Wednesday, October 28, 2015

13 Films Of Halloween: TOMB OF LIGEIA

THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964)

Starring: Vincent Price, Elizabeth Shepherd, John Westbrook.
Written by: Robert Towne (CHINATOWN).
Directed by: Roger Corman
Produced by: Roger Corman




Still in England, but this time with some amazing exterior locations including Castle Acre Priory and *Stonehenge*! Though this film is also a little aloof and cerebral, it delivers many more old fashioned scares than RED DEATH, and makes my list of great mock-Hitchcock films. That’s probably what makes this film most interesting to me - that Corman and Towne seem to have put VERTIGO and REBECCA in a blender and come up with this Poe inspired story. 1964 was the year that Hitchcock released MARNIE, and this cheapo Corman film is a much better “Hitchcock film” than the Tippi-hair-fest.

In a strange twist on REBECCA we have a second Mrs. Fell dealing with a husband who is still obsessed with his first wife and keeping some deep and dark secrets about her death. As she tries to deal with her husband’s peculiarities, a seemingly haunted house, a dangerous black cat and solve the VERTIGO like mystery of Ligeia and her death (?) (which has echoes of the Mad Carlotta); the second Mrs. Fell moves from Wuthering Heights style costume drama to Edgar Allan Poe terror. Hey, there’s even a fox hunt like in MARNIE! And hints of a make over like in VERTIGO. And Ligeia ends up having something in common with Mrs. Bates. This really has the feel of a Hitchcock film.

Speaking of Wuthering Heights, once again these films give Vincent Price a chance to play a different and interesting character. From the sadistic Prince Prospero in RED DEATH to this, almost exact opposite character, as kind of a hunky brooding Heathcliff type whose spell our leading lady falls under... but does he have ulterior motives?



1821: Ruins. A funeral procession carries a coffin to a waiting grave... with a Priest chasing after them, “You can’t bury her in consecrated ground. She was not Christian!” Her husband Verden Fell (Vincent Price) insists. They have a little religious debate about whether the ground cares where she is buried, then a black cat yelps and jumps on to the coffin... and Ligeia’s eyes pop open! Fell opens the coffin and touches her - still dead. A nervous contraction. He closes her eyes and the coffin lid.



A fox hunt. A dozen men in red coats and black top hats ride horses chasing the hounds which are chasing the fox. Christopher (John Westbrook) and Rowena (Elizabeth Shepherd) leave the group - she’s found something far more intriguing... the Ruins. Rowena rides up to Ligeia’s grave... the ground in front of the headstone carpeted with fresh red flowers ... and that black cat snarls at her, causing the horse to rear up and buck her off. When she gets to her feet, a dark figure stands next to the massive headstone - Fell in Dark glasses. She screams and passes out. Christopher hears the scream and catches up... ends up introducing Rowena to Fell. Sparks of attraction - this is a “meet cute” in a graveyard. Fell *carries her* back to his house to take care of her injuries, while Christopher watches.

In his rambling old estate, Fell lays her down on a sofa and sees to her ankle... something sexual about removing her boot and stockings to apply the bandage to her sprained ankle. But Fell is cold, distant when she flirts with him. Christopher arrives with Rowena’s father Lord Trevanion (Derek Francis) who would rather show her the dead fox from the hunt than inquire as to her injury. Trevanion shows Fell the fox and asks if he’d ever seen one with these markings... and ends up getting a mini-lecture on the specific species of fox. It’s an Egyptian fox... and was the pet of his dead wife Ligeia. Trevanion is a moron. When they prepare to leave, the fox’s body is gone. How is this possible? The fox was dead. “The cat was not. It appears that the cat has made off with the fox.” They say their goodbyes, and Rowena’s flirtation is met with coldness again. But Rowena is hooked.



Days later a letter for Fell ends up at Christopher’s by mistake, and Rowena decides to deliver it. In the darkness of the house (Fell’s eyes are light sensitive) he mistakes Rowena for his dead wife and grabs her. Realizes his mistake and yells at her never to come to his house unannounced... insists on making her a cup of tea as an apology. “Does she look like me?” “Who?” And we’re in VERTIGO territory... Rowena continues flirting and he thaws for a moment. He is a permanently heartbroken man - after his wife died, he has been alone. His wife was so full of life that without her...

Rowena takes his face and brings him in for a kiss... when the black cat attacks her, leaving a scratch on her cheek.

That’s when Christopher shows up at the door. Fell leaves Rowena’s wounds to his butler Kenrick (Oliver Johnston) and goes to see Christopher... and asks him for some romantic advice. They take a walk through the grounds, ending at Ligeia’s grave. Someone has removed the date of her death from the headstone. Vandals? Christopher asks where is the date of her birth? “I never knew her age.” Fell believes this vandalism is prophetic of Ligeia’s *return*.



Meanwhile, Rowena asks butler Kenrick what Ligeia was like.

Rowena returns to the great room, sees that black cat guarding her hat and Fell’s dark glasses. She grabs her hat without incident, but the cat takes off with the glasses. She gives chase into an old spider-webbed passageway - dark and spooky and unused. Up a dark and dusty staircase... to the bell tower... more shades of VERTIGO! Where the black cat skitters across a very narrow ledge to the other side of a massive clock’s bell. Rowena carefully moves across the narrow ledge, carefully bends down to snatch the glasses from the cat’s mouth. But the cat bolts, and she almost falls.



At Ligeia’s tombstone, Fell wonders who would posses the skill to remove the date from the headstone... aside from himself. Then he sees the marble dust on one of his hands... did he remove the date himself? Without knowing? Has he gone crazy? Then the clock bell begins ringing - but it is not an even hour. What’s going on? Fell and Christopher run to find out.

In the bell tower, Rowena is trapped on that narrow ledge as the bell echoes around her. Plug her ears or hold on for dear life? She chooses to hold on. Fell carefully walks across that narrow ledge, rescues Rowena.



At 35:00, Bells continue to ring: Fell and Rowena’s wedding. Christopher watches the carriage take them away.

Rowena and Fell walk along the rugged coastline, and we’re in some version of REBECCA while they tell stories of their past Fell decides to sell the estate, and start his life again with Rowena... but until the estate can be sold, that will be their home.

After their honeymoon they return to the rambling old estate, where Kenrick has hired a cadre of servants who greet Rowena exactly as the servants greeted the new Mrs. DeWinter in REBECCA. Hey, new wife in the house haunted by the dead first wife? Rowena goes to bed that night and sees a strange reflection in the mirror - Ligeia? Her hairbrush has *black hairs* in it, like Ligeia’s. She runs into Fell’s bedroom - which is empty. In the middle of the night?



Welcome Home Dinner with Lord Trevanion and Christopher and some other guests. Christopher tells Fell there is a problem with the sale of the estate - the deed is in Ligeia’s name, and there doesn’t seem to be a death certificate for Ligeia (which would pass the estate to her husband). Fell says there never was a death certificate, so what now? Christopher says there will have to be an inquest into her death, so that a certificate can be issued. Perhaps the body will even have to be exhumed. Fell says that no one will go near Ligeia’s grave. Christopher explains that *legally* Ligeia is still alive, still Fell’s wife. The dinner conversation turns to hypnotism and regression therapy - uncovering blocked or forgotten memories... Fell says he knows how to administer hypnosis.

After dinner, Rowena grabs Christopher and whispers that Fell seems to vanish at night... strange. Then Fell calls Rowena to be his hypnotism subject. She remembers nothing about her mother, who dies when she was 3 years old. He hypnotizes her... and she remembers her mother singing to her as a baby... and then is *possessed* by Ligeia - speaking in a strange deep voice, repeating passages from Ligeia’s diary which she has never read (but a passage that Fell read to the Priest in the opening scene). “I will always be your wife!” Then Rowena passes out... and wakes up as herself. She is taken to bed. She wants to ask Fell some questions, but he kisses her goodnight and leaves.



Rowena has strange nightmares... the dead fox comes alive and attacks her. The black cat chases her. She runs through the dark and twisted hallways of the estate. Falls into a carpet of red flowers - the same flowers on Ligeia’s grave (the same flowers that Mad Carlotta wore in her hair in VERTIGO?) This is *not* AMERICAN BEAUTY! She leaves the bed of flowers and runs into Fell’s arms and embraces him... and he turns into death - clutching her.

She wakes up - starring into the face of that dead fox! Brought to her bed by the black cat as if it were a mouse. She screams, goes to Fell’s bedroom... which is once again empty. The balcony doors blowing in the wind. She walks slowly to the balcony doors, reaches for them... when they blast open exposing a dark figure! Fell. Oddly, with a tray of food in his hands. Rowena asks where he’s been, why he has the tray of food. What tray of food? Fell is surprised to see it in his hands - he was sleep walking. What?

He asks Kenrick about the tray of food - and gets no answer. But has the butler remove the dead fox from Rowena’s room. Rowena offers to spend the night with Fell, but he brushes her off. I know they went on a honeymoon, but have they not slept together since returning to this house haunted by Ligeia? What’s up with that?

Rowena takes Kenrick back to her room - but the dead fox is gone. Was it part of her nightmare?



Later, Rowena has tea with Christopher and tells him of her frustrations... and asks how she can he Fell’s wife if he is *technically* still married to the not legally dead Ligeia? Rowena believes that Ligeia is still alive, and that Fell goes to her every night. Taking her food, sleeping with her, still married to the woman who is not legally dead. Christopher says he will investigate this...

The black cat watches their discussion.

At the dinner table, Rowena is alone. She grabs a candle and drips wax on her food, then holds her hand over the flame. Kenrick asks if there’s something else he can get her - she answers “My husband.” That’s when Christopher drops in, asks Kenrick where Fell is... and demands and answer. Gives Kenrick the third degree as if they are in a courtroom (Christopher *is* a lawyer) - where is Fell? Where is Ligeia? Kenrick can answer neither question... which is odd, because isn’t Ligeia buried at the base of that headstone? Kenrick begs to leave and bolts out of the room. Christopher tells Rowena to go into her room and bolt the door and do not open it for anyone, especially her husband.



Christopher runs out to Ligeia’s grave, where a pair of laborers are digging up the coffin. He takes off his coat, rolls up his sleeves, grabs a shovel and helps them.

Rowena locks herself in her room... then hears the cat snarling from the other side of the door - banging on the door - hard! Then the banging stops... but the cat is inside the room. It attacks her. She races to the door, unbolts it, runs into the hallway - the black cat chasing her. Locks herself in Fell’s bedroom... but the cat is somehow inside and attacks her again! She races out to the balcony, trying to escape the cat... and spots what looks like a little door behind a plant. Opens it... a secrets passageway. She enters.

Christopher and the two laborers get down to the coffin... a storm on the horizon, thunder and lightning.



Rowena is in a maze of secret passages between rooms. Dusty, covered with spider webs, dark and creepy. The cat chases her. She comes to a doorway, throws it open and dives inside. A strange room filled with Egyptian artifacts. The black cat appears inside the room with her. She spins - and there is someone staring right at her! She screams... then realizes it is a mirror. But her scream has shattered the glass... and beyond the broken mirror she sees a narrow stairway going up. Where?

She breaks away the rest of the mirror and climbs the narrow stairs. Blood drips from her hand from handling the broken mirror. A deep gash.

Christopher brushes away the dirt from the small glass window in the coffin - and sees Ligeia’s face within. He grabs the lantern to take a closer look and drops it onto the window... breaking it... and setting the face within on fire! “Wax!” There isn’t a corpse within, but a wax sculpture. Ligeia is *not* in her coffin, a dummy is! But then, where is Ligeia?

When he looks up from the grave, Kenrick the butler stands over him, shovel in hand. To hit him? He helps Christopher out of the grave. “You must hurry, sir, it’s out of my hands now.”



At the top of the narrow stairs Rowena finds a dark room filled with bizarre sculptures. As she looks through the room a man enters through another secret passage - Fell. Rowena sees him, calls his name... he does not answer. He seems... hypnotized.

Rowena sees a draped area in the back of the room, moves towards it and throws open the black curtains. Exposing Ligeia (also Elizabeth Shepherd) in a black bed. Rowena screams, trips, and falls *onto* Ligeia. Gets tangled in her arms. Tangled in her body. But Ligeia does not move. She seems stiff. DEAD. *Preserved*. Ewww! Rowena untangles herself from the corpse and runs out of the curtained area... right at Fell. He stands there - like a zombie.



A voice from behind her, she spins - Christopher and Kenrick in the doorway. “He’s beyond any of us now. Beyond any shock. Come with us. He’ll come alone, when he can.” It seems that just before Ligeia died, she hypnotized Fell into believing that she would not die, so he should spend the nights with her up here in this room (um, necrophilia), and the days downstairs in his “normal life”. Kenrick says, “He is still held by her word. Only she can release him. And she is dead.”

Rowena has a plan: she attempts to hypnotize Fell the way he hypnotized her - hypnotize him to see her as Ligeia. “Look at me. I am Ligeia. Look at me now. And listen. And remember. Remember everything. Remember all I’ve ever asked of you - and when you do remember you will be free.” Then Rowena slides down to the floor, leaving a huge bloody swath across Fell’s white shirt. “It is too late.” She is dead.

Fell grabs Ligeia’s corpse from the black bed and tosses it into the fireplace (it’s a big one) and the corpse burns in the funeral pyre. Then he takes Rowena’s corpse and puts it on the bed where Dead Ligeia had lain, closes the black curtains and walks away. When he hears a noise - that damned black cat trying to suck the last breath from Rowena. He tosses the cat away. But, did Rowena move? He bends down to her body, looking for signs of life... finds none. Kisses her one last time and leaves her body on the bed, once more closing those black curtains. He walks across the room to the door...



When he hears the curtains open.

He turns, and there is Rowena walking from the bed chamber! Her hair black like Ligeia’s! Fell grabs Ligeia by the throat and strangles her until there is no life left... dropping her to the floor. Christopher runs back into the room, sees Fell standing over the woman’s corpse. Fell says that Ligeia killed Rowena, so he killed Ligeia. Only, it’s Rowena’s corpse at his feet!

Christopher takes Rowena’s body out of the room, down the stairs.

Fell grabs a whip and attacks the black cat - which fights back. Is the cat Ligeia? The cat launches at Fell’s face, tearing out his eyes! Fell staggers around, accidentally sending the curtain into the fireplace and turning the entire estate into a blazing inferno! As the building burns and collapses, Fell finds the black cat and strangles it... both die in the fire.

In Christopher’s carriage. Rowena’s eyes open. She is alive! That loser dude gets the girl after all!

Tomorrow we leave the land of Edgar Allan Poe but stick with Vincent Price for a film that may be a predecessor of SEVEN!

- Bill

Buy the pit



1 comment:

Lisar Mcnulty said...
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