Saturday, June 15, 2019

THE LOST CONTINENT 1968



"A Living Hell That Time Forgot!"


"See blood beasts battling over female flesh!, torture pits for forbidden lovers!, sacrifice to giant jaw-snapping mollusks!, escape from floating death ship!, helpless beauties attacked by crazed kelp-monsters!, fiery destruction of the lost continent!"





    The second of Hammer's adaptation of a Dennis Wheatley novel released by the studio in 1968 (along with THE DEVIL RIDES OUT), this was Hammer's most expensive production ever at a cost of over £500,000 mostly due to the construction of two large tanks at Elstree Studios. Along with THE DEVIL RIDES OUT it was also a relative failure at box-office upon it's release, but unlike its more Gothic horror-like counterpart THE LOST CONTINENT hasn't received much of a critical reappraisal.
   Directed by Hammer producer Michael Carreras and written by him under the pseudonym "Michael Nash", it was based upon Wheatley's novel Uncharted Seas. Most likely also influenced by William Hope Hodgson's series of "Sargasso Sea" stories, it's a production unlike anything else in the Hammer filmography. Alternately lurid, weirdly psychedelic, daffy and hallucinatory it's one of those that when first seen as a child will forever stick in your mind and when viewed as an adult still pulls you in with an odd fascination. Even more so then DRACULA A.D. 1972, if there's was one Hammer movie that you could say had an LSD acid drenched atmosphere, it's THE LOST CONTINENT.
   Starting in full 1968 mode the opening song features a pop vocal song by The Peddlers, its not exactly a song with a beat with its melancholy organ wheezing away in the background (strands of which will pop in various time during the movie) it has a low-rent lounge feel to it. Straight off we're thrust into a weird world as a shipwreck strewn and seaweed clogged stretch of ocean is shown with derelict ships of all eras. We then cut to a strange shipboard funeral populated by rag-tag group of people with clothes going back several hundred years. Leading the service is a Captain in contemporary dress who intones to himself how they ended up here.




    Flashing back the same officer, Capt. Lansen (played with all sorts of jut-jawed determination by Eric Porter HANDS OF THE RIPPER) as he hastens a quick escape from the port of Freetown with the coast guard in pursuit. It's soon relived that the Capt. is looking to pad his retirement before his rust bucket of a ship sinks by hauling a cargo hold full of illegal explosives which ignite by contact with water. Also, on board is a SHIP OF FOOLS-like motley group of passengers all of whom have various reasons for fleeing the locale too. There's banished Dr. Webster (Nigel Stock THE GREAT ESCAPE) whose in trouble for "illegal operations on women" and his over-sexed trust fund daughter Unity played with ravenous zeal by Suzanna Leigh (DEADLIER THAN THE MALE), alcoholic lounge singer Harry Tyler (GET CARTER), a notorious dictator's mistress Eva Peters (Hildegard Knef (later in the bat-shit crazy WITCHERY from 1988 with Linda Blair & David Hasselhof) whose fleeing with her husband's ill-gotten funds after his downfall. Pursuing Eva is sleazy detective Ricaldi (Ben Carruthers THE DIRTY DOZEN) who very quickly lets her know that is open to bribes by either money or jumping into bed with her. The crew consists of a conscious-driven chief engineer (James Cossins THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN) and a nervous first officer (Neil McCallum DR. TERRORS HOUSE OF HORRORS). Lurking amongst the nameless crewmen is Hammer character actor extraordinaire Michael Ripper (THE MUMMY'S SHROUD).
   The script then jumps from one disaster and/or calamity to another at a frightening pace starting with an approaching hurricane, the crew abandoning ship when the find out the cargo's nature, a huge hole in torn in the side of the ship by a floundering anchor while a crew member whom Unity has been lusting over gets get head bashed in by an errant pulley. Gathering his remaining officers and the passengers Capt. Lansen has the explosives moved away from the incoming water while the chief engineer struggles to keeps the engine and pump running. In rapid secession the remaining crew and passengers deciding to take their chances take their chances on the open water in a lifeboat whereupon Dr. Webster is devoured by a shark (which Unity gleefully revels in) and Eva shoots a mutinous crewman in the belly with a flare gun (whew !!).




     Drifting into the Sargasso Sea, the survivors find the lifeboat surrounded by a strange moving seaweed which is discovered eats away at flesh. Coming across their old ship and finding it afloat they board it and soon find themselves tangled in the mass of living seaweed and surrounded by fog and derelict ships. It's soon discovered that they're not alone as other shipwreck survivors have formed a colony on a nearby island and propel themselves across the seaweed by means of large paddle-like shoes and balloons on their shoulders. One of these survivors Sara (Dana Gillespie -who in 1977 would play pretty much the same role in THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT) arrives with her strategically unbuttoned blouse and heaving bosoms (which along with Leigh entangled in tentacles would become the focus of the film's campaign) to warn Lansen of an inpending attack by another group.  Gillespie is a member of a group of exiles who were looking for religious freedom and have been living and procreating on the island for hundreds of years.
     It's here that the film's weirdness bolts into the stratosphere with the reveling that the area is dominated by the descendants of a group of Spanish conquistadors who are ruled by an adolescent emperor-god named El Supremo (or sometimes El Diablo) but is actually controlled by his chief inquisitor played by Hammer stuntman Eddie Powell. The group have been living by looting stranded ships and have a slimy weed-beast with a gaping mouth (oddly foreshadowing the Sarlac in RETURN OF THE JEDI) that lives under their galleon and to whom they feed stranded travelers who refuse to join their society.




     In addition to the pit monster there's also a huge glowing-eyed octopus- like creature (who has a special fondness for Leigh) and large scorpions all of whom come popping out of fog and while not the stop motion wonders that a Harryhausen or Danforth would bring to Hammer's prehistoric epics they exude a certain charm and fit in with pulpy adventure atmosphere of the plot. Shot by DP Paul Beeson (CRESCENDO) the film is devoid of the usual rich Hammer Gothic color-scheme and instead has murkier look and except for Suzanna's ever changing & eye-popping (in more ways than one) wardrobe it has somber, more muted colors. The fog shrouded setting looks more Corman's Poe films such as HOUSE OF USHER and it does a Mario Bava/PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES feel to with an alien fog-shrouded world and strange things lurking in that fog.
     Carreras's script while careening from one action, disaster or monster set piece to another does take the time for character development and we do get a distinct feeling for each character.  Barely pausing to catch its breath the story doesn't allow you to dwell on certain questions (how are the large balloons inflated and how is the 400 years old clothing still in use??). In addition to bug-eyed giant octopuses there's some surprising adult themes luring about including Hildegard offering her body to the sleazy Ricaldi and later becoming involved in triangle love affairs with Porter's captain and Leigh's hyper-sexed Unity whose eyed by her father with some not too subtle incest vibes. The film in its own way also deals with the nature of religious hypocrisy (with that religion run totally amok) and in typical of the period presents us with a gaggle of ant-heroes with Sara's group providing the moral compass
      The ending while feeling rushed does have a nice symmetry to it (you just knew those explosives are going to used eventually) and features a terrifically weird candlelit ceremony and leprous faces with the survivors neatly splitting off into three couples.