Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)

Christopher Lee dramatically stars as Rasputin in Hammer's superb period piece. Anchor Bay US R0 DVD.

The Film

In 1965, Hammer were recovering from a brief slump thanks to the sucess of She (1965), an 11 picture deal signed with Seven-Arts ensured bigger budgets for their next productions. Meanwhile, Amicus studios were gaining pace and starting to compete with the established studio. Hammer responded by shooting a pair of double-bills back to back on their Bray Studio sets. With Christopher Lee back from filming in Europe, they re-introduced Dracula for Dracula: Prince of Darkness, and kept most of the same cast for Rasputin: The Mad Monk. To go with these two, they shot two quick B-pictures, The Reptile and Plague of the Zombies. Hammer's Rasputin story is mostly fictional; although Tony Hinds initally wrote a historically accurate script, the studio was threatened with legal action by the real Prince Yusupov who had been involved in the killing of Rasputin. Hinds was forced to rewrite most of the script, even getting every page initialled by the Prince who incidentally died only a year later.

The story opens in rural Tsarist Russia; a landlord's wife lies on her deathbed. Rasputin (Christopher Lee) bursts onto the scene and heals the woman - taking the fever into his hands. Taking his reward in wine, he has himself a party, and elopes with the landlord's daughter, much to her fianceé's annoyance. The villagers attack Rasputin in a barn as he tries to molest the girl, but he flees. Forced out of the monestary where he was based, Rasputin heads for St. Petersburg and enters a drinking competition with Dr. Zargo. Meanwhile, a quartet of the Russian elite (Sonia, Ivan, Vanessa and Peter) are tiring of a ball and decide to go slumming, ending up at the same bar Rasputin is in.  Dancing to celebrate his victory in the drinking contest, Rasputin mistakenly thinks that Sonia (Barbara Shelley) is laughing at his dancing and orders her to come and apologise to him. Rasputin moves himself into Zargo's house and the next morning Sonia arrives as though summoned. Discovering that she is the Tsarina's lady-in-waiting, Rasputin seduces and hypnotises her, ordering her to injure the Tsar's child. With the child ill, Rasputin is called to the royal court and immediately makes an impression, healing the sick boy. Impressed, the Tsarina moves him and Zargo into a larger house and begins to consult him for advice; but tiring of Sonia, Rasputin kicks her out and orders her to kill herself. Shocked, Zargo meets with Ivan (Francis Matthews) and Peter to discuss ways of ending Rasputin's reign of terror. Peter discovers his sister Sonia dead, and tries to kill Rasputin, but is attacked by the Monk and scarred by acid. Ivan and Zargo come up with a plot to kill Rasputin once and for all...

Although not Hammer's usual horror story, the Rasputin script is very strong. The legal action meant that the script presents a mostly fictionalised retelling of the story, and was further cut down at the script stage by the British censors who took out a number of gory sequences - fortunately, the film flows along very quickly and there is barely a dead moment in the whole story. Unlike the Dracula films, Christopher Lee is in almost every scene and his stand-out performance as Rasputin makes the whole film; with a lesser actor the picture would certainly not have been as good. Only the ending seems rather poor - a lengthy fight scene at the end of the film was inexplicably cut by the studio and like Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), the ending is very sudden.

Production is very strong. Don Sharp gives a good directoral turn, although not using as many elaborate camera angles as Freddie Francis did, his camerawork is much more distinctive than Terence Fisher's often very plain shooting, and Rasputin has some interesting angles and close-ups. The sets are redressed from Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) and look very impressive. Don Banks gives a relatively typical Hammer score that builds up the film. 

Not a typical Hammer Horror film, Rasputin: The Mad Monk is still very interesting. Christopher Lee steals the show with one of his best performances for the company. The enforced fictionalisation means the film has no real historical interest, but is an entertaining watch and Hammer fans should enjoy it - no less scary today than most of the actual horror pictures from the studio.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Christopher Lee - Hammer Horror mainstay, and recently starred in Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.
Francis Matthews - appeared in Hammer's early horror sucess Revenge of Frankenstein (1958).
Directed by anyone interesting? Don Sharp - Director of Hammer films Kiss of the Vampire (1964) and Devil-Ship Pirates (1964)
Is it scary? Not to a modern audience.
Any gore? A little blood.
Any sex? A couple of covered-up nude scenes.
Who is it for?
Has a general appeal, certainly for fans of Hammer and Christopher Lee, some historical interest as well.
Good soundtrack? Standard Hammer orchestral score.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 2.10:1 widescreen. Anamorphically enhanced. Colour.
The disc is strong visually, good colours, minimal print damage is evident. There are some red digital speckles that appear on the black borders at the edge of the image in a few scenes.
Note: The cheap widescreen lenses used on this film mean that the edges of the picture are slightly distorted throughout, this dates from the original print and is not a problem with the disc.
Audio English language mono sound and French language mono dub. English language audio commentary.
No problems with the audio.
Subtitles None
Run-timeFeature: 1hr 31m 33s
Extras The disc includes:
  • The original theatrical trailer - letterboxed. Contains spoilers. (2m 42)
  • Two US TV spots (20 and 60 seconds) , these are full-screen and black and white. Advertising this film along with The Reptile they offer cinema goers a free 'Rasputin Beard' as they enter the cinema. (0m 23s + 1m 01s)
  • The Christopher Lee episode of 'World of Hammer'. This was a 1980 documentary series, narrated by Oliver Reed, about Hammer studios. Running to 20 minutes, this provides some interesting clips of Lee, but no interviews and little detail about his career. English. (24m 55s)
  • Audio commentary from cast members Christopher Lee, Francis Matthews, Barbara Shelley and Suzan Farmer. A very informative commentary. Lee has a lot of background about the real Rasputin, and the others impart a lot of information about the making of the film and about Hammer studios in general. A highly recommended listen.
Availabity The ABUS disc is now only available in a dual-pack with The Devil Rides Out (1968). [this may be out of print now]
Region Region 1 (North America) - NTSC
Other regions? German R2 DVD with audio commentary plus interview.
New Optimum UK DVD, part of the Ultimate Hammer Collection, includes a similar print, but with only the theatrical trailer for extra features. Optimum UK (left) ABUS (right)

If the US disc is unavailable, the German disc is recommended as it includes the very good audio commentary.
Cuts? The film is believed to be fully uncut.



Return to main menu.

All text in this review written by Timothy Young - July 2005/25th March 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

Please contact: