The life of the legendary Russian villain Grigori Rasputin was a natural for the Hammer's Gothic style and lurid edge, and the commanding Christopher Lee is the perfect star for the role. With his deep baritone voice and dark, deep-set eyes, Lee creates an intense figure as the diabolical healer and mesmerist with a thirst for power. The film begins with the unapologetically crude and barbaric Rasputin expelled from his monastery for his hard-drinking hedonism and violent behavior, and before long he sets his sights on the bustling city of St. Petersburg. Within no time he has seduced Sonia (Barbara Shelley), lady-in-waiting to the Queen, with his hypnotic gaze and soon insinuates himself into the Royal Family. Lee's lusty portrayal is the highlight of this modest production, which presents an all-too-brief rise to infamy and disappointingly cuts short his notorious death. But if it's not prime Hammer horror, it remains a moody chamber piece with a mesmerizing performance from Lee (one of his best for the studio) and a very different take from MGM's handsome, classy 1932 production Rasputin and the Empress starring the three Barrymores. --Sean Axmaker
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