Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ligeia” and adapted by Robert Towne, this is the last of the Roger Corman Poe films. Because Poe’s story was so short, Towne expanded on the themes of mesmerism and necrophilia. The result? “Literally being controlled by someone who was dead, which is gruesome notion but perfectly consistent with Poe.” said Towne to John Brady in The Craft of the Screenwriter.
In that same book, Towne confessed he thought that “…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.”
Corman agreed, as he was thinking Richard Chamberlain would be perfect. Yet American-International Pictures wanted Price and Corman had to break the news to Towne.
The film starts with a casket on display with a young woman’s face visible through a window in the pine box. A black cat jumps on the coffin and takes her soul, which belonged to Ligeia, the wife of Verden Fell (Vincent Price). He’s troubled by her death, as she refused to die and was blasphemous about God to the end of her life.
Despite his strange appearance — he must wear special glasses as he is allergic to sunlight* — he meets another woman at the grave, Rowena (Elizabeth Shepherd, The Kidnapping of the President, The Omen II). They fall instantly in love and he moves her into his home which is haunted by the spirit of his wife in the form of that black cat. By the end of the film, we learn that he’s been mesmerized by his dead wife and can only love her, yet he battles the cat that has her soul until her tomb burns around them.
As for his new wife, well, she goes back to the man she left at the start of the movie and has a happy future, which is pretty sad for poor Vincent Price.
*Poe invented being goth.