Thursday, November 19, 2009

When the Tagline Says it All

Rasputin the Mad Monk (1966)
directed by Don Sharp
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

Christopher Lee is perfect as Rasputin, a character - unlike Dracula - who didn't already belong to another actor. Not surprisingly, Lee makes Rasputin a vampire: his gifts are supernatural, and the women he mesmerizes belong to him forever. Sex is his coffin, his dirt, his tomb, and Lee's cadence is a spell that gives voice to his eyes. In Sharp's adaptation, Rasputin the bon vivant - a good dancer, a good drinker - lives only to seduce and possess Russia's rarest and most beautiful daughters. Behind the modest director, a clean screenplay conspires to create something violent and cruel in dark Russian corners, as simple as a play. That modesty of execution saves Hammer from its perennial plague of too much cheapness, placing The Mad Monk in the small pantheon of that studio's pictures truly worthy of Lee's great gifts.