Director: Craig Ross Jr.

USA - 2000

    Hoff! Hoff!   

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Iíve never been a big fan of Hammer films. I find the movies to be somewhat slow moving; plodding, to be precise. A bunch of dull monster fodder prancing about, whining about this, that and the other, as the titular creature/vampire/whatever slowly picks them off one-by-one (but never often enough). In the interest of fairness, however, I probably shouldnít generalize Hammer by my admittedly limited experience. To be quite honest, I could probably count the number of their films Iíve seen on one hand. This confession brings one of my darker secrets to light: Iím really not that familiar with the work of renowned horror icon Christopher Lee.

I know, I know. I should be ashamed of myself. Believe me, I am. What makes matters even worse is the fact that the only reason I picked up this DVD was the measly eight dollar price tag. I mean, eight bucks! Imagine my surprise when I discovered the lousy eight dollars I shelled out was actually for a good movie. Iím sure thereís a rub somewhere (there always is), but so far it feels like Iím getting away with something. Having my cake and eating it too is a rare treat indeed.

The immortal Christopher Lee plays Rasputin, a monk. A mad monk. A mad monk with the power to heal, not unlike Benny Hinn (a more contemporary mad monk). Anyway, after having healed the local barkeepís wife of a horrible illness, the gracious family throws Rasputin a party. After one or two drinks too many, Rasputin gets fresh with the barkeepís daughter, much to the dismay of her current boyfriend. The two scuffle, with Rasputin coming out on top after lopping off his attackerís hand.

Though victorious in battle, Rasputinís fellow clergymen are not impressed with their colleagueís violent behavior; his drinking and fornicating doesnít do much to plead his case, either. Rasputin is immediately disbarred (Ďcause thatís what happens to naughty monks).

Undaunted, Our Hero decides to try his fortune in the big city; so he loads up the truck and moves to Beverly (or the Russian equivalent). Itís at a local bar (have you figured out yet that the man loves to drink?) where Rasputin meets Sonia (Barbara Shelley), a Lady-in-Waiting to the wife of the Czar. Through some calculated manipulation (along with an uncanny knack for hypnotism), Rasputin soon endears himself to the beautiful aristocrat. He convinces (read: hypnotizes) Sonia into injuring the Czarís son, Alexei, during an outing. Soon after the nefarious deed, Sonia recommends a certain monk who just so happens to be in town to come to the palace and heal the critically injured heir to the throne. Once accomplished, Rasputin earns an incredible amount of brownie points with the Czarís wife. As a matter of fact, Rasputin soon finds himself with some great new digs, the title of royal physician, and all the bennies (monetary and otherwise) that come with being on a monarchís good side.

Never satisfied, it doesnít take long for the evil monk to become restless, and set his political aspirations just a bit higher; regardless of the grievous repercussions to those around him, the royal family, nor Russia itself.

Despite having enjoyed this film, Rasputin is nonetheless indicative of a standard Hammer film: lavish colors; dopey monster (or monk, in this case) fodder; and a cunning villain who almost effortlessly does as he/she pleases. What makes the movie so enjoyable has little to do with the story (which, in all fairness, is decent).

Instead, the foundation to Rasputin is found in the acting; specifically, Christopher Lee. His interpretation of the mad monk is nothing short of inspired; well worth the price of admission alone. Iíve read that Lee considers this particular role to be the best he was ever offered. Iím in no position to argue this point one way or another, but what I can say is that it is quite obvious that Lee appears to be enjoying himself throughout the filmís entirety. Whenever onscreen (which, fortunately, is quite often), Lee chews the scenery for all itís worth. From the delivery of lines to simple mannerisms, Christopher Lee demands your rapt attention. For the most part, his fellow thespians are hopelessly lost in his shadow. They live in the world Lee creates, but in the end, itís still his world.

Uncharacteristically, I have very little to whine about. If nothing else, I was a little disappointed with the scenery. Or lack thereof. Rasputin, like many Hammer films, has the feel of a period piece. Being set in Russia, surrounded by royals, one might expect to be awed by extravagant costumes and eye-popping landscapes. Russia is a beautiful place. Iíve seen pictures, dammit! Sadly, Rasputin doesnít capitalize on the aesthetics of the countryside.

And the fashion is nothing to write home about either. Granted, one shouldnít expect much from the peasant scenes (I mean, theyíre peasants, for gosh sakes!); but the rich should be flaunting their lives of excess. Itís what the wealthy do, right? If I had two nickels to rub together, no one would ever catch me without my purple polyester suit, matching hat, and flamboyant white plumage poking out the brim, just enough to accentuate the deep violet hue.

Perhaps Iím divulging just a bit too much about myself here. 

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These are the times of which to cherish...

 

During one of Rasputinís numerous dance scenes, Christopher Lee has an obvious stunt (erÖdance) double. This surprises me, because Mr. Lee strikes me as the type who could really cut a rug. Dracula. Fu Manchu. All of these characters just scream ďBoogey-Woogey Man.Ē

- Rasputinís impeccable bedside manner, After healing the barkeepís wife, Our Hero immediately yells: ďOpen your eyes, woman! Youíre cured!Ē You canít get pleasantry like that with a simple HMO.


Rasputinís uncanny allure to women. It must have something to with his technique; like smacking them to the floor, stripping them, then having his wicked way. After the deed, thatís when Rasputin bums some greenbacks, ordering the woman du jour to leave the booty (figuratively speaking) on the bed. Casanova? Puh-leeze.

 

 

-- Copyright © 2001 by J. Bannerman




In Spanish, even!

 

 

 

 

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