There is no greater partnership between studio and actor as there is between Hammer and Sir Christopher Lee. Together they created some of the most iconic films ever made, most notably in their literary adaptations of Dracula and Frankenstein. When it came to a film loosely based on actual events however, Lee can still hold his head high, but the film the studio constructed around him works out less well.
It’s easy to forget now, in a post carnography world, that Hammer Film Productions traded heavily in shock value back in the day, making up for its lower budgets and less polished production levels by being a pioneer in throwing sensational imagery and blood at its audiences. This worked especially well since the blood was in new lurid technicolour.
Even by Hammer standards however, Rasputin, the Mad Monk was no priority picture. It was shot back to back with Dracula: Prince of Darkness, using the very same sets. Still, the film makes a good stab of things to begin with, relishing in its central character’s hard partying/drinking/womanising lifestyle in ye olde Russia. As Rasputin becomes more entrenched in his plans however, the film gets bogged down, running out of momentum and swapping nefarious fun for plodding period political intrigue.
Lee, though, is wonderful in the film, his role as the mad monk entirely carrying the film after it runs out of steam. It’s wonderful to see him in such an animated role for a change, dancing and sweeping through scenes while retaining his trademark gravitas. His mannerisms and appearance would render him unrecognisable if one didn’t know he was in the piece, and it’s a shame the rest of the movie lets him down so badly. Otherwise, this would’ve been a role to rival Dracula.
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