Rasputin: The Mad Monk

09/27/2019 06:29

Film: Rasputin: The Mad Monk

Year: 1966

Director: Don Sharp

Writer: Anthony Hinds

Starring: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley and Richard Pasco



This is an interesting film in that it is one of the lesser known and seemingly not talked about Hammer films. I first came across the title when I was looking through a horror encyclopedia. All I knew that it was a Hammer film, which I tend to, enjoy on the whole. I did like to see that the late great Christopher Lee was playing the title role. To get into this, the synopsis is thrown out of his monastery for licentious and drunken behavior, Rasputin (Lee) travels to St. Petersburg to try his luck. Through a dalliance with one of the czarina’s ladies in waiting, he soon gains influence at court with his power of healing and hypnotism. But he also makes enemies.

We start this in a small inn. The keeper’s wife is ill and it doesn’t seem like the doctor can do anything to help her. There is a pretty somber feel when Grigori Rasputin enters. He demands two bottles of wine. He learns through the patrons why the mood is so down. He goes up stairs and with his hands, he cures the woman of her fever. A party his thrown in his honor. Rasputin drinks a lot and goes off with the innkeeper’s daughter to a barn. As they’re kissing, her suitor shows up and a fight ensues. The daughter is no longer in the mood, but Rasputin won’t take no for an answer. He is chased away from the barn by the rest of the men.

Much as the synopsis states, Rasputin is banished from his monastery as he is really just using it for his own carnal needs. He is in a horse drawn coach, hearing stories about St. Petersburg. He takes the reigns and they head toward this destination instead.

Rasputin is determined to make his way and finds the chance when Dr. Zargo (Richard Pasco) comes into the same tavern with a friend. His friend boasts that Dr. Zargo can out drink any man there and Rasputin takes up the challenge. Also coming this to tavern is Sonia (Barbara Shelley). She was at a fancy party that is thrown for the Tsarina (Renée Asherson), but Sonia convinces her brother Peter (Dinsdale Landen), his friend Ivan (Francis Matthews) and his sister Vanessa (Suzan Farmer) to come here instead. Sonia has a wild side and when she drinks some very strong vodka, she starts to laugh and can’t control herself. Rasputin was finishing his dance and believes her to be laughing at him. He confronts the table, noticing the beauty of Vanessa. This upsets the men and the have to be broken up.

Rasputin takes advantage of a drunken Dr. Zargo, by taking him home and staying there as well. Things all turn when Rasputin gets his in when Sonia comes looking for him to apologize. He then hypnotizes her with a plan that will get him in front of the Tsarina.

Now to start this review off, I will admit that I don’t know a lot about Grigori Rasputin other than that he was crazy, made some interesting predications, he was pretty evil and that his death according reports was quite legendary. Just by glancing at a few things, this film is definitely not historically accurate. This will probably be the most that I talk about it, but you shouldn’t come into this thinking it will be.

What I really like about this film though is the presence of Rasputin. A lot of this of course has to go to Lee. The moment he comes into the inn within the first 10 minutes of the movie, with his long beard he just commands the screen. This is in due part to how tall he is, but he really just knows how to take control. What I love is that he really is a scoundrel as well. I know that in his latter years with Hammer, he was over playing Dracula. I can tell here that he probably really enjoyed this role of drinking, dancing and just being this evil character.

I want to shift a bit to talk about the pacing, because it is a bit slow and I think that is in part to the type of film this is. It only runs 91 minutes, but I’ll be honest, I felt most of them. I don’t want you to think that I hated it though. This is really a character piece where not a lot happens to be honest. It is a good chunk of seeing Rasputin come up with a plan to get him into a place of power and then we see those trying to figure out a way of getting rid of him. I did like the ending and sticking with how strong willed Rasputin was for sure. He really does ruin the lives of those around him.

I’ve already touched on this, but Lee was amazing. I’ve seen in him a lot as Dracula, but I think he’s marvelous here. He does such a great job in this performance. Shelley is quite attractive, but what I really like is that we see her taken advantage of by Rasputin. He can sense her wildness and uses it for his own gains until she’s no longer needed. Pasco is such a broken character and much like Sonia, Rasputin’s strong will takes him over. Farmer is also quite attractive. We don’t see a lot of her and she’s fine in the role she has. I’d say that the rest of the cast also rounds this film out for what is needed.

On to the effects of the film, to be honest we really don’t get a lot of them, but it isn’t that type of movie either. I think that the look and make-up of Rasputin is pretty spot on to pictures I’ve seen. We do get a little bit of blood and it is that Hammer, bright colored kind. I have a soft spot for that. There are some burns from an acid that are fine. Overall I’d say what we get works and the settings don’t really scream Russia, but I can overlook that. It is shot very well also.

Now with that said, this film follows a character that historically is kind of scary and it isn’t that out of question that someone like this could pop up again. I think it was genius to have Lee take on the role, as he does a great job with his screen presence and his performance to match it. This isn’t the most exciting film though, so keep that in mind. The things we see are really just there for Rasputin to continue his rise. I do think the rest of the acting compliments him and the ending is pretty solid. There aren’t a lot of effects, but what we get I thought was fine. It is shot well and the soundtrack was good for what was needed, really giving it more Russian feel since the settings themselves didn’t necessarily do that. I do think this is above average though overall. I would recommend giving it a viewing, but keep in mind it isn’t historically accurate. If you want to see an amazing performance from Lee, then definitely check it out!


My Rating: 7.5 out of 10