Thursday, October 13, 2005

Day 13: Rasputin: The Mad Monk

Rasputin: Careful, Peter. There are acids in here.

Clocking in at 92 minutes, Rasputin: The Mad Monk is a lean Hammer Horror film of little consequence. It plays out inoffensively; it hits its plot points with efficiency, but doesn’t go anywhere altogether interesting along the way. To its credit, there’s a hammy, fun performance by Christopher Lee as the title character and it’s a jollier movie than I would have expected. The movie traces Rasputin’s life from his time at a monastery through his ascent to a life of privilege and influence in the Russian government. As this is a traditional horror film, there are a few deaths and mutilations along the way.

Rasputin lives as a monk in a monastery, but, like a naughty boarding school student, sneaks off on the weekends to get drunk and party down at a local tavern. When the movie opens, the tavern owner’s wife is ill and Rasputin, wanting nothing more than to drink wine, heals her with his magic hands so that the tavern will reopen. After throwing a party to celebrate the wife’s recovery, Rasputin gets caught making out with the owner’s daughter. There is a fight, Rasputin cuts off someone’s hand, and flees back to the monastery. He is soon after forced to leave the monastery due to his bad behavior and for unapologetically using the special healing powers in his hands that, according to the other monks, could only have come from Satan. So, Rasputin takes his special healing powers and his hypnotic eyes to the big city. Here, he uses his magic eyes and hands on several people high up in the Russian government to gain access to wealth and luxury. Eventually, he takes things too far and subjects loyal to the government plot to take him out – with extreme prejudice.

The title of this film should really be Rasputin: The Hedonist Monk since Rasputin isn’t so much mad as desperate to have a good time, whatever the consequences may be. He hypnotizes women for sexual purposes, heals those who will give him the most stuff, and drinks a lot of wine. It’s fun to watch Christopher Lee play him. He belly laughs when he gets his way, dances with gusto, and eats food like every meal will be his last. When he hypnotizes someone, the movie cuts to Lee in a close-up, his eyes get as big as a giant squid’s. “Think only of my eyes,” he intones to his victim in an icy cool voice, sounding like someone who’s just eaten 40 breath mints. Lee is always a compelling actor, but I’ve never seen him so gluttonous and bawdy before. It’s utterly charming.

If only the movie wasn’t so moralistic. Rasputin upsets the natural order of things by being so manipulative and greedy, and so, of course he has to die for this reason. Though lip service is paid to the idea of Rasputin messing with the government, the movie glosses over any political implications of a hypnotist in a position of power. Instead there’s a rather boring subplot of some military officer’s sister being seduced by Rasputin and so, naturally, revenge must be had. I don’t know anything about the historical Rasputin (though I’d be very interested in learning: from what I do know, there’s a good movie in his story somewhere) or how he died or what exactly he did. What I do know is that this is too ignoble a death for Lee’s character. He gnaws on some poisoned chocolates and sips some poisoned wine while waiting for his next sexual conquest to show up. He screams and clutches his stomach as the poison kicks in and, eventually, falls out of a window. Yawn. The food poisoning makes sense for the character, but the Rasputin we’ve watched for the previous 85 minutes or so would have, upon realizing he’s been poisoned, scarfed down more poisoned chocolates and guzzled the poisoned wine while laughing and, probably, dancing.

It’s funny, watching this movie after Carnal Knowledge. Rasputin is the person Jack Nicholson’s character wanted to be: heedless, irresponsible, and selfish. There’s a breakup scene between Rasputin and one of his paramours that was eerily similar in tone and consequence to one in Carnal Knowledge. The main difference here was that Rasputin felt nothing was wrong about the fact that he was emotionally hurting the woman in question. He was bored with her and ready to move on. I realized that one of the interesting things about Carnal Knowledge was that Nicholson’s character, Jonathan, felt exactly the way Rasputin did, hated himself for this, and hated the woman for, as he saw it, putting him in a position where he hated himself. Part of the fun of watching a character like Rasputin is that he feels no such boundaries. It’s undeniably fun to watch him or, for that matter, Diabolik shuck all of society’s rules and conventions to get what they want. Indeed, Rasputin gives a justification for his hedonism to the head monk that is priceless: God is able to forgive Rasputin more than the other monks, because he sins bigger than they do! I think the key to making a movie about a character like this work is to make the alternate voice of society as compelling and interesting as the impish destructor. But those who plot against Rasputin are boring. Because of this, Rasputin: The Mad Monk is slight and, except for Lee, pretty forgettable.


Ash Karreau said...

Best Christopher Lee Hammer has got to be Dracula 1972. He tries to take over the world with a virus cult, and only a bad mellotron soundtrack can save us.

Anonymous said...

Have you considered reveiwing the film "Surf Nazi's Must Die"? Simply curious as to what you might have to say about it.

I enjoy reading your reviews, keep going!

Renegade Eye said...

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Fancy Laces said...

wow, ur blog is very popular~hehe

Alex said...

Hi David,

I like your blog, very nice. I have a friend who happens to be seeking a writer who is very knowledgable about movies. I think you guys would be great together. Please check them out at

One movie a day, what great reviews. You're in my favorites!

Mindy said...

Hey. I saw this movie years ago in a World History class. I remember it well, because the man himself was interesting. His death itself stuck in my mind. First he was poisoned with enough poison to kill a small army (at least). Then he was beaten severely, and survived. Then they shot him, wrapped him up in a carpet and threw him in a river. when they found his body under the ice, it was frozen in a position, like he was trying to crawl out of the river. In other words: though he was poisoned, beaten, and shot (all with deathly force) he died of DROWNING.... quite creepy. You have a great blog too!

stephen blogger said...

Hello to David from Bill (alias stephen blogger)enjoyed reading you blog.Strange dude Rasputin, rather like me some say...only joking okay?
Just a friendly note of greeting and a short story to introduce myself on your Blog.
I can be found on if you wish to do the same.
If not that’s okay too.
Kind regards – Bill.
Now for the short story:

The Celestine Potholes by Stephen Blogger:

Anyways, I’ve just found the “extra manuscripts”. You know the ones that got lost in South America, or was it India? Anyways, it’s addressed to J. Redsfields, but I don’t know him…I’ve never met him, although I have read his book about “The Celestine Potholes”. Anyways, The Newspapers, Boobs @ Abs Magazine and other Comic Books would not publish my translation ‘cause I’m not famous with my boobs and abs.

The Commercial Television stations don’t want a bar of it ‘cause it ain’t got no Products in it. The BBC said to send it to the ABC for translation first, The Gover’ment said I’ve gotta become a Politician before they will read it and Science don’t understand it – neither do I, so the best place for it is on the Garbo-net…sorry, I mean the Internet. So if someone out there that understands it…and can read my rotten writing? then please let me know A.S.A.P. when I get back from my Paste-up Travels. Well here goes…my techno translation of “The Celestine Potholes” that is.

p.s. Don’t know whether it’s important or not, but there’s something really weirdo at the bottom of this manuscript, it says (i times d) plus the square root of (m) plus (LN times CM) equals H this-way-Albert”. Must be something to do with Albert Stein – or was it Joe Stein? Maybe it was Eff Stein, anyway some Stein – have included it in case it helps Academia and Hollywood…not forgetting the Pentagon either, as they know everyfing what is going on in the world first from the late night show on the Commercial television.

Plus, it says what’s faster than the Speed of Light? the Speed of Thought of course…and that’s really weirdo, `cause every one knows that the speed of light is the fastest thing in Relative Creation. At least that’s what it says in all the funny science books that I pinched, sorry, I mean borrowed from the library. You know, E equals MC squared or somefing, not T equals PP squared to infinity, like what Alfiewhatsitallabout says. Anyways, you’ve got the brains, so work it out and post me back the answer…so I can get some sleep.

p.p.s. There’s a load more here – manuscripts that is! So I’ll go a paste a few up on some Notice-boards down Town, O.K?...just to keep the ball rolling while you sort it all out and I can translate the rest of the manuscripts into good English and good American…for the Pentagon that is. Plus the one I’m on at the moment don’t make sense at all – so I’ll have to go and see the “Boss” about it on the way – after my Tea break that is.

Signed – Stephen Blogger @

Roxanne said...

So. Rasputin liked laughing, sex (some might say loving) and eating. Y'know, he reminds me of someone....

Seriously though. Fair review, dude. A forgettable movie pretty much nails it. (No pun intended)

Ash Karreau said...

Careful. I see from your upcoming list that you're doing Dracula (1979) with Frank Langella. Not a good call. Go with Dracula A.D. 1972, and save yourself some 1970s vampire hair.

click here to see earthqake pics said...

Has anyone seen the Unicef commercial where they blow up a smurf village?

Anonymous said...

Your blog boasts...

October 1st through January 1st
One movie a day.
One post a day.

You gave two posts on Oct. 13th!

How could you?

You dirty dirty liar!

R2K said...

Lol, its hard enough to do one a day man. Dont complain if he does more!


David Wester said...

Alex #1 up there, the one with e-mail me or tell me more.

David Wester said...

Ash: it's too late. I've succumbed to the Langellical hair. Besides, all movies I see have bad hair in them. People should just go bald.

Anonymous said...

Frank Langella, didn't he play Skelator in the "Masters Of The Universe" with Dolph Lun..dadasomethingrather?

{t}H(e)$+h+#I#^^t^^ said...

nice blog very great i never knew so much the evil fruad rasputin

Does not play well with others said...

There's an HBO pic called Rasputin with Alan Rickman playing Rasputin. It was pretty good.

Asif said...

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