The Tomb of Ligeia

The Tomb of Ligeia is a 1964 American International Pictures horror film, produced in the UK by Alta Vista Productions. Starring Vincent Price and Elizabeth Shepherd, it tells of a man haunted by the spirit of his dead wife and her effect on his second marriage. The screenplay by Robert Towne was based upon the short story "Ligeia" by American author Edgar Allan Poe.

The Tomb of Ligeia
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRoger Corman
Produced bySamuel Z. Arkoff
Pat Green
Written byRobert Towne
Paul Mayersberg
Based onshort story by Edgar Allan Poe
StarringVincent Price
Elizabeth Shepherd
John Westbrook
Music byKenneth V. Jones
CinematographyArthur Grant
Edited byAlfred Cox
Distributed byAnglo-Amalgamated Film Distributors (UK)
American International Pictures (US)
Release date
6 December 1964 (U.K.)
20 January 1965 (U.S.)
Running time
81 min.
CountryUnited Kingdom
United States
Box office114,017 admissions (France)[2]

The film was directed by Roger Corman, and was the last in his series of eight films loosely based on the works of Poe. Tomb of Ligeia was filmed at Castle Acre Priory and other locations with a mostly English cast.


Verden Fell (Vincent Price) is both mournful and threatened by his first wife's death. He senses her reluctance to die and her near-blasphemous statements about God (she was an atheist). Alone and troubled by a vision problem that requires him to wear strange dark glasses, Fell shuns the world. Against his better judgement, he marries a headstrong young woman (Elizabeth Shepherd) he meets by accident and who is apparently bethrothed to an old friend Christopher Gough (John Westbrook).

The spirit of Fell's first wife Ligeia seems to haunt the old mansion/abbey where they live and a series of nocturnal visions and the sinister presence of a cat (who may be inhabited by the spirit of Ligeia) cause him distress. Ultimately he must face the spirit of Ligeia and resist her or perish.

The climax of the film takes place when Verden has a showdown with Ligeia, now in the form of a cat. Verden is blinded by Ligeia, but gets the upper hand and strangles the cat, while the tomb around him burns down, due to an accident. Christopher and Rowena start a new life together, while Verden and his wife perish in the flames.




The script was written by Robert Towne, who had met Roger Corman in an acting class, and written one film for him, as well as acting in two.

Because the original story was so short, Towne read all of Poe's work and decided to expand on Poe's themes, particularly mesmerism and necrophilia. The film would be about a woman who had hypnotised the protagonist and he was making love to a body under post hypnotic suggestion. "Literally being controlled by someone who was dead," said Towne, "which is gruesome notion but perfectly consistent with Poe."[3]

Towne says he "tried to have my cake and eat it too" by writing a script where the events could be explained naturally (via post hypnotic suggestion) and supernatural (possession).[4]

Towne later said "Roger and I were really a classic mismatch. It was very painstaking, the script for Tomb of Ligeia. In fact I worked harder on... [that] than on anything I think I have ever done. And I still like that screenplay. I think it's good."[5]

The film was a co-production of AIP and the UK's Anglo-Amalgamated.


Roger Corman was initially reluctant to use Vincent Price in the lead role, being worried he was too old for a character who was 25 to 30 years old; his preference was for Richard Chamberlain.[6]

Towne later said the film "was a little dull. I think it would have been better if it had been with a man who didn't look like a necrophiliac to begin with... I love Vincent. He's very sweet. But, going in, you suspect that Vincent could bang cats, chickens, girls, dogs, everything. You just feel that necrophilia might be one of his Basic Things. I'd felt the role called for an almost unnaturally handsome guy who the second wife could easily fall in love with. There should also be a sense of taboo about the close tie he had with his first wife - as though it was something incestuous, two halves of the same person."[7]

However Price's casting was a condition of AIP investing in the film, and Corman relented. Robert Towne had specifically requested Price not be cast, and when Corman broke the news he told the screenwriter "Don’t worry, Bob, I’ve got Marlene Dietrich's make-up man!”[6]

Corman ended up giving Price a wig and using more make up on him than usual to make him look younger. Nevertheless, he later remarked that Price's casting still "did change the orientation of the film quite a bit."[6]


Filming started at Shepperton Studios on 29 June 1964.


The film was released in the UK by Warner-Pathé on 6 December 1964, with Mario Bava's I tre volti della paura (in its Anglicised version as Black Sabbath) in support.[8] The US release followed on 20 January the following year.


Howard Thompson in The New York Times of 6 May wrote:

Mr Corman at least cares about putting Mr Poe — or at least some of the master's original ideas — on the screen. If they are frankly made to be screamed at, they are not to be sneezed at. Mr Price still hams it up, front and center, but these low-budget shockers generally evoke a compelling sense of heady atmosphere and coiled doom in their excellent Gothic settings, arresting color schemes and camera mobility ... Mr Corman has made stunning, ambient use of his authentic setting, an ancient abbey in Norfolk, England, and the lovely countryside. The picture is not nearly as finished as Masque of the Red Death ... But the Corman climate of evil is as unhealthy and contagious as ever.[9]

Roger Corman later said he thought the film was "one of the best Poe pictures and Vincent’s performance in the film was very good. It was simply a matter of age."[6]

Box office

Roger Corman later said that "all of the Poe films made money, but Tomb of Ligeia made the least amount. I think it was because the series was just running out of steam and also because it was overly complicated."[6]

The film was the last in the Corman AIP Poe cycle until the success of Witchfinder General encouraged AIP to embark on a fresh cycle of Poe pictures without Corman's involvement.

Cultural impact

Roger Corman gave Martin Scorsese permission to use a clip from the film in Mean Streets.[6]

Comic book adaptation

  • Dell Movie Classic: Tomb of Ligeia (April–June 1965)[10]

See also


  1. Brady p 390
  2. Box office information for Roger Corman films in France at Box Office Story
  3. Brady p 391
  4. Brady p 391
  5. Brady p 389
  6. "Supernal Dreams: Joe Dante talks Poe with Roger Corman & Daniel Haller" By Lawrence French Cinemafantastique April 2, 2008 accessed 8 July 2014
  7. Brady p 392
  8. Kinematograph Weekly vol 570 no 2980, 12 November 1964
  9. The New York Times Review. Retrieved 26 September 2008.
  10. Dell Movie Classic: Tomb of Ligeia at the Grand Comics Database


  • Brady, John (1981). The Craft of the Screenwriter.
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