Hammer Chooseday #15: Rasputin The Mad Monk

Rasputin The Mad Monk (1966) 3/5

This film is a fictional account of the real life Grigori Rasputin.

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Christopher Lee is commanding as the peasant-mystic who we first encounter when he uses his healing powers to save an innkeeper’s wife. He then heads for St.Petersburg, where he begins a campaign to gain influence over the Tsarina.

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“You want to introduce us to someone? His name is Rasputin? He is a Mad Monk? Go on then- let’s take tea.”

He uses her lady-in-waiting Sonia (Hammer favourite Barbara Shelley) to both satisfy his sexual appetite and gain access to the royal family, the latter he does by putting her in a trance and instructing her to injure the Tsar’s son and heir so he can then heal him.

Oh go on then, I like your beard.

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It’s a hard life being a Holy Man.

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But someone has to do it.

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You just look at him and think ‘I bet he lives in a cabin in the woods. I bet he has vittles cooking on the hearth. I bet he uses hypnotic powers to ingratiate himself into the royal household.’

Once ingratiated into the royal household (told you) having no more need of Sonia, he instructs her to commit suicide. Like an obedient girl she does.

She likes his beard.

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Ra ra Rasputin, lover of the Russian Queen. Okay, so that song wasn’t in the film, but Lee did display some fancy footwork.

As his influence and power grows, he begins to make enemies, and eventually two of these plan to murder him. After luring him to a meeting, they give him poisoned chocolates and wine. When these aren’t enough to kill him, there is a struggle, and he is pushed through a window to his death.

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Death by chocolate.

This was one film that I never really fancied, despite Lee and Shelley being in it, but it was okay. Probably wouldn’t watch it again though. Unless I should look into those eyes…

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(I must add, that when I was writing this post, my autocorrect kept changing the title to Rasputin The Mad Mink. It amused me no end-filling me with a whirlwind image of fur and saliva and teeth. If Hammer did Natural History programmes…)

Hammer Chooseday #11: The Satanic Rites Of Dracula

The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1973) 5/5

This was Lee’s eighth and final outing as the vampire Count, and the third pairing with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing (along with Dracula in 1958, and Dracula A.D 72 in, funnily enough, 1972). It was also the very last Hammer film that would feature both of those great friends.

A minute’s silence, please.

My wife: please stop rolling your eyes.

The film’s working title was Dracula is Dead . . . and Well and Living in London. 

Christopher Lee wasn’t amused: “I’m doing it under protest . . . I think it’s fatuous. I can think of twenty adjectives-fatuous, pointless, absurd. It’s not a comedy, but it’s got a comic title. I don’t see the point.”

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Eschewing the usual gothic setting, as was done in the previous Dracula film also, for Twentieth-Century London, this has the feel of a modern (for the time) thriller, complete with appropriate soundtrack. There are snipers on motorcycles, donning leather, fur parkas and 1970’s porn tashes.

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No, I wasn’t in CHIPS.

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I know-women chained up in the cellar. I can say from experience: it’s  a drag.

A research establishment and real estate business serves as a front for a satanic cult, headed by Dracula, which is developing a deadly strain of the plague to unleash upon mankind, at midnight on the feast of the sabbath of the undead. Suppose it sounded better than doing it on Pancake Tuesday.

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Lee as always, is iconic as Dracula, although in this film he doesn’t appear until thirty minutes in. At one point, with a flourish of his hands, he makes candles burst into life like a stage magician.

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And now for my ‘sawing a woman in half’ trick, Hammer style-best fetch a mop and bucket.

As his plans come to light, Van Helsing wonders why Dracula is attempting to destroy his only food source-does he harbour a subconscious desire to end his own torment?

This is a great twist, but unfortunately we don’t learn the truth of this, as, in the finale, Van Helsing’s granddaughter, played by Joanna Lumley, is rescued from the vampire’s clutches, and fire engulfs the only person stricken with the plague.

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Joanna Lumley: I should have stayed on the catwalk.

? playing ? : I should have stayed as a traffic cop.

Michael Coles, playing Inspector Murray: I should have stayed in the traffic division.

Dracula, in his endless pursuit of Van Helsing, becomes entangled and sliced in hawthorn, and is then dispatched by a fence post used as a stake.

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A (vampire) rose (from the dead) among thorns. No? I tried.

For the final time, we see Lee’s Dracula destroyed by Cushing’s Van Helsing. As the vampire wastes away, his destroyer picks up the only thing left: his ring. Perhaps paving the way for a further film that didn’t come? Regrets, I’ve had a few.

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Van Helsing goes into battle armed with a crucifix, silver bullets and a sticking plaster.

I loved this one, an imaginative twist on the Dracula franchise that felt like a thriller, with Dracula coming over as part vampire and part Bond villain. Perhaps it served as the perfect training vehicle for Lee’s future Scaramanga role.

Okay, my good wife, the film is over-here’s the remote. What’s going on in Emmerdale?

Hammer Chooseday #9:Dracula

Dracula (1958) 5/5

I watched this again recently, on the night that I heard of the death of Christopher Lee, and discovered, through Hammer fan sites, that many others around the world were doing exactly the same. Some with a glass of brandy, toasting the great actor. I did it the English way, with a cup of tea.

The title of the film in America.

The title of the film in America.

This classic film boasts a great cast, though I think that John Van Eyssen is a rather vapid Jonathan Harker, but Lee and Cushing, in the film that established them, carry the movie.

Lugosi was good, but for me Lee is the definitive Dracula, full of imposing, dark menace. Hammer made Dracula into a sinister, sexual predator. With teeth.

The new face of Dracula: Christopher Lee. Suave and debonair, you wouldn't be too put out getting this aristocrat on a blind date, would you?

The new face of Dracula: Christopher Lee. Suave and debonair, you wouldn’t be too put out getting this aristocrat on a blind date, would you?

Erm..on second thoughts, I don't think we have anything in common. Could you call me a taxi, please?

Erm..on second thoughts, I don’t think we have anything in common. Could you call me a taxi, please?

And Cushing, a favourite actor of mine, will forever be Van Helsing.

No matter how old you are, you don't cross Van Helsing. Cross-see what I did there? Oh, you did, and unfollowed me.

No matter how old you are, you don’t cross Van Helsing. Cross-see what I did there? Oh, you did, and unfollowed me.

One day I hope someone will make a film that is faithful to Stoker’s novel, but I do love this adaptation.

Despite my criticism of Van Eyssen as Harker, when Dracula closes the door of the crypt behind him, trapping him in there with the vampire, his terror is palpable.

Another  favourite creepy scene is when the maid’s child is being led through the cemetery by the recently deceased Lucy.

But first, a tea break, before scaring the bejesus out of a child actor.

But first, a tea break, before scaring the bejesus out of a child actor.

The final showdown between these two great actors is great. The Count’s demise is unexpected-caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea, or rather, a cross and a sunbeam, without a single stake in sight.

Should have gone for the Factor 30.

Should have gone for the Factor 30.

This film set the bar for future Dracula movies, not least Hammer movies. In such a defining and iconic role, Sir Christopher, you will not be forgotten. As a fan and a former blood-thirsty kid, I thank you for the sleepless nights.

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