|Christopher Lee as Rasputin.|
The film opens with Rasputin (Christopher Lee) using his healing powers to cure the critically-ill wife of a tavern owner. In the ensuing celebration, Rasputin tries to rape the innkeeper's daughter and chops off the hand of her boyfriend--though the latter act was in self-defense. The monk leaves the monastery and shows up in St. Petersburg, where he pairs up with a drunken physician.
He also makes the acquaintance of Sonia (Barbara Shelley), a lady-in-waiting to the Tsarina. Though he's far from handsome (except for those Dracula-like eyes), she cannot resist Rasputin and becomes his lover. He later hypnotizes Sonia and compels her to injure the young prince, so Rasputin can heal the boy and became a member of the royal family's inner circle.
|The real Rasputin.|
On its own terms, Rasputin, the Mad Monk is a modest success. It was shot back-to-back with Hammer's Dracula, Prince of Darkness and features several of the same cast members (Lee, Shelley, Francis Matthews, and Suzan Farmer), plus some of the same sets (the frozen lake plays a key role in both films). Hammer lacked the budget to provide Rasputin with the necessary scope. In fact, for the longest time, I wasn't sure where the movie was supposed to take place because it sure didn't look like Russia (eventually, a character mentioned traveling to St. Petersburg). The ending is a definite letdown, apparently because a longer fight scene was cut from the final print.
Christopher Lee gives a convincing portrayal as the title character. In a 1974 interview for Nightmare magazine, he said: "Probably one of the best performances I've ever given was as Rasputin in a Hammer film. If it had been made by another company as a serious picture, I think it might have helped me considerably, but it was made once again in the sort of Hammer-horror-mold and as such didn’t really benefit me very much." Interestingly, when Lee was a child, he met Prince Yusupov and as an adult, he met the real-life Rasputin's daughter.
For Hammer aficionados, Rasputin, the Mad Monk is required viewing. For others, though, it depends on whether you're in the mood for a malicious monk movie.