By the time Roger Corman made his final Edgar Allan Poe adap­ta­tion, The Tomb Of Ligeia, he had well and tru­ly run the gamut of the author’s famous sto­ries and poems.  The sev­en films build­ing up this stretched as far as a Lovecraft adap­ta­tion with a Poe poem/title thrown on (The Haunted Castle) and a fan­ta­sy com­e­dy that gen­tly sent up all the goth­ic con­ven­tions he’d built up along the way (The Raven).  Fittingly, The Tomb Of Ligeia finds Corman going back full cir­cle to the doomed roman­ti­cism that defined House Of TombOL-posUsher and cap­ping his series on a suit­ably baro­que note.

The Tomb Of Ligeia was adapt­ed from a Poe sto­ry enti­tled “Ligeia” by a young Robert Towne.  The tor­ment­ed pro­tag­o­nist is Verden Fell (Vincent Price), a wid­ow­er who is con­vinced that his recent­ly deceased wife isn’t tru­ly dead because her will is too strong to accept such a fate.

Things take a turn for the bet­ter when noble­wom­an Rowena (Elizabeth Shepherd) falls for him and talks him into mar­riage — but the spec­tre of Ligeia dri­ves a wedge between them, with the spir­it mak­ing more than one attempt to dri­ve both halves of the cou­ple to mad­ness or death.  In clas­sic Corman Poe adap­ta­tion style, the tale ends in a flur­ry of malev­o­lent super­nat­u­ral events, death and castle-con­sum­ing flames.

TombOL-01The Tomb Of Ligeia trades com­fort­ably on all the tropes that Corman had devel­oped in his Poe adap­ta­tions: the pos­si­bly mad Price pro­tag­o­nist, the pos­si­bly undead spouse, spooky castles and a fiery finale.  That said, it feels famil­iar instead of deriv­a­tive because it weaves in a few new wrin­kles.  For starters, it fea­tures a sur­pris­ing amount of exte­ri­ors, includ­ing sev­er­al sce­nes in day­light (a ges­ture unheard of in oth­er Corman/Poe films).  Corman and cin­e­matog­ra­pher Arthur Grant also make excel­lent use of a real set of castle ruins in England’s Norfolk region to achieve the right goth­ic atmos­phere.

It’s also worth not­ing that Towne’s script not only has charm­ing­ly flow­ery dia­logue but also boasts a nov­el hero­ine in Rowena: she’s strong and inde­pen­dent, an equal match for Verden instead of the usu­al doomed love or nasty schemer that pops in oth­er Corman/Poe films.  Shepherd TombOL-02gives a suit­ably grace­ful per­for­mance that acts a nice coun­ter-bal­ance to Price’s expect­ed mad the­atrics.  As for Price, he does every­thing you’d hope for in the film, evok­ing fear and pity in all the right spots.

Finally, Corman’s brisk direc­tion seals the deal.  His leg­end as a smart pro­duc­er and find­er of future Hollywood tal­ent often super­sedes the appre­ci­a­tion of his skill as a direc­tor.  The Poe adap­ta­tions remain the high water mark of his artistry as a film­mak­er and it can felt in full force here: he hits the right blend of nar­ra­tive dri­ve and creepy atmos­phere, using pre­cise cam­era moves to dri­ve it all along.  The last twen­ty min­utes of the film allows him to real­ly strut his direc­to­ri­al skills as the trag­ic tale ends with a fiery bang.

Simply put, The Tomb Of Ligeia is a nice sum­ma­tion for Corman’s cycle of Poe adap­ta­tions and a treat for fans of goth­ic hor­rors.  Like his oth­er Poe films, it offers a dis­tinc­tive mood and style that holds its own again­st Hammer’s pop-goth­ic hor­rors from the same era.