Rasputin: The Mad Monk

Are you a fan of Hammer horror?  Christopher Lee?  Gothic vampire tales?  Well, strap in and...maybe check out 1966's Rasputin: The Mad Monk.  That's assuming you're a bit of a completionist.  This isn't "must see" material.  I didn't mean to get your hopes up, but my hopes were pretty damn high.  Rasputin was one of the few remaining Hammer vehicles that I had yet to insert into my tape player (it won't fit in the fucking 8-track), the studio's non-genre output notwithstanding.  You only get so many chances to make a first impression.  I screwed up that precept, but you see where I'm coming from, don't you?  I was left lukewarm by this period piece, and I aspired to perspire.

So I started this review two nights ago, and in the interim, my wheelchair has essentially broken down.  To circumvent technical argot and buzzwords (i.e. terms like "argot"), the steering mechanism is out of kilter.  Kerflooey!  As you might guess, this has caused a great deal of stress.  I haven't devoted many thoughts to Rasputin, and I considered sacking the piece altogether.  But I dig the idea of soldiering on.  I mean, fuck.  I just posted a mopey bulletin about how I wanted to be more prolific.  Plus, I saw a connection between how I feel in regards to this embellished biopic NOW versus how I felt before my bad motor scooter went bonkers.  My opinion did not change.

The screenplay was penned by Hammer regular Anthony Hinds.  It's isn't faulty per se, but the decision to romanticize the story of a mythologically evil mystic seems a bit unnecessary.  The actual events that comprised Grigori Rasputin's life were almost more interesting than the sequence of not-so-actual events that played out on the silver screen.  Though his time as a political figure in imperial Russia was brief, it was stark and rife with ignominy.  In the film, Rasputin is a simple swine who transposes a village (without much resistance, at that) and drives his boner through a selection of bar wenches.

I don't want to come off too aggressive here.  I certainly do not wish to slag Sir Christopher Lee.  If reports are to be believed, he wasn't fond of the script, but his performance is no less commanding.  In 1966, who else could have filled this role with the requisite aplomb?  The self-possession?  The wild-eyed wits?  The sang-goddamn-froid???  You could potentially name a few, but that undercuts my point.  Lee kicks ass, man.  He single-handedly keeps this flick afloat when it desperately tries to drown itself at every opportunity.

Elsewhere, the scenery is nice.  Director Don Sharp is experienced at cranking out shadowy thrillers.  I'll admit that the last 10 minutes (give or take) are tense, but the first 81...well, stakes are knee-high.  For you statisticians out there, my aforementioned hopes were higher.  I would need to be higher still to enjoy Rasputin: The Mad Monk as much as I should have.


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