Christopher Lee hasn't always been a menacing, baritone villain of few words and icy stare, you know. He could portray a menacing baritone romantic lead of few words and icy stare just as effectively, as is the case with tonight's review, a 1966 Hammer release directed by the guy behind such choice eyeball-fodder as Kiss of the Vampire (1963), Curse of the Fly (1965), and The Death Wheelers aka/ Psychomania (1973). If you're on board to see a to-the-letter, historically accurate portrayal of the life of the enigmatic Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, you're better off surfing the nearest library. If the idea of seeing Christopher Lee, free of the stifling confines of Count Dracula's cape, raucously chugging booze, dancing wildly, and manhandling hypnotized hussies like a mystical monk-mack sounds like a good time to you, then this one's right up your alley.
"Roll your bloody hips for some more vodka, gypsy wench!" says Rasputin (Christopher Lee), charmer.
A Russian innkeeper is told by the local doctor to prepare for the worst concerning his gravely ill wife, who lies unconscious and racked with the number one killer of peasants of the day: "the fever". That is, until a lanky monk barges in, demanding his thirst be slaked immediately. As a means to an end, he lays his hands upon the dying woman and heals her, earning himself a green light on whatever the hell he may want, in the process, i.e. drinks on the house, a roll in the hay with the man's budding young daughter, even if seeing her jealous boyfriend getting his hands lopped off has spoiled her randy mood. After being accused of being little more than a spawn of Satan by the Bishop, Rasputin (Christopher Lee) protests in his own defense that he commits only sins worth forgiving (gotta love this guy!), while boasting that he has always possessed healing powers of unknown origins within his very mitts. After receiving a hot tip from a cart driver, he embarks on a journey to St. Petersburg, with bigger fish to fry, indeed.
"The merest hint of Gucci Flora and I'm compelled to grab your armpit and kidney, immediately."
Inside the city, he easily defeats a failed doctor named Zargo (Richard Pasco) in an epic drinking contest, and imposes himself upon the hapless drunkard, setting up operations in his small apartment. The unwanted guest mesmerizes the Tsarina's lady-in-waiting, Sonia (Barbara Shelley), hypnotizing her into sexual slavery, forcing her to influence the young Tsarvitch to gravely injure himself on the ice outside the palace, setting the stage for Rasputin's own brand of healing theatrics. In the Tsarina's favor for saving young Alexei and drunk with growing riches and power, he boldly gets Zargo's medical credentials reinstated, and demands with a heavy pimp hand that Sonia, with her services no longer necessary, go off and destroy herself, which she willingly does. When Sonia's vengeful brother Peter (Dinsdale Landen) catches a grill full of acid in Zargo's laboratory, it's up to he and Ivan (Francis Matthews) to cut down the blasphemous monk with a trap baited with the promise of Ivan's sister, Vanessa (Suzan Farmer), poisoned candy, and port. I think we all know how smooth that went, when all was said and done...
"Give Davey the microphone, Peter. None of your tunes make me feel groovy in the least."
Barbara Shelley, who'd appeared in Blood of the Vampire back in 1958, would share the screen again with Lee in Hammer's Dracula: Prince of Darkness (filmed back-to-back with Rasputin the same year). Her list of genre credits is both lengthy and impressive: The Gorgon(1964), Village of the Damned (1960), Five Million Years to Earth (1967), and Ghost Story (1974), just to name a few others. Interestingly, Rasputin's own daughter noted to Christopher Lee that he shared her father's expression. I dunno, Rasputin always resembled an bedraggled Rene Auberjonois with a joke beard, to me. Given the rare opportunity to do more than hiss or glare at frightened girls in their nightgowns , Lee takes full advantage here, zealously dominating every frame he's in, and filling it with entertainingly animated scene-chewing dramatics of the highest order. Whether you're a Hammer fan or a Lee completist, you'll want to see this romp for yourselves. Three wops. Recommended.
"Do I look comfortable down here on the floor? Well, I'm bloody not!"