Matchup of the Day: The Conqueror Worm vs. The Tomb of Ligeia
Today is Edgar Allen Poe‘s birthday, so here are two film adaptations of his work starring Vincent Price. Well, actually, The Conqueror Worm (AKA Witchfinder General) is not an adaptation, but rather takes its title from a poem by Poe. The Tomb of Ligeia, though, is based on the author’s short story “Ligeia“. What links the two films (barely) is that Poe’s poem “The Conqueror Worm” was later incorporated into “Ligeia” by the author.
The Conqueror Worm is a British production that followed a series of Poe-influenced films directed by Roger Corman. The choice of title was more about cashing in on the success of Corman’s adaptations than having any relevance to the author’s work. The poem is about the inevitability of death, and how humans are just putzing around waiting to be devoured by the Conqueror Worm (which represents worms that eat a corpse?). The film tells the tale of a corrupt 17th-century witch hunter (Price) who tortures and kills with impunity. There is a part in the poem that mentions “much of Madness, and more of Sin, And Horror the soul of the plot”, which does describe what takes place in the movie, so that comparison exists. Worm is a bleak and disturbing film where the humans don’t fare too well. Much like in the poem, where an audience of angels watch helplessly as death consumes the doomed human players on a stage.
The Tomb of Ligeia is the last of Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations, as well as the least profitable. The quote at the end of the movie “The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?” comes from Poe’s short story “The Premature Burial” Corman had already made an adaptation of that story before Ligeia, but the quote does fit the movie so that must be why they used it. Anyway, the film involves a mourning husband (Price) of a dead woman, who might not actually be dead, taking a new wife (who are played by the same actress, Elizabeth Shepherd). I read through this lengthy analysis of Ligeia to make sense of what was going on (Corman himself admitted that it’s a tad confusing). It points out that the character Ligeia is a major presence in Poe’s story, but is barely in the film. Instead, the new wife has a much more prominent role, as does a black cat that has nothing to do with the original story at all. I’m still trying to figure out what the cat was about.
If “The Conqueror Worm” poem is about how we are all just are waiting to be freed from our miserable existence by death, then that’s probably a message both of these films share. The Conqueror Worm drives it home better despite not being a real adaptation. In the story “Ligeia”, the character composes “The Conqueror Worm” poem just before she dies. The movie never shows her die, or do much of anything.