Rasputin the Mad Monk was released by Scream Factory on Blu-ray on February 18th 2020.
• Audio Commentary with film historians Constantine Nasr, Steve Haberman and Ted Newsom.
• Audio Commentary with Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer
• Tall Stories: The Making of ‘Rasputin The Mad Monk’
• Brought to Book: Hammer Novelizations
• World of Hammer episode: Costumers
• World of Hammer episode: Christopher Lee
• Theatrical Trailer
• TV Spots
• Still Gallery
In the meantime, here is our previous coverage of the film:
‘What mystic power did this man possess that turned men into killers – and women into animals!’
Rasputin the Mad Monk is a 1966 British Hammer horror feature film directed by Don Sharp. It stars Christopher Lee as Grigori Rasputin, the Russian peasant-mystic, notable for gaining great influence with the Tsars prior to the Russian Revolution. The movie also features Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer, Richard Pasco, Dinsdale Landen and Renée Asherson.
The story is largely fictionalised, although some of the events leading up to Rasputin’s assassination are very loosely based on Prince Yusupov’s memoir, Lost Splendour.
Returning to Britain in 1965, after a period of working in Europe, Christopher Lee reforged his relationship with Hammer. The film was made back-to-back with Dracula, Prince of Darkness, using many of the same cast members and sets used at Bray Studios. Lee had a particular fondness for the role having met two of the conspirators alleged to have killed the real Rasputin, being introduced to Prince Yusupov and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich as a child.
“Two of the conspirators, yes. I was pulled out of bed in the middle of the night by my mother. She said there are two people here in black tie and tuxedos, you will remember having met them – but that’s about all. And then, of course, years later it meant a great deal. But I can’t remember their faces. Then I played the part in ’65, although it was not correctly played, because even then Prince Yusupov was alive and he would always bring legal action against anybody who used his name or his wife’s name in a film.”
Lee also met Rasputin’s daughter, Maria, in 1976. It has to be said that Lee wheeled out many stories involving him meeting the great and the mighty, none of which, as a rule, can be substantiated.
The film sees Rasputin arriving in St. Petersburg having been banished from his previous parish for sexual shenanigans and mystical goings-on. Meeting the drunken Doctor Boris Zargo (Richard Pasco from 1964’s The Gorgon) he is soon swanking it up in the social circles of the Russian court.
Having won favour with the Tsarina (Renée Asherson from Theatre of Blood) who relies on his miraculous healing powers to save her son from certain death. Barbara Shelley (Dracula, Prince of Darkness, Quatermass and the Pit) is the Lady in Waiting, Sonia, who helps to look after the Tsarina’s son and is captured by Rasputin’s spell. You can guess the rest.
Raspy gets even more starey-eyed, dances a lot and drinks and carouses upsetting Sonia’s brother in the process and leading to all sorts of hoo-ha. Those expecting a history lesson should look elsewhere – kudos for thinking you’d learn about history from a Hammer film though.
To his credit, Lee really throws himself into the role, having taken everything far too seriously as usual and researched the part to within an inch of its life. This plan was somewhat flawed as Yusupov was an expert in suing people for misrepresenting many of the details of Rasputin’s life (and especially death), Hammer’s hands were well and truly tied as to what they could show. This rather supposes Hammer wanted to show a historically accurate document, which we can take as unlikely but Lee found the limitations frustrating.
Australian director Don Sharp (Curse of the Fly, Psychomania) allows Lee a good deal of chit-chat as well as a good degree of scenery-chewing and ‘dancing’. A somewhat maverick approach to allowing his actors to invent their own accents was ill-advised, though entertaining, so long as you don’t have very high expectations from the film. The rest of the cast slum their way through the film, partly as a result of an extremely promising beginning, a ponderous middle and an ending that was considerably stifled.
The final battle between Rasputin, Ivan and Zargo suggests a satisfying conclusion, especially considering the many attempts it took to see off the real-life Russian nut-job (apologies for spoiling the ending there). The ensuing fight, featuring some spiked chocolates and some furious fisticuffs culminates in Rasputin, still resplendent in his red silk tunic, crawling across the floor defeated but with the audience demanding at least another half a dozen curtain calls.
Aside from the legal pressure, this was also not helped by the judicious scissors of the censor and the editor. There’s a very pleasing ‘dummy tossed from window’ scene just to ram home the fact that by the end of the film, you have rather been duped.
The film was released as part of a double-bill in many territories, twinned with Hammer’s The Reptile. Perhaps the best legacy the film leaves is the memory of the free beards which were given to attendees to celebrate the deviant monk.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES and MANIA
” …you can tell that Lee knew he had a great role in this one; he gives one of his finest performances, and he looks like he’s having a lot of fun as well. As far as I’m concerned, it is his performance that makes this movie work, and the movie is worth catching simply for him.” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings
“Whereas the film contains an arresting performance from Lee, only Barbara Shelley comes close to equalling him, and its shock moments – a dismemberment, an acid attack – are contrived concessions to Hammer’s horror constituency. Rasputin the Mad Monk never achieves the greatness to which it clearly aspires.” Marcus Hearn, Alan Barnes, The Hammer Story, Titan Books, 1997
” …Rasputin barely qualifies as a horror film per se but includes a number of grisly elements, such as a hand amputation and acid in the face (a very popular ’60s act of cinematic violence). Lee is at his best here, and the lovely redheaded Barbara Shelley (The Gorgon) always makes a watchable female lead. Director Don Sharp does his usual efficient job, though the results aren’t quite up to the lyrical savagery of, say, Kiss of the Vampire.” Mondo Digital
Cast and characters:
- Christopher Lee … Grigori Rasputin
- Barbara Shelley … Sonia
- Richard Pasco … Dr Zargo
- Francis Matthews … Ivan
- Suzan Farmer … Vanessa
- Dinsdale Landen … Peter
- Renée Asherson … Tsarina (as Renee Asherson)
- Derek Francis … Innkeeper
- Joss Ackland … The Bishop
- Robert Duncan … Tsarvitch
- Alan Tilvern … Patron
- John Welsh … The Abbot
- John Bailey … The Physician
- Mary Barclay … Superior Lady (uncredited)
- Michael Cadman … Michael (uncredited)
- Helen Christie … First Tart (uncredited)
- Maxwell Craig … Bar Patron (uncredited)
- Lucy Fleming … Wide Eyes (uncredited)
- Michael Godfrey … Doctor (uncredited)
- Fiona Hartford … Tania (uncredited)
- Prudence Hyman … Chatty Woman (uncredited)
- Eric Kent … Bar Patron (uncredited)
- Bryan Marshall … Vasily (uncredited)
- Bridget McConnell … Gossip (uncredited)
- Jay McGrath … Dancer (uncredited)
- Robert McLennan … Dancer (uncredited)
- Bartlett Mullins … Waggoner (uncredited)
- Veronica Nicholson … Young Girl (uncredited)
- Jim O’Brady … Waiter (uncredited)
- Mary Quinn … Innkeepers Wife (uncredited)
- Ernie Rice … Bartender (uncredited)
- Michael Ripper … Waggoner (voice) (uncredited)
- Robert Rowland … Bin Man / Bar Drunk (uncredited)
- Celia Ryder … Fat Lady (uncredited)
- Cyril Shaps … Foxy Face (uncredited)
- Leslie White … Cheeky Man (uncredited)
- Brian Wilde … Vassily`s Father (uncredited)
- Maggie Wright … Second Tart (uncredited)
- Jeremy Young … Court Messenger (uncredited)
- Black Park, Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, England
- Bray Studios, Down Place, Oakley Green, Berkshire, England
- Principal photography from 7th June to 20th July 1965
- 91 minutes
- Audio: Mono (RCA Sound Recording)
- DeLuxe colour
- Aspect ratio: 2.55: 1
- British censors the BBFC made the following cuts for the UK ‘X’ certificate theatrical release:
- The Rasputin/Sonia love scene was shortened to end on the shot of Rasputin tearing open the back of Sonia’s dress. The uncut version continues the scene for another 20s climaxing as she gets into bed and Rasputin pulls the blanket off her (unseen) naked body.
- Two shots were shortened in the scene in which Peter is disfigured by acid in order to remove close shots of Peter’s scarred face.
- The severed hand shots were never cut by the BBFC having been waived following appeals by Hammer.
- Region 1 and Region DVDs are uncut. The older British VHS releases from Lumiere and Studio Canal are the cut theatrical version.