Hammer was by no means shy about adapting work from other forms of media, whether it be famous characters from literature like Frankenstein or Dracula, from myth like The Gorgon or from real life like this film, Rasputin: The Mad Monk. Starring Hammer mainstay, Christopher Lee, the film would focus upon Rasputin’s larger than life character, his rise from a simple man of God, if simple he could be called, to a member of the royal court. Directed by Don Sharp, the film would look great with Hammer’s standard production values, and with a fun script by Anthony Hinds, it would turn out to be one of the most entertaining pictures that the studio would ever release.
The great thing about the way Hammer would go about adapting certain stories into film was not being overly literal in doing so. Most of their films, whatever and wherever they came from, were always given the freedom to do as they wish, whether leaving it open for a sequel or simply ending it however they wished. Instead of being ‘adapted by,’ or ‘based upon,’ they were more than often just ‘inspired by,’ whatever the source of the material might have been. In the case of Rasputin, some of the elements of the film would be true such as probably being religious, possibly having magical powers (though doubtful), his influence over others and his womanizing, and even being killed by his friend, though it would be hard to claim that Rasputin had any real friends. The life of Rasputin was almost tailor-made for a Hammer film, featuring many of the elements that made their pictures quite popular. The man’s history is somewhat clouded over, some things are known and others are not, but one can never say that he was not a polarizing figure, for he is still talked about to this very day.
Playing this man who would heal the sick and commune with Tsarina’s would be Christopher Lee, giving life to the boisterous and imposing figure. This is perhaps one of Lee’s finest roles for he was required to hold nothing back. There is no subtlety in the performance, no quiet demeanour, nothing like he did with Dracula or with many of his other performances. In lieu of that, Lee lets loose, being loud and crazy, looking like a wild-man and acting like one as well. This was the kind of performance that we would rarely see from Lee and it was refreshing to see him do something so different. Of course, Lee would still give the role every ounce of his formidable acting chops, making sure that while the performance was over-the-top, it still rang true and grabbed the viewer. With this film, much like every other role he would take, it seems like there is literally nothing that the man cannot do.
So maybe this little bit of pseudo-history will not grab everybody, or at least those looking for a picture to learn something about the man. What we get though is a nice little suspenseful horror pic, one that will definitely entertain those who love Hammer films and those that love Christopher Lee. The horror featured within is not what most people would associate with the genre these days like blood and guts and whatnot, instead, it would come from the acts committed by the man instead. Rasputin was self-serving and egotistical and did nothing unless it was for himself, even at the expense of those around him. The film would also star the wonderful Barbara Shelley, Richard Pasco and Francis Matthews, but this was the Christopher Lee show plain and simple. With that big beard, imposing stature and those crazy, hypnotic eyes, you cannot help but be entranced by Rasputin.
4 out of 5