The Lost Continent directed by Michael Carreras
There is a word, “serendipity,” that Webster’s defines as “an instance of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for,” and I suppose that this would be the precise word to describe my experience with the 1968 film The Lost Continent. I had set my DVR at home to record a film that I thought to be the old Cesar Romero film from 1951, Lost Continent, a childhood favorite, and wound up getting this one instead. I was very disappointed when I discovered my error, but decided not to immediately delete what I’d recorded, and instead kept it in digital storage for a year or so. But when I finally sat down to watch The Lost Continent the other night, what a nice surprise it turned out to be! And no wonder! The film is a product of the always reliable Hammer Studios, featuring fine acting support, pleasing if cheezy special effects, and an action-packed story line. Hammer initially released the film in June 1968, two months after The Vengeance of She and a month before one of its finer efforts, The Devil Rides Out. Like that last film, The Lost Continent was based on a novel by the great adventure/horror novelist Dennis Wheatley, in this case his 1938 book Uncharted Seas, and based on my limited reading of Wheatley (The Devil Rides Out and The Haunting of Toby Jugg), I have a feeling that the film played very fast and loose with his original story line. Be that as it may, the picture remains great fun, for young and old.
The Lost Continent begins most intriguingly, as we witness a burial at sea in progress. In attendance at the funeral are the crew and passengers of a tramp steamer … as well as a number of Spanish conquistadors! The viewer wonders how in the world this motley assemblage has possibly come together, and our question is soon answered when the ship’s captain, Lansen (Eric Porter), thinks to himself “What happened to us? How did we all get here?,” leading to an extended flashback. Thus, we get to meet the assorted crew and “ship of fools” passenger list of the tramp freighter Corita, and learn of what had happened to them. Lansen had been engaged in the illegal transport of 10 full tons of the highly dangerous explosive Phos B, departing from Freetown, Sierra Leone, in West Africa, and bound for Caracas, Venezuela. His passengers included Harry Tyler (Tony Beckley), an alcoholic loudmouth and accomplished piano player; a disgraced doctor, Webster (Nigel Stock, whom some might recall as Cavendish “The Surveyor” in The Great Escape), and his pretty blonde daughter, Unity (Suzanna Leigh); and Eva Peters (German actress Hildegard Knef), on the run with stolen bonds that she had purloined from her dying husband, and pursued by the remarkably sleazy retriever Ricardi (Ben Carruthers).
Trouble is not long in finding the Corita, however, as she is beset by a busted hull, a power outage, a leaking storage room (did I mention that the Phos B is highly explosive when touched by water?), and an incipient hurricane! After the mutiny and departure of half the crew, Lansen decides that it might indeed perhaps be wisest to abandon ship, and so he, his few passengers, and several others take to a lifeboat and hope for the best. By the strangest quirk of fate, and after one of the passengers is devoured by a shark and another by carnivorous weeds, the lifeboat finds itself slamming right into … the Corita, which is now befouled in a mass of the monster plants in what turns out to be the infamous Sargasso Sea. And as if killer flora weren’t enough, Lansen & Co. soon find themselves squaring off against a monstrous, green-eyed octopus AND the descendants of Spanish conquistadors, no less, who have been marooned on a lonely island therein for centuries. (The title of the film, The Lost Continent, is something of a misnomer; The Lost Islet might perhaps have been closer to the mark.) And then matters grow even worse, if possible, with the advent of humongous crab monsters and the final flaming battle between the Corita and the religious zealots of the Spanish galleon…
As you can probably tell, The Lost Continent grows increasingly wilder and loopier as it proceeds, with nonstop thrills piling upon thrills. It is replete with imaginative touches, such as that virtually indescribable monster in a belowdecks pit aboard the Spanish ship into which poor unfortunates are thrown, as well as the balloonlike, bladderish shoes and shoulder pads that assist those Sargasso dwellers in walking over the marshy waters. Interestingly, all the Corita‘s passengers turn out to be different from how they initially appear; the doctor is more weaselly, his prim daughter more wanton and sluttish, the drunken Tyler more sober and valiant, the mysterious Eva more sympathetic, the criminal captain Lansen more likable. And just in case you were wondering if this Hammer film supplies us with one of their trademarked buxotic lovelies, fit to be shown in the later coffee-table book Hammer Glamour, here, we are given the character of Sarah, an Englishwoman (played by the scrumptious Dana Gillespie) who is also a descendant of marooned sailors. The film features virtually nothing in the way of romantic subplots (although it is mildly inferred that Tyler & Sarah and Lansen & Eva might be future love interests) and very little in the way of humor … other than the sight of Dr. Webster reading a Dennis Wheatley paperback in the ship’s saloon! (I wish that I could have made out the title.)
The Lost Continent has been directed with panache by Michael Carreras (the son of Hammer Studios founder James Carreras), who also produced and wrote the film’s script (albeit under the pen name Michael Nash, for some obscure reason). The film features a noisy, blaring score by Gerard Schumann that at times is strangely interspersed by what sounds like jazzlike lounge music, and the opening credits are accompanied by a very non sequitur song by one Roy Phillips, as sung by the British jazz trio The Peddlers; a song that might have been more appropriate for a romance film, rather than a pulpish sci-fi adventure. Strangely enough, the film was given an “X” rating upon its initial release, a fact that I can in no way understand. Yes, there is a fairly high body count in the film, as well as fairly steady violence, but of the sort that would in no way be problematic for an 8-year-old to watch (no gore at all), and nothing in the way of nudity or even sexual suggestiveness. So go figure. Personally, I found the film quite a hoot, and wish that I could have been lucky enough to have seen it in a theater when it was first run. Still, I do feel fortunate to have discovered this truly entertaining outing from the House of Hammer more than half a century later. Serendipity can truly be a wonderful thing!