When one mentions the title or word Ligeia, horror fans and those of the gothic realms heads perk up for they all that one speaks of Edgar Allen Poe, and here while that name held the original title, The Tomb became both the official title and where the film need to remain. Sadly many times film adapted from a novel, story or even poem find themselves changed for Hollywood sensationalism, take in reference The Raven (2010) which starred John Cusack as an action-hero Poe figure, while in reality and history he didn’t live the action-hero lifestyle. One must note that this film also doesn’t share in a remake of The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) from famed director Roger Corman and star Vincent Price, rather helmed by first director Michael Staininger, who also never did another film in any regard. John Shirley, served as the screenwriter for this production, is an author of such works as “Wetbones” and “Cellars”, and worked on six horror films, though this marks his first script in this genre in ten years, the last one, The Night of the Headless Horseman a 1999 television movie.
The version of the classic tale has a successful writer, extremely wealthy and Professor Jonathan Merrick falling under the spell of the truly incredible and irresistible Ligeia, as she battles a fatal illness, ripping him away from his beloved fiancé Rowena and cause to find madness. Sofya Skya presents herself as the exquisite beauty of Ligeia, and makes it impossible for her prey to ignore her presence, giving the right amount of seductress than slutty, and allowing that to entice Jonathan (Wes Bentley) to become her next victim. One problem, Rowena (Kaitlin Doubleday in her only horror film) an equally qualified English professor refuses to let go, and went the inevitable does occur she still accepts Merrick back into her life, the lack reasoning, does convey itself easily on the screen nor to the audience. Note watch for the small role of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as the University Chancellor, who has knowledge of Ligeia’s diabolical experiments and his battle with her.
The film contains multiple flaws to the legendary status of gothic tale from Poe, and though the name Fangoria a name synonymous with horror movies, needed a bit of restrain and respect to such a powerful name in horror, as it briefly resembles the story he created. The script adds so much more it the film, with sexual relations and satanic ceremonial aspects scurrying in the background instead of the strong will of love and strength rising back from the dead. Then using Eric Roberts for such brief snippet and unwarranted for a man of his talent in a strange role as manor’s caretaker, why, man so capable of larger more diverse roles. As added insult Michael Madsen who becomes a noted figure starring in numerous horror films, given a minimum lines and sadly delivers in petrified wooden manner, no direction from the director. The director sadly kept the blinders on, when it came to capture visuals, limiting the creepiness and gothic qualities to creep into the view of the camera, the saving grace, the Ligeia’s manor, the building fills the screen with mystery, gothic calling, and illusions to past grandiose designs. Staininger missed the mark on developing the conveyance of Poe’s story of madness the loss of life and love, the lasting glances of passion of temptations. Nevertheless the screenplay contains errors in behaviors of a woman being scorned and rejected for another, and given into a passive mentality to accept the mistrust of Jonathan back into her life, even in Fatal Attraction, resentment presented itself as a hurtle with barb-wire to climb over to regain trust. This cursory acceptance loses credible with the storyline and characters.
The result of this film makes one long for a return to Corman’s essential contributions to Poe, and the entire horror genre, humble owns gratitude, debt and respect to this great man, and his everlasting works, but not with drivel. Many careers launched with respect to Poe’s creations, from Masque of the Red Death and The Black Cat, that sadly this film cannot include itself in this elite club. Therefore if you seek another horror film to watch then you are in luck for this, but if seek gothic horror look elsewhere.
An interesting tidbit, on the subject of Ligeia, while many filmmakers avoid this classic tale, director, writer and actor Alexander Emmert, along with Kristen DeLuca and Victoria Gates, currently in early production mode for a short film on this classic tale, though Emmert a Poe aficionado promises a the closest literal script to Poe’s Ligeia, expected release in 2015.