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Christopher Lee hangs up his fangs to play Rasputin in this entertaining entry to the Hammer schlock horror cannon
Released in March 1966 on a double bill with Hammer's more traditional - and far superior - chiller The Reptile, Rasputin The Mad Monk marked something of a change of direction for the studio, who found themselves under increasing competition from British horror production houses Amicus and Tigon. Considering the quality of this non-monster fare, though, they'd have been better advised to stick to what they did best.
That it works at all is a credit to Christopher Lee - straight from the set of Dracula: Prince of Darkness, shot back-to-back with this in a cost-saving exercise - who gives a toweringly arch performance as the mesmeric mad monk of Russian history. Hypnotising and bullying his way into the Romanov court, Lee plays the role with great conviction despite being saddled with a beard that makes him look like a Neanderthal escapee from One Million Years B.C.
While the production design is decidedly hackneyed and the understanding of Russian history is pretty sketchy, the more laughable elements of the story (from Russian peasants speaking in cockney accents to Lee's rather camp silk red robes) can't detract from the star's willingness to throw himself into the part, frolicking with the female cast members (including co-star Barbara Shelley), glugging from wine bottles and despatching his many enemies with a series of hand amputations and acid face baths. It's not exactly exciting stuff, but the climactic sequence in which Rasputin "dies" after eating a box of chocolates laced with poison then returns to life for the brutally bloody finale makes up for some of the more turgid moments.
Hardly a landmark entry in the Hammer Studio's catalogue, but at least Rasputin gave Lee a chance to prove that he could do more than suck blood.
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On Film4: 04 April 2015