THE MAD MONK
the Mad Monk has always been a bit of an oddity in
the Hammer filmography, not quite fitting in with anything else.
Although marketed (and generally reviewed) as a horror film,
it really isn’t, despite vague hints as supernatural powers
that seemingly come and go according to the requirements of
the story and the suggestion that these powers may be a gift
from Satan. Rather, this is a heavily fictionalised version
of an already fictionalised true story, never allowing anything
as inconvenient of a fact to spoil the proceedings.
In this version of the story, Grigori Rasputin (Christopher
Lee, hidden behind a long wig, beard and swarthy make up) is
a rebel monk with mysterious healing powers and a lusty appetite
for wine, women and song. His lust for power takes him to St
Petersburg, where a chance encounter in a tavern with the Tsarina’s
lady in waiting Sonia (Barbara Shelley) gives the monk a food
in the door to real power. Through hypnosis, he manipulates
Sonia into allowing the Tsarina’s son to badly injure
himself in a fall, and to then have Rasputin called to miraculously
heal him. But as his influence grows, Rasputin makes enemies,
and his ruthless lust for power, and disposal of those no longer
of use to him, soon sees an alliance build against him.
Shot back-to-back with Dracula
Prince of Darkness and released on a double bill
with The Reptile,
Rasputin the Mad Monk is always going to be
doomed by association with those superior movies. In fact, this
isn’t a bad film – it simply doesn’t
quite know what it wants to be. It’s not a horror film
and not a historical drama, instead sitting somewhat uncomfortably
between the two. Don Sharp directs with solid efficiency and
Lee gives one of his more enthusiastic performances, but the
film never quite satisfies.
Interestingly, although the movie ramps up the villainous aspects
of Rasputin, it’s still, in the end, a story of someone
who is ruthless, power-hungry and ambitious (a description we
can use for any politician), and who meets his downfall because
he is not part of the power elite who believe they rule by divine
will. In this film, his ruthlessness is absolute, but aside
from one suicide that he ‘suggests’ (allowing him
the ‘Charles Manson defence’ of not actually being
involved), the only other killing is an act of self-defence.
This is a solid enough film, and fairly entertaining, but it
will always be one of Hammer’s lesser movies. Still, checking
out, and the new release has the now-expected excellent documentary
amongst the extras as a sweetener.
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