A doctor informs an inn-keeper one evening that, having looked at his sick wife, he cannot do anything to help her. The landlord is understandably perturbed by this news and leaves his customers drinking downstairs while he rushes to pray at his wife's side in her bedroom.

Downstairs a tall bearded man enters the inn demanding wine. His name is Grigori Rasputin (Christopher Lee), and he is ... a mad monk. Upon hearing of the sick spouse, Rasputin rushes up the stairs and barges into her room. Ignoring the pleas of her concerned husband, the monk places his huge hands upon the gravely ill woman's head - and cures her.

As payment, all Rasputin asks is to be plied with wine while the landlord hosts a party in his inn. Booze and women - we learn that these are Rasputin's two great loves. So much so with the latter, that he has to flee the party in the early hours when he's caught trying to seduce the landlord's daughter in a barn.

The following morning Rasputin is called to the monsignor's quarters at his monastery and reprimanded for his behaviour. Despite an appeal from the landlord whose wife owes his life to him, Rasputin is ordered to leave the sect - but not before he ominously reminds them that he holds great power in his hands ... and will use it as and when he chooses.

And so he does. First, he uses his powers to drink profusely and pick up loose women. Then he uses them to dance (really! In a cringe-inducing protracted scene) after beating a businessman in a boozing competition. Then, he uses them to allure the noble Sonia (Barbara Shelley, DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS) to his room and apologise for her laughing at said dancing.

Whatever the mad monk has, it certainly works - Sonia becomes so infatuated with him that she lets him slap her across the face as punishment. Then shags him!

But all is not well. Rasputin's reputation is growing; he's exploiting his "healing" powers for his own financial gain, bedding far too many locals and even managing to piss off his own right-hand-man Boris. All of which combines to spell bad news for Rasputin ...

Regarded by many as one of the stronger Hammer films of its era, the historically fictional RASPUTIN has dated a lot. The acting is forced and OTT for the most part - with Lee in particular being guilty of far too much intensity in what is a laughably "serious" performance.

The script doesn't seem to have anywhere to go, it merely offers a few tame set-pieces held together by the flimsiest of narratives, before rushing into a nonsensical and forgettable climax. Even the lurid ingredients common with Hammer are diluted - okay, there's the severing of a hand and a couple of knifings, but it's all curiously unremarkable stuff.

Don Sharp's direction is competent enough, keeping things ticking over nicely, but the story simply fizzles out and seems terminally confused during the final 45 minutes. Sticking more closely to the real Rasputin's life story would have been a wise move!

The best thing about RASPUTIN (apart from Lee's enjoyable over-acting) is it's luscious widescreen photography.

Still, it looks good in anamorphic 2.35:1 with rich colours and sharp bright images to boast of. There is minor ghosting in some of the more animated sequences but by and large this is a pleasing presentation with minimal grain on show. Likewise, the English mono soundtrack is as good as you could hope for.

The film can be accessed via 12 chapters. As with all the titles in this Hammer series from Optimum, menu pages are static and dull.

Disappointingly, the only extra on offer is a fairly entertaining 2-and-a-half-minute trailer in anamorphic 2.35:1. It looks good ... but it's a shame we don't get the commentary track that featured on the R1 release a while back.

Recommended for the more ardent Hammer enthusiasts only.

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Optimum
Region 2 PAL
Rated 18
Extras : see main review