligeia's grave, a specter/symbol, of sorts, which remains always near Verden lest he forget of the woman he was once married and belonged to. Rowena is instantly drawn to Verden, and the two romance before Ligeia begins, through various devious acts, to threaten their happy courtship. Away from the cob-webbed, gloomy, ancient castle and abbey, Verden seems emotionally healthier, but upon returning Rowena notices that, at night, he is no where to be found, and that elderly loyal manservant Kenrick(Oliver Johnston)is hiding something he cares not to reveal, always attempting to escape any time of questioning. It'll be up to Rowena's pal and confident, Christopher(John Westbrook)to find the truth behind what causes Verden such pains/trauma and what kind of stranglehold Ligeia actually has on him, while also hoping to lay to rest an evil which lasts even after death.
All I have to say is that Corman and England were made for each other, a marriage that produces quite an effective Gothic horror film. Price, as he was in previous Poe films, is in great form, portraying another variation on a tormented soul, whose life can not find rest thanks in part to those already dead, yet alive enough to inflict agony. I love the way hypnosis is used in the film(..and in another effective Corman effort, Tales of Terror, co-starring Basil Rathbone also using such a mental practice well)as a weapon which entraps Verden and how such a procedure causes devastating consequences towards Rowens during a session where a childhood memory is evoked and Ligeia is able to infiltrate her at such a vulnerable state(..adding to the effectiveness is Corman's decision to shoot through the rising flames of a fireplace). I also love how the black cat is used as a symbol of Ligeia, it's presence always nearby(..that opening shot, when the cat hops onto Ligeia's casket with her eyes springing open immediately, is a humdinger)even inflicting harm with it's claws. Of course, Corman doesn't fail his faithful audience, as always, the castle falls to a burning rubble as an internal and external struggle commences. Shepherd convinces as both Rowena, an innocent caught between Verden and his former wife, and Ligeia whose voice is stern and ominous..I think one doesn't have a hard time distinguishing one from the other, the hypnosis session is certainly evidence of this. The castle itself is cob-webbed, foreboding, decadent and oppressive..you can sense right away what Verden was going through as time whithered by before meeting Rowena, such a setting reeks of melancholy and joyless discomfort. I love the twist as to why Verden is missing at night and the reasons behind his lack of appearance once married to Rowena..it's so tragic and morbid in equal measure. The inability to escape from someone dead, enslaved by a procedure(..considered a parlor trick during the film's period setting)used to unlock past memories and channel mental anguish for the betterment of long-suffering patients, instead forcing a victim to continue a nightly ritual against his will, quite a tragic fate for anyone and such a macabre tool used in this film, an unraveling mystery explaining Verden's plight and eventual fate.
The image of Verden doing battle with the black cat as the room collapses around him(..and, before this, as he almost strangles Rowena believing her to be Ligeia)is stunning to behold as is the final result of how that struggle concludes(..as good as any tragedy, a victim confronts the evil that has tortured him, falling prey to the tormentor with only one end possible)in an "after the smoke clears" image of the rubble and two bodies lying dead in each others' arms. Good stuff. While Corman was a master at using whatever sets and effects he could get a hold of in Hollywood, it's clearly visible in "Tomb of Ligeia" that Corman could cast a spell using medieval locations. We are also treated to another dandy of a nightmare sequence where Rowena and Ligeia meet through the dangerous black cat..and the bell tower sequence where that cat leads Rowena to her possible doom is also a doozy. The music is properly spectacle and suspenseful when need be and Price has some appropriately poetic dialogue to relate to the viewer the pain his character is going through in accordance to Ligeia and her hold over him. Lastly, I commend Corman for how he accomplishes the fact that Ligeia's presence is a thundercloud over the lives of everyone in the midst of her tomb and castle(..that fabulous scene where Rowena awakens from the nightmare to find a dead fox staring at her, a hairbrush housing Ligeia's hair, and a bowl of milk she almost steps in, beautifully establishes this all too well).
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