Thirty years of horror: Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

Tom: Tomb of Ligeia stars the hardest working cat in show business. This movie can’t go five minutes without someone tossing the cat from offscreen. The big finale consists of about twenty cat tossings and then some cat wrestling. But even before then, the cat has to fight a whip. He also has to fight some sort of boat hook thing that will be used in fifteen years to stick the shark in Jaws to no effect. The cat gets mountain lion dialogue. He has to wear sunglasses. No joke. The cat is made to wear sunglasses. He’s sitting there sulking with the sunglasses on his face. “Not cool,” he seems to be saying.

After the jump, Vincent Price in a supporting role

Tom: Vincent Price is pretty convincing until he has to mince around an unconvincingly flaming ruin for the big cat tossing finale. His hair is carefully teased on top, like he’s some sort of rock star. He’s wearing a puffy shirt with a pink stripe that’s supposed to be blood. I know people did a lot of crazy things in the 60s and 70s, but that doesn’t mean we should make movies about it.

At least it was cool to see a movie where I could appreciate Vincent Price’s unique appeal as a Mysterious and Creepy Man. I’ve previously known him as the old guy from that Michael Jackson video and the hero in Last Man on Earth. When it’s not hucking cats, Tomb of Ligeia is mostly about how cool Vincent Price is. Come for the Price, stay for the cat, and thrill to a strange sequence of hawt inadvertent lesbian autonecrophilia, courtesy of a shoddily hung curtain.

Chris: I suppose I should mention that my favorite movie of all time is Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, but because I’ve seen it so many times (not to mention that it’s more mystery and thriller than horror) I deliberately kept it far away from this list. Or at least I thought so, but darned if a Roger Corman adaptation of an Edgar Allen Poe story didn’t take us squarely back into those themes.

This is a low-budget, quickly made cash-in film that’s far better than it has any right to be. I’ll lay a big heap of credit for that on a young screenwriter named Robert Towne who helped out his buddy Corman by wisely accentuating the Vertigo-like obsession that’s only hinted at in Poe’s original story.

Kudos also to Towne for realizing that hammy old Vincent Price isn’t nearly a good enough actor to play a slow, Jimmy Stewart-like descent into madness, so the script here doesn’t even try it. They glam up Price with those hipster sunglasses (which are absolutely amazing and I want a pair and I’m not kidding) and just let him do his thing and it works. I thought that Towne’s script actually got a lot right, especially considering the weakness of the source material. I hate dream sequences, but there’s one here that pays off with a great example of a visual Lewton Bus involving a sneeze. That totally hooked me.

Otherwise, Elizabeth Shepherd does a solid job here (she’s no Kim Novak, but you take what you get), and almost makes me forget how unintentionally funny the frequent appearance of the cat puppet and its attendant mountain lion yowls are. The opening is wonderfully creepy (those eyes and that Mona Lisa smile) and the ending has a fairly chilling reveal.

Tom: Okay, you pulled a fast one on me. Great call on the Vertigo comparison. I nodded knowingly when you mentioned Roger Corman. But then you brought up Robert Towne. That’s dirty pool. From the mind of the man who wrote Tomb of Ligeia comes…Chinatown! Chilling reveal, indeed.

(So what’s this “thirty years of horror” thing?)