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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Rasputin the Mad Monk


Starring: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley and Richard Pasco
RRP: £22.99
Certificate: 15
Available 22 October 2012

Rasputin walks into a tavern and cures the landlord's wife's fever by drawing it out with his hands. He asks for much wine as his reward, but when he ravishes the landlord's daughter and gets into a fight he is hauled before a senior representative of the church. The monk is about to be punished when news of his healing is revealed. Risking the possibility the powers could be sent from the devil, the church let him go. After using and manipulating a lady in waiting to the Russian Tsar, Rasputin hypnotises her into arranging an 'accident' for the Tsar's little boy, so that he can heal the child and gain favour with the court in St Petersburg. But his eventual influence and brusque manner gains him many enemies who see no alternative but to have the man killed...

After the suave and sophisticated but chilling demeanour of his Dracula portrayal, it's a considerable wrench to witness Christopher Lee's extreme extrovert characterisation of the mad monk of St Petersburg. There is still the deep commanding voice and the staring eyes, but added to that we get a loud, violent, uncaring, mannerless, crazy, evil scheming manipulative fiend, whose favourite hobbies seem to be drinking and debauchery (outrageous!). Lee turns in a pretty fine performance too - possibly one of his best.

It has to be said that Hammer Productions deserve much plaudits here for managing to compress an extremely long and complicated semi-true story into a tidy and enjoyable 87 minutes, although the fight scene at the end is badly edited after the majority was cut for the purposes of fitting the required running time.

Perhaps the legacy of John Carpenter's Halloween character Michael Myers getting up time after time when believed dead has changed the way we view madmen in horror films, because for such a powerful man Rasputin seems to be dispatched far too easily. Didn't the real Rasputin get poisoned, shot and stabbed? Or is that just a myth? More recent evidence seems to tell us he was shot twice, and that the original book about the man was apocryphal to say the least.

Whatever, Rasputin the Mad Monk from 1966 is a better than average offering from the prolific Hammer archives, with an on-form Christopher Lee alone making it worth a look. I originally reviewed this film on DVD in 2004, but I must say the bright and crisp remastering carried out for this re-release is simply stunning.

Extras include the 25 minute Tall Stories: The Making of Rasputin the Mad Monk; Brought to Book: Hammer Novelisations (a highly entertaining 15 minute overview of the books by John Burke and others); the World of Hammer Episode, Costumes, presented by Oliver Reed (in truth, not a proper documentary, but a load of nonsense excuse to show a chaotic assortment of film clips); and a thorough Stills Gallery. There is also a priceless Audio Commentary by the great Christopher Lee, Suzan Farmer, Francis Matthews and Barbara Shelley.

As there is an obvious attempt to make this a better release than its 2004 predecessor, I have assigned it a much deserved extra point,


Ty Power

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