Monday, October 11, 2010

The Lost Continent

Although it broke new ground it terms of sex and violence, Hammer Studios tended to be a bit conservative with the source material for their films. They tended to use classic horror icons (vampires, mummies, Frankenstein’s monster, etc.) set against a more-or-less interchangeable gothic background. Occasionally, though, they ventured outside their comfort zone, and one example of this is the trippy 1968 film The Lost Continent.

A motley group of passengers fleeing from various indiscretions and tragedies sets sail on a run-down steamer for Venezuela. In addition to their personal problems, the ship is carrying (unknown to all but the captain) a hold full of a highly explosive phosphorus compound, which detonates when it gets wet. And is being transported on a leaky old rust-bucket. I’m surprised BP didn’t want to get in on that action. After the captain disregards a hurricane warning, the boat runs into a huge storm and begins leaking. In a head-scratching sequence, the passengers and part of the crew abandon ship, and are marooned in a small lifeboat, where they float for some time, losing two people in the process. Eventually, they are rescued when they find…the same ship they left in the first place. It seems it wasn’t in that much trouble in the first place, and they went through the lifeboat ordeal for nothing. Oops.

Back on board, they manage to run straight into the Sargasso Sea, which is a graveyard of trapped ships. There they are accosted by man-eating seaweed (!), giant crab monsters, and a society formed of the survivors of all the previous ships. Things look dire. If only they had some explosives or something. Wait…

A lot of people have pointed out that drugs were better in the 60s, and this movie seems to bear that out. The entire film seems like a strange trip, from the yellowish lighting (they apparently don’t have the same sun in the Sargasso) to the large balloons people strap to themselves to walk on the killer seaweed. If drugs weren’t taken to make the movie, perhaps they should be to watch it.


The movie is actually a lot of fun, as Hammer always seemed to at least deliver entertainment, but a painfully low budget dooms it to being nothing more than cheesy. The ship doesn’t reach the Sargasso until the last third of the movie, so most of it is sort of a Ship of the Danged type of thing. While Hammer was hiring Ray Harryhausen for movies like One Million Years B.C., the creatures here are laughable, and look like deranged versions of the things from HR Puffnstuff. The creatures themselves are nearly immobile, so if one attacks you, you have to hang on tight to a tentacle lest you accidentally escape.

The movie is based on the novel Uncharted Seas, by classic British writer Dennis Wheatley. In a nice in-joke, this is the book one of the passengers is reading at the beginning of the movie. One of the sentences on the DVD box reads “Under cover of night, the terrified travelers encounter unspeakable monsters, man-eating seaweed, vicious mutant pirates and stupendously endowed women.” That last one has spelled doom for many a man.

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