Color, 1966, 91 mins.

Directed by Don Sharp

Starring Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Richard Pasco, Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer, Dinsdale Landen, Renee Asherson / Written by Anthony Hinds / Produced by Anthony Nelson Keys / Music by Don Banks / Cinematography by Michael Reed

Format: DVD - Anchor Bay (MSRP $29.99)

Letterboxed (2.10:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital Mono

Stretching out a bit in its quest to cover all of the major historical monsters, Hammer Films turned to the unlikely subject of Rasputin, the mesmeric monk whose exploits inspired a number of book and film treatments. Obviously the only choice to play the lead was Christopher Lee, whose imposing stature and dynamic classical persona could forcefully bring the evildoer to the screen. While the film is rarely noted as one of Hammer's best, horror devotees should find enough to keep them entertained, particularly by counting all of the crossover elements from Dracula, Prince of Darkness, which was shot back to back with this production.

Rasputin (Christopher Lee), a monk living in Czarist Russia, leads an outward life of religious devotion which masks his true nature: a bestial, murdering lout who uses his mysterious powers of hypnotism and his gift for healing as tools of manipulation. In St. Petersburg, he uses the lovely Sonia (Barbara Shelley) to infiltrate the royal family of Nicholas II and exercise his wicked control over Russia itself. However, political forces begin to brew and conspire to bring an end to the monk's subversive reign.

Conveying all the blood and thunder one would expect from a "golden age" Hammer Film, Rasputin barely qualifies as a horror film per se but includes a number of grisly elements, such as a hand amputation and acid in the face (a very popular '60s act of cinematic violence). Lee is at his best here, and the lovely redheaded Barbara Shelley (The Gorgon) always makes a watchable female lead. Director Don Sharp does his usual efficient job, though the results aren't quite up to the lyrical savagery of, say, Kiss of the Vampire. Anchor Bay's DVD looks similar to the Elite laserdisc; as noted in many other sources, the Cinemascope image was trimmed at the sides per Bill Lustig's request to 2.10:1 to avoid some distracting curvature at the edges. The framing still looks fine, with only some marginal cropping in a few scenes. The transfer is colorful though a bit overbright; turning down the brightness control gives the film a much more robust and effective appearance. The mono audio is clean and clear throughout, though not particularly overwhelming. Extras include a running audio commentary track with Lee (in fine witty form), Shelley, Francis Matthews, and Suzan Farmer, all of whom take the listener on a thorough journey through the making of a Hammer title during its heyday. The theatrical trailer and two TV spots (coupled with The Reptile) are also thrown in, along with another fun World of Hammer episode, this time focusing on Christopher Lee in all his heroic and villainous guises.

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