Wednesday, 30 January 2008

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

The Tomb of Ligeia was the second of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe films to be made in England. Judging by his statements on the DVD commentary track Corman seems to have found the British approach to film-making rather congenial. Certainly he’s full of praise for the mostly British cast and crew. And with good reason. In some of the other films in this series Vincent Price really has to carry most of the acting burden himself but this time he has a strong supporting cast to work with. English actress Elizabeth Shepherd does a fine job in the dual role of Rowena/Ligeia and there are some delightful English character actors in minor roles. Oliver Johnston as the butler Kenrick and Derek Francis as Lord Trevanion are wonderfully entertaining. For this film Corman decided to abandon his previous practice in the Poe films of shooting entirely in the studio. He’d done that in order to get as artificial a look as possible, since he was dealing with the unconscious mind and was trying to capture a kind of dreamlike quality. This time there’s lots of location shooting. I liked the artificial feel of the previous movies but I must admit his change of technique works very well also. The sets (the studio shooting was one at Shepperton Studios in England) also look great – the visual style of the movie is extremely gothic and also a little decadent. On the whole the visuals still look very good, and still stand up very well 40 years after the movie was made.

Vincent Price gave some great performances in Corman’s movies and this one is no exception. Verden Fell is a man under the spell of a dead wife, a wife who believed that her indomitable will would allow her to overcome and defeat death. Price’s performance is understated and subtle. There’s really not much plot – the film is almost entirely about character and mood – but Corman’s visual flair endures that the audience’s attention remains riveted. Compared to modern horror movie there’s no gore and very little overt horror; there is however an overwhelming gothic atmosphere, an atmosphere of unhealthy and tragic obsession. It’s an effective and highly entertaining film. The DVD commentary track by Corman is simply splendid. He really does wonderful commentary tracks for his movies – he explains how and why he did particular shots in a particular way and the explanations are just technical enough to give you a real insight into his method without being too technical for a non-expert to understand. He explains his intentions and his motivations clearly and concisely (and it’s clear that in the Poe films at least Corman was a serious and thoughtful film-maker). He’s also charmingly generous in his praise of the people he worked with. The movie (in the MGM Midnite Movies DVD series) also looks fantastic – a very worthwhile buy for lovers of classic horror.

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