Perhaps my fave film company– Hammer Studios–usually masked low production costs to present a picture with a rich look. Thus making the lack of cash a mere bagatelle. But they had that indefinable something to always make it watchable. Having the most beautiful woman (Barbara Shelley) to ever grace a cinema screen certainly helped with this one.

I admire the way the men at the helm of the company liked to re-use some very familiar looking interiors too. Despite having some healthy box office returns they were dedicated to being cheap to the very end. If you’d just watched Dracula Prince of Darkness than you can be forgiven for having a strong sense of deja vu once you feast your eyes on this one. Being a Hammer film the little Englander mentality is ever present. As for the foreign characters– they all have suntans. Because all foreigners, even ones living in Russia, must have suntans.

Apart from that, you can enjoy watching the Hammer repertory cast emote and overact. Almost as if they’re having a contest to see who can shout the loudest, which has some entertainment value if you are a fan. They were on such tight budgets and short time frames that you need to watch their output with indulgence. They weren’t competing with the likes of David Lean, so you have been warned if you expect some grand epic. Or realism. (shudder)

In fact I admire the way Hammer could take anything and still make it uniquely their own cosy vision: middle class, English, simple story line, bursting with an unstated sexual repression. But most of all, it is unreal. Or surreal?  Hammer product exists in its own dimension that is up to the viewer to tune into. Their films are like a nostalgic memory. You’ve got to be on the same wavelength to appreciate the old world charm they exhibit.

If you want historical truth please move on. It just wasn’t possible for the low-budget horror company in 1966 to give you Rasputin’s real story. They also had Prince Yussupov breathing down their necks with the ever-present threat of a lawsuit if they defamed him. Prince Y, of course, is the most well-known assassin of Russia’s notorious holy man. In reality quite a few people were involved in the murder…Anyway, Grigory Rasputin is one of history’s more controversial and mysterious characters. But here he gets the bare bones treatment.

His life (and death) are barely depicted; instead we have a fanciful tale that’s fun even if mostly fiction. Christopher Lee does a pretty good job with the title character. In fact he is using his Dracula persona, just from behind a beard. His voice gets a good work out as he continuously loses his temper, shouting impatiently at all and sundry.

As you would expect from Hammer Films and Christopher Lee, it focuses on Rasputin’s evil and licentious deeds, questions the source of his power (the suggestion is that it was satanic) and seems far more interested in the mad monk’s hypnotic power over women than anything else. The details of his death are especially fanciful – if only because we know at least a few of the murky facts, meaning that the dramatic license taken here is especially obvious – and bear almost no resemblance to what actually happened. Its almost comical.

So we have a short and reasonably entertaining treatment of a truly fascinating character, and if it moves anyone to become more interested in the actual historical figure, then it could even be of some value. But it’s hard to take this seriously, for a start its portrayal of Czarist Russia is too under populated and clean to be real. It is just a slice of melodramatic hysterical entertainment. These Sixties Hammers were claustrophobic– confined sets and a limited number of outdoor shots. A bit rough when all is said and done, but I do like it a bit rough.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: