Starring: Vincent Price, a possessed cat
Director: Roger Corman [Masque of Red Death]
Screenwriter: Robert Towne [‘Swing Shift’, ‘Mission Impossible 2’, Lloyd Bridges Show]
Plot: A reclusive widow with an aversion to sunlight, who is supposed to be in his 20’s but is instead Vincent Price in his early 50’s, allows an impulsive young woman from a mansion nearby to hang around his own mansion twice before she falls in love with him and they get married. The only problem is the dead wife of the man is buried in the back garden and she’s some kind of Egyptian witch who isn’t fond of sharing her husband with anyone. Her plan; ring a bell very loud and snarl at the new wife when in cat form.
Subplot: an admirer of the young woman tries to use his brain to figure out what’s going on and rescue her from her dangerous + exciting marriage so he can then trap her in a stable and tedious marriage with him. Opening line of Tomb of Ligeia 2? ‘Into the living room and knit me a sweater, sweetheart.’
Sub sub plot: a cat tries to regain control of its brain after being possessed by a dead Egyptian witch, but ultimately fails and is relieved when Vince Price strangles it to death.
As with all Corman-Poe-Price films, it’s watchable, though it doesn’t achieve the greatness of The Masque of the Red Death, probably because the main horror comes from a possessed cat.
Possessed cats are neither interesting nor scary.
The Masque of the Red Death wasn’t frightening either, but its plot was so out there, and the Satanism angle was so well represented by the setting i.e. the castle, that it elevated the film to another level.
A level where I can watch it again and again on youtube without getting bored. This is a rare thing nowadays, with most modern films, and TV shows, being not good or weird enough to be worth repeat viewing.
Why that is, I don’t really know. Why can I watch any Star Trek TV series or For A Few Dollars More or some of these Corman-Poe films endlessly, but only watch Battlestar Galactica once. Or Daredevil. Or any of the superhero films.
Is it nostalgia?
For a time in which I never lived?
Will some 35 year old in 2050 look back on ‘I still know what you did last summer’ with the same affection?
Could I watch Tomb of Ligeia on loop?
To be honest, no, probably not.
Though there are three things that make it close to great.
I] The ruined castle setting next to Vincent Price’s house.
Apparently, this film used outdoor shots more than any other Corman-Poe production and by outdoor shots I mean the ruined castle. The plot revolves around it as Ligeia is buried there, and the main characters are constantly pulled back, whether to just look at the grave or dig it up. It is quite creepily beautiful, but would’ve been better if it was more isolated and not attached like a garage to Vincent Price’s house.
Ii] Vincent Price
Of course, he’s too old for the role, which is what the screenwriter said too, but he’s still Vincent Price and his voice is still the best in the horror business. I don’t mind that he overacts a lot of the time, that’s part of his charm, and he always commits to his roles even when he’s told to strangle a possessed cat.
Iii] The new wife [Rowena]
I forget the actress’s name, but when she falls in love with Vincent Price after he’s basically told her to fuck off [I think he hits her too], you think, there is something not quite right with her. That’s confirmed later when, sitting alone at the dinner table in Vince’s house, Rowena takes a candle and drips wax on a tissue that spells the initials of her and Vince’s names and then puts out the flame with her finger without flinching from the pain.
There’s some definite weirdness in her, but it’s never fully explored, and is even contrasted awkwardly with her screaming like a helpless damsel when the cat tries to intimidate her. She’s both strangely her own person, scared of not very much, but also a desperate housewife who, instead of slapping Vince and asking what’s going on, lets her admirer do the legwork in figuring out what’s going on.
I think the film probably would’ve been stronger if she were alone in the house, without a friend to confide in. Horror works best with isolation, for example, The Shining, Misery, Detox[!].
What is the theme of this thing?
I don’t know.
I’m not a film critic, but I would guess it’s something about letting go of the dead and never going back to a house next to a ruined castle where your husband’s dead wife is buried.
It might also be a warning against being impulsive and falling in love with people you neither know nor understand.
The story comes from Poe so there must be something deeper to it, but it’s not easy to put my finger on. The Masque of the Red Death was easier, it was about faith, the point and the pointlessness of it, as well as the idea of good, evil and chaos.
Remember, in one scene Prince Prospero says, ‘if it weren’t for a small group of nobles like me running things, there would be chaos,’ and then for the rest of the film he roams his castle murdering, bullying and taunting everyone he sees while the poor outside the castle live according to the order of things, even going to the castle to seek protection from a man who’d previously burnt down their village and left them to die at the hands of the Red Death.
Not only do men create their own gods, but powerful men force those gods and their beliefs on everyone below them, creating their own world that the peasants have to live in while claiming it can’t be any other way.
Does the Tomb of Ligeia have anything like this to say?
Thinking about it again, maybe it’s about grief. On some level, Vincent Price can’t accept the fact that his wife has died so marries a lookalike while keeping the dead one in a secret room and serving it while hypnotised.
His grief is portrayed as a personality split, he’s charming when with his new wife, Rowena, and like a zombie with his dead one. He doesn’t even remember what he did or where he went when asked about it the next day.
Is it guilt that he survived his younger-looking wife? Or that he re-married?
It doesn’t really make much sense when the film reveals that he was literally hypnotised by his dead wife just before she died, implying that it’s something beyond his control. If they’d made it less explicit, if it was only suggested that she hypnotised him, it would’ve made the theme stronger. As it is, Vince was hypnotised as the hypnotism he conducts himself by the fireplace actually works, his dead wife returns and possesses Rowena, so everything that happens later is as it is shown to be.
Therefore, grief is irrelevant as Vince is being controlled by an outside force, unless he hypnotised himself to do those things. Perhaps he did, but I can’t be sure.
Another house is burnt to ashes.
I don’t find it that interesting to have a fire solve problems in a film. Getting repetitive, Rog…
They somehow found an actor who was taller than Vincent Price.
I spent the first 30 minutes of the film trying to work out who was taller. At some points, Vince seems to have a slight edge, but he was standing on the ground outside so could’ve been helped by raised earth e.g. a mound.
No one dies except Vince and the cat.
You need a least one death in a horror film. They should’ve killed off the male friend or Rowena’s father, and left her even more isolated.
Ligeia doesn’t look very Egyptian.
What or who is Ligeia? The film never fully explains. Does it? I just remember hearing that she’s from Egypt, could hypnotise people and was generally quite weird.
Rowena is a bit weird too and looks exactly like Ligeia. Does that mean Corman was trying to imply that Ligeia was attempting to possess the new wife, but couldn’t get a strong enough hold?
If he was aiming for that, it was pretty subtle.