Thursday 24 February 2011

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

Okay, so it became a triple-feature in the end.  I guess that's because the Poe / Corman series is so atmospheric and of such high quality that you're very keen to see more.  Unfortunately this one was something of a disappointment.  Maybe I overdid it but, given this film's high reputation, I was expecting more from it.

The final film in the series, this one - unlike all the others - was shot in England and features an all English cast, with the exception of Vincent Price as Verden Fell.  I suspect that may be part of the problem because although some of the customary Poe / Corman themes and elements are there, it looks and feels more like a Hammer film.

One other problem, and I confess this is more of a personal taste issue, and something I wish all film-makers would take heed of is this - Cats. Are. Not. Frightening.  Small furry creatures are by definition not frightening.  I haven't seen THE KILLER SHREWS but I suspect it wouldn't give me sleepless nights; neither have I seen NIGHT OF THE LEPUS but the clips on YouTube suggest that killer rabbits are less than terrifying.  Cats are exactly the same.  Cruel and independent animals they might be, but fearsome they are not.  So, given that this film centres around the premise that Verden Fell's late wife may or may not have been reincarnated as a vengeful cat, it is on to a loser from the word go.

Terrifying, isn't it?
The film builds up a fair head of steam at times only for the effect to be utterly diminished by someone out of shot throwing a cat - or worse still a stuffed cat - into shot for the poor actors to wrestle with.  Either that or there is a shot, for example, of an actor creeping up towards a door and as we wait in fearful anticipation of what might be beyond it all your hear is a cat's meow as if someone has just booted a truculent moggy down a flight of stairs.

The horror, the horror.

This, believe it or not, is the climactic scene.
It's a pity because there are some good things going on amid the feline buffoonery.  It's another high gothic tale of demented love and features a great performance from Elizabeth Shepherd as the woman who falls foul of Ligeia's jealousy.  On the whole, parts for women in horror films are pretty dreadful - usually either one-dimensionally evil or pure - but Shepherd plays Rowena Trevanion as an intelligent, independent and sexually aware woman.

Elizabeth Shepherd as Rowena Trevanion
The script, by Robert Towne (CHINATOWN) and an uncredited Paul Mayersberg (THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH), is pretty good: it's perhaps too wordy at times but it's never less than literate and captures the feel of Poe's prose well.  The location shooting at Castle Acre Priory in Norfolk is unusual and atmospheric and, as you would expect from Corman, some of the art direction is great - notably a fabulous red carpet that spills out of a corridor and down a flight of steps as if a wave of blood has gushed forth.

Castle Acre Priory

Rivers of blood

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