Cinema Sunday: Rasputin the Mad Monk (1966)

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Title: Rasputin the Mad Monk

Distributor: Hammer Studios/ 20th Century-Fox

Writer: Anthony Hinds

Director: Don Sharp

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys

Starring: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Richard Pasco, Suzan Farmer, Francis Matthews

Released: March 1966

MPAA: PG-13

 

After a quick break (for a soccer tournament), I’m back and have a great flick in store for everybody! With the recent passing of Sir Christopher Lee, I thought I’d get at least one (if not two) movie of his out there that was a bit lesser known compared to his big hits. In 1966, Hammer Studios had a few different films that were not in their typical Dracula/Frankenstein’s monster vein. These films were so very good, because not only did they give us the atmosphere and sets that the previous films did, but also all the great actors as well!

I’m not a big fan of this character in history, and I do know that Hammer took a few liberties with the story, but it doesn’t really matter. The film is about entertainment, not being factual. Alright, now let us get down to the film!

 

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The film begins at a local pub in a small village. A doctor is there telling the landlord that his wife is gravely ill, and on her death-bed. As the patrons look on, the family is upstairs, trying to pray for the woman. Suddenly, the door to the pub swings open, and a grisly looking man clad in a monk’s outfit barges in. The monk tells them that there is fever in her, and that he will draw it out. He begins to perform a ritual of sorts, and the family looks concerned. Within seconds though, he succeeds in healing the woman, and everyone is astonished. The landlord then allows the monk to drink freely at his pub and to fraternize with his daughter.

The villagers seem to be skeptical of this man, and get an uneasy feeling about him. After everyone is good and drunk, the monk and the pub owner’s daughter disappear. The next thing we see, the two of them are in the barn making out. The girl’s boyfriend comes in and breaks it up, and he and the monk get into a brawl. Eventually, the monk chops off the guy’s hand with a scythe and he runs screaming from the barn. The monk then attempts to rape the young woman, but the rest of the villagers from the pub stop him. He runs off, back to the monastery where he resides. The next day the villagers confront the monastery about his actions, and he then introduces himself as Grigori Rasputin (Christopher Lee).

 

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He then basically gets cast out (or a punishment where’s he ejected from the monastery), and is on a wagon ride to nowhere. The man driving the wagon tells him that he should go to St. Petersburg because that’s where the action is to be found. Rasputin then commandeers the wagon and heads straight for the city. Once there, he goes into a pub and starts drinking. He then engages in a contest with another patron to see who can drink the most. Over on the other side of the city, we see a ball going on at the royal palace. We then see Sonia (Barbara Shelley) (a “lady in waiting” for the czar), as she’s bored to death by these events, and craves some real fun. Her brother, Peter, (Dinsdale Landen), his friend Ivan (Francis Matthews), and another girl, Vanessa (Suzan Farmer) (another “lady in waiting”), then take a trip to a local pub that can get rowdy (the same one that Rasputin is at).

 

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The group shows up and see Rasputin and the doctor, Boris Zargo (Richard Pasco), having their drinking contest. The contest is eventually won by Rasputin, and he then begins to dance like a wild man, and Sonia is getting very drunk at this point. She begins to laugh out loud, and as the music stops, it seems as though she’s laughing at Rasputin. He stares t her and demands that she apologizes for laughing at him. Peter attempts to get tough with Rasputin, but he gets slapped away like a child. Sonia is enthralled by Rasputin, and then she apologizes to him. The scene ends, and Rasputin takes the drunken Boris home.

 

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The following day, Sonia seeks out Rasputin, as he’s put the whammy on her. She again apologizes, and then he slaps her around a bit, then they have sex. Boris goes out for some food and wine, then returns to see Rasputin hypnotize her and tell her that while the heir to the throne is under her care, the boy will have an accident, and then she will send for a “holy man” that she knows can heal the boy. The following day, she and Vanessa are watching Alexei, when Sonia pushes him off a ledge, and the boy is hurt badly. None of the doctors or priests can do anything, so then Sonia urges the Tsarina to let her bring in Rasputin.

 

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After a few days, Rasputin arrives at the palace, and does heal the boy. The Tsarina is impressed and offers to reward him. Initially, he refuses payment, but after a few days, he then accepts a gift from her. He also takes full advantage of the opportunity alone with her to hypnotize her, and put her under his spell!

Will Rasputin gain control of all of Russia? Will anyone be able to stop his madness? Watch to find out!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

If you haven’t seen this film, it’s a must. Lee is very impressive in this film and will convince you of the evilness of Rasputin! Barbara Shelley is also absolutely incredible in this one (and looking as beautiful as ever! image below). Her chemistry with Lee is undeniable, and after working together before (Dracula Prince of Darkness) probably helped. The supporting cast is right there as well, and Richard Pasco, Suzan Farmer, and Francis Matthews are all splendid.

This film was a double-bill with Dracula Prince of Darkness, so you see a lot of the same sets, but in typical Hammer fashion, they redress everything well enough to make it seem like two separate locations. The music score was good too, and Don Banks is one of those guys I consider right up there with the greats of this time/genre.

Get on this one immediately if you haven’t already viewed it and if you have but not in a while, sit down and enjoy this masterpiece by Christopher Lee (RIP)!

 

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Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

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Title: Kiss of the Vampire (Kiss of Evil)

Distributor: Hammer Studios/Universal Pictures

Writer: John Elder (Anthony Hinds)

Director: Don Sharp

Producer: Anthony Hinds

Starring: Clifford Evans, Noel Willman, Edward De Souza, Jennifer Daniel

Released: September 1963

MPAA: UR

It’s that time again! Time for me to spotlight another flick, and for you to enjoy! This film has a different vibe than most Hammer horror films, and that may be due to the fact that the big “stars” are not present at all. We do see three familiar faces, but not ones that were in more than a couple of Hammer films. It’s definitely worth the occasional viewing though, and that’s why I’m going to review it today! There were some unused ideas taken from other movies and added to this one, and once you hear about them, it helps make more sense of things at the end. Alright, let us get to the film!

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The movie starts out with a funeral at a small village somewhere in Europe. The villagers are shocked when a certain man shows up. The creepy looking guy, Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans) walks over the grave, shovel in hand, and plunges it into the casket! We hear a shriek come from it, and then see blood spurting out of the cracks. At first, the villagers don’t seem shocked, that is until the blood comes out. The camera then slowly goes into the casket, and we see the recognizable teeth of a vampire. Cue opening credits…

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We next see a man looking through a telescope, as a motorcar chugs down the road. It runs out of petrol, and they are stranded. The man, Gerald (Edward De Souza), and his new wife, Marianne (Jennifer Daniel), realize they’re in some trouble, but Gerald has no alternative but to hike to the nearest town in hopes of finding some fuel (back then very few towns had it). As Marianne waits, she notices the castle in the hills. The man with the telescope notices her beauty, and we get a bad feeling about her chances for survival. The wind blows a tree over, and she runs away. She eventually comes face to face with Professor Zimmer, who scares the bejesus out of her. He tells her to go back to her car, but she instead runs to find Gerald.

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The two eventually wind up in town, and at a hotel. The caretakers are very odd, but are accommodating nonetheless. As they settle in, and the nigh falls, a carriage arrives at the hotel to deliver a letter. Gerald and Marianne are shocked to find out that the letter is for them, and from a local man who lives in the castle. He invites them to dinner, and the hotel owner encourages them to go, because the food will be excellent, and the “Herr doctor” is a very interesting man. The carriage arrives, and they go to the castle, and are greeted by Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman). He then introdeuces his two children to Gerald and Marianne. Both are slightly odd, but Carl (Barry Warren), is the most strange of the two. His daughter, Sabena (Jacquie Wallis), watches them, and you can see the devil in her eyes.

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There’s a girl at the residence as well, but she stays hidden. She eventually makes her way to the closest graveyard, and urges one of the inhabitants to come out. She’s interrupted by Professor Zimmer, but before he can do anything to stop her permanently, she bites him on the wrist, and both flee. After dinner, Carl plays the piano for the guests, and Marianne seems to be getting hypnotized by the music. Carl stares at her, sort of like a predator, and Gerald notices this phenomenon. Back at Professor Zimmer’s room (he has a room somewhere in the bowels of the hotel), he lights his wrist on fire to cleanse the wound, and stop the disease before it can overtake him. Back at the castle, Marianne is about to fall into a trance, but Gerald steps in and snaps her out of it. They leave, and Dr. Ravna and his children plot to take them, by force if necessary.

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As they return to the hotel for the evening, we see Professor Zimmer at the bar, drowning his sorrows in booze. As Gerald and Marianne head to their room, they hear someone crying, and investigate. They see the hotel owners wife, as she’s in one of the rooms, sobbing while looking at some memorabilia. They don’t quite understand, and retreat to their room for the night. The next morning they’re invited to breakfast with the hotel owners. After some chatter and food, they go back to the room where they saw the woman crying, They find a picture of a beautiful girl, the daughter, (assuming) of the owners. Gerald hears someone downstairs, and he confronts Professor Zimmer. He’s told to get out of the town before there’s trouble, but Gerald doesn’t understand. Carl and Sabena show up, and invite them to a party at their home. Professor Zimmer tells Carl and Sabena that they’d better be off because the thick clouds are moving away and the sun is coming out. They flee as if their lives depended on it, and again, Gerald and Marianne don’t know what to think.

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The night of the party arrives, and a house full of guests puts Gerald and Marianne at ease. Of course, they’re greeted by Carl and Sabena, and see that all the guests are wearing masks. Some beautiful, some ugly, but everyone’s identity is concealed for the time being. Gerald and Marianne get separated, and Carl, under the guise of Gerald, lures her upstairs, and locks her in a room. She quickly notices someone is resting in a bed. She sees that it’s Dr. Ravna, and he has blood seeping out from the corners of his mouth. Meanwhile, Sabena is getting Gerald drunk, and he eventually passes out. When he wakes, he’s tossed out of the house, and treated as if they didn’t even know him or ever heard of his wife!

Will Gerald ever see Marianne again? Can the mysterious Professor Zimmer help him in his fight against the hordes of vampires infesting this little village? Check out this flick to find out!

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OK, here are my thoughts:

This film was supposedly going to be the third installment of the Dracula franchise, after “Brides” that continued in the same vein. It became a thing of its own, and in 1966, when Christopher Lee returned to the role of Dracula, did the franchise keep any continuity. Although this film didn’t keep in-line with the others, it did offer some solid performances by Edward De Souza, and Noel Willman. Not to be outdone, is Clifford Evans, and although he doesn’t have many speaking parts, he does add an air of creepiness to the film. He doesn’t even come close to Cushing as Van Helsing, but he does add to the quirky nature of the film. There’s a scene where Zimmer educates Gerald on evil, and vampires specifically, that is quite good.

The rest of the film is standard Hammer fair, in that you get incredible costumes, makeup, and sets. You might well recognize the home of Dr. Ravna, as the same as the one Noel Willman uses as his residence in “The Reptile,” another great off-beat Hammer film. The music score isn’t terribly great, but in the end, it doesn’t detract either. The final scene of this film is very wild, and was allegedly supposed to be the ending of “Brides of Dracula” but peter Cushing talked the crew out of using it, citing that it doesn’t go along with the beliefs of Van Helsing. I suppose he was right, and things worked out for the best, even though looking back, the ending of “Brides” is a little absurd as well.

If you find yourself able to get a view of this one, don’t hesitate. Not only for the reasons I already mentioned, but also for the beautiful ladies (like Isobel Black! – image below) that adorn the film!

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Click here for the trailer!