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.










   






Friday, May 17, 2019

THE OUTSIDE MAN 1972



    After the massive success of William Friedkin's THE FRENCH CONNECTION in 1971 there was a flood of urban police action/dramas that began popping up on movie screens and along with the release of DIRTY HARRY in that same year, it also ramped up with the output from Europe in particular Italy with the more revenge-oriented action poliziotteschi films.
   Combing neo-noir with more cool/efficient French crime films, THE OUTSIDE MAN was a French/Italian co-production filmed in Los Angeles and was directed by Jacques Deray who specialized in crime thrillers throughout the 60's and into the 90's. Many of his films starred the great Alain Delon and his work is strong reminiscent of Jean Pierre Melville' crime films of the 50's and 60's, although sadly much of Deray's work remains unknown in America.
   Opening with helicopter shot of a smoggy downtown Los Angeles and the famous cloverleaf freeway interchange while composer Michael Legrand's funky title song plays over the opening credits (which sounds like we're heading into blaxploitation territory) we're introduced to Lucien Bellon (Jean-Louis Trintignant THE GREAT SILENCE) as he arrives from Paris at LAX. Checking into his hotel he receives a briefcase from the desk clerk left by his "secretary" and going up to his room calmly removes a gun and a large amount of cash from the briefcase.




   Renting an automobile and in a nice touch consulting a map (which foretells his future predicament) he drives to a mansion in Beverly Hills. Cool and emotionless he gains entrance to house and kills Victor Kovacs (Ted de Corsia familiar from countless classic film-noirs) and while leaving he's seen by Victor's wife Jackie (Angie Dickinson BIG BAD MAMA) and his son Alex (Umberto Orsini GOODBYE EMMANUELLE). It's also quickly reveled that the relationship between Jackie and Carl goes a bit deeper than the usual stepson/stepmother and they later give a false description of the killer to the police with the detective played by Felice Orlandi from BULLITT.
   Arriving back at his hotel Bellon finds his passport, luggage and money gone effectively stranding him in an unknown city with no support and as he soon discovers, another hit man (Roy Scheider THE SEVEN UPS) is stalking him presumably hired by Jackie and Alex. Escaping to a supermarket parking lot, he kidnaps a mother (Georgia Engel THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW) and her son (Jackie Earle Haley THE DAY OF THE LOCUST). Hiding out in their apartment he gets in touch with boss back home is put in contact with Nancy (Ann Margaret C.C. AND COMPANY), a waitress in a topless bar who helps him.
   With Nancy's assistance Bellon gets a new passport while continually avoiding the attempts on his life by Scheider (who's referred to as Lenny or "the guy from Detroit") all the while navigating through an alien city. Scheider's hit man has no problem finding Bellon as he pops up everywhere but then is totally inept at the actual killing as the pair randomly spray bullets throughout the city. At one point Bellon hooks up with a motorcycle gang in the parking lot of the old Tower Records on Sunset and they escort him downtown while at another point he picks up a hippie Jesus-freak who is shot in the head accidentally by the ever persistent but inept Lenny. The film's climaxes with a bizarre sequence at Victor Kovac's funeral with all the characters from the film gather together for a massive shootout with Victor's body embalmed and sitting upright in a chair with cigar raised silently watching the action.




   One of the more fascinating things to watch for me in films is the way European directors look at America and their take on the landscape and architecture. Here instead of focusing on the tourist L.A., Deray instead shows us the more seedy and genetic aspects of the city including a shoot-out at the decrepit Venice Amusement Pier followed by a chase through over that cites canals. Except for the gangster's Beverly Hills mansion, the movie spends almost the entire running time in hourly-rate motels, diners, topless bars and rundown apartments and whenever the characters are outside they're lost in endless acres of concrete and highways. Thom Anderson is his excellent documentary L.A. PLAYS ITSELF calls THE OUTSIDE MAN "the most precise portrait of the city there is"
    Deray also shows technology as sometimes intrusive and sometimes quirky as TV's drone away in the background in almost every interior scene, as at one point Bellon listlessly watches STAR TREK. At a bus station he watches the news concerning himself and the killing on a small coin-operated TV and uses a coin operated electric razor in the restroom there (which would seem like a hygienic nightmare). The film is reminiscent somewhat of John Boorman's excellent L.A. based neo noir POINT BLANK with its detached protagonist wondering through a cold mechanized world.




    Jean-Louis Trintignant is magnificent as he coolly and methodical goes upon his assignment during the first part of the picture and then all the while keeping his quiet demeanor as things begin to fall apart during the course of the plot. There's a nice little touch when the only time we see him smile is in a strip of photos he takes in a do-it-yourself photo booth for his passport pictures.
   The entire cast is excellent (this probably Ann Margaret's best role) and Scheider with about five lines of dialogue seems to be having a great time with his role. Coming off the previous year's THE FRENCH CONNECTION he gets the central image in the promotional artwork. French actor Michel Constantin who was a regular in the French crime films of the period shows up as Bellon's boSs who arrives to lend a hand and American character actors Ben Piazza, Sidney Chute appear along with John Hillerman as an officious sales clerk in a department store.
  The film was cut to receive a PG rating originally losing some nudity (with some surprising full- frontal stuff) in the topless bar scenes. THE OUTSIDE MAN is available on DVD from MGM through their on demand service in the full uncut R version, but this really deserves a nice Blu-ray release. Kino has some Jacques Deray scheduled for release later this year as part of their Studio Canal deal, including the excellent THE OUTSIDER with Jean-Paul Belmondo.