I'm not sure quite why Hammer went so off piste on 'Rasputin, The Mad Monk', but I'm glad they did as it's a supremely entertaining diversion. I suppose that, fifty years after his murder, 'Russia's Greatest Love Machine' was still synonymous with sex and intrigue and violent death, so Hammer couldn't really resist.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I think Christopher Lee to be a pompous pain in the arse but, credit where credit's due, he turns in an excellent performance here, although, disappointingly, doesn't do his own dancing. It's a breathless, reckless gallop that takes in seduction, hypnosis, mind control, a severed hand, an acid damaged face, suicide, a drinking competition and a poisoned box of chocolates. It's impossible not to enjoy, but I wouldn't use it as revision for a Russian History exam.
It's worth pointing out that one of Rasputin's murderers, Prince Yusupov, had successfully sued MGM for an earlier telling of the story, 'Rasputin & The Empress' and that it is a direct result of his legal action that films have since carried the legend 'any similarity to any person, living or dead...', etc. The Hammer version doesn't really need it, it's quite obviously all made up.
The film was ably directed by Don Sharp, who died on December 14th last year. A reliable, steady craftsman, Don had a long career, also directing 'Island' favourites 'Psychomania', 'Kiss Of The Vampire' and 'Dark Places' as well as a couple of Fu Manchu flicks. RIP, Don.