Review by Matt Bailey
Posted on 22 October 2004
Source MGM DVD
features: October: 31 Days of Horror
The first time I read Edgar Allen Poe’s story, “Ligeia,” I was killing time in my college freshman English class. I think we were supposed to be discussing some Toni Morrison novel or other and I grew bored with the tedious interpretations offered up by my classmates. I began to flip through my course reader and came upon this story by Poe. I began to read it and soon found myself caught up in it, completely oblivious to my surroundings. I was soon so spooked by the tale that the hair on the back of my neck actually stood up. I can still remember precisely the feeling today, even though that moment was years ago. It was one of the few times I have ever been moved to fear through the simple act of reading.
Like most of Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations, The Tomb of Ligeia bears little resemblance to the original story. That is not necessarily such a bad thing—Poe’s stories are notoriously impressionistic and atmospheric, the very definition of unfilmable. That Corman manages to keep a similar atmosphere of delirium and dread is commendable.
This was the last of Corman’s Poe films, but it is clear that the well of ideas had not run dry. Instead of setting it in yet another gloomy castle, Corman brought most of the action outdoors into the sunlight. There was enough darkness, it seemed, in the heart of his hero, Verden Fell, to give the film a tinge of menace. The fact that Fell wears strange tinted glasses (yet ones that are wholly appropriate for the time, despite some critics’ protests) and thus sees the world darkly while disallowing anyone to see his own eyes, makes him a very sinister figure but one who is, at the same time, extremely vulnerable.
All of Corman’s film adaptations are highly recommended. Few will agree as to which is the best, for each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Some may prefer the symbolism of The Masque of the Red Death, others the paranoia of House of Usher. Some might favor the bizarre slapstick of The Raven over the morbid obsessions of The Premature Burial. Me, I’ll take the tortured fragility of Verden Fell and the baleful haunting of the Lady Ligeia, if only to recapture that eerie sensation I got from the story so many years ago.