DEAF CROCODILE BLU RAY RELEASE: The Assassin of the Tsar (1991)

Directed by Karen Shakhnazarov, who wrote this with Aleksandr Borodyansky, Tsareubiytsa is about a patient in an asylum named Timofyev (Malcolm McDowell). He claims to be Yakov Yurovsky, the assassin of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, as well as the killer of his grandson Tsar Nicholas II in 1918. This would be impossible, as it would make Timofyev an old man. Yet when the new head of the hospital, Dr. Smirnov (Oleg Yankovskiy), tries to cure Timofeyev of his beliefs, he ends up pulled into time itself, becoming the doomed Tsar Nicholas II as Timofeyev narrates the final days of the Russian Imperial Family.

Shakhnazarov also made Zerograd and if you enjoyed that, this has the same feeling of time and history being something that you can fall into and perhaps not escape. The film was shot simultaneously in English and Russian-language versions on separate 35mm negatives, so this is not as impenetrable as you would be led to believe.

McDowell is great in this, as it is before he was in every horror movie who could use him, becoming the modern Donald Pleasence up to taking over the role of Doctor Loomis for Rob Zombie. He said of this movie, “It was an amazing experience, really, and something I will never forget.  It stands out of all the movies I’ve done as one of the most interesting. I knew by meeting Shakhnazarov I was going to work with him. He was a substantial artist and very passionate about his work. I just knew instantly I was going to work with him.”

Shakhnazarov had intended to make an adaption of Chekov’s Ward No. 6 and the research he did into Russian behavioral health inspired him and Borodyanskiy to create their own story of a Russian asylum haunted by the past. He said, “The subject of the assassination of the Tsar was banned absolutely and we knew very little about it. Any materials concerning this matter only began to appear only at the end of the perestroika period. When I read those materials, articles, books, I was fascinated by the story. The formerly closed archives were open and accessible. Of course, the story of the assassination of the royal family is very dramatic, it’s a tragedy and a very complex subject.”

The Deaf Crocodile and Seagull Films release of The Assassin of the Tsar has a new restoration from original 35mm elements by Mosfilm, a new commentary track by film writer and historian Samm Deighan, a new essay by film critic and historian Walter Chaw and new interviews with Malcolm McDowell and Shakhnazarov. Beyond the English language version, there’s also a Russian language version of the film with a different edit and score, complete with English subtitles.

You can order this movie from Vinegar Syndrome.

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