Retro-View: The Lost Continent (1968)
“Now we go where the weed takes us.” – Captain Lansen
And now for something completely bugfuck: THE LOST CONTINENT. While villages and campuses burned in 1968, there was still a thriving exploitation movie industry to feed. British studio Hammer Films was feeling the genre and cultural schism at the box-office. No longer in his gothic glory days, director Terence Fisher had gone from the stylish Dracula and Frankenstein epics of the late 50’s/early 60’s to rubbery tentacle beasties in the cheap (but effective) ISLAND OF TERROR in 1966. Hammer was trying to swing with the times, and with the success of THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1967) based on Dennis Wheatley’s novel, the studio ambitiously adapted Wheatley’s “Uncharted Seas” for their most unusual production, directed by Michael Carreras. In fact, THE LOST CONTINENT is the SKIDOO of Hammer Films.
My first memory of the movie was an indelible, disturbing image burned on my young retina during an afternoon “Creature Features.” The scene in question featured a poor man being thrown into a medieval well housing a vegetative quicksand with teeth. His writhing screams as he’s chewed and swallowed down by the killer weed must have traumatized a small legion of TV children. Or at least me. Of course, I always loved the film’s poster, a bold explosive promise of men, maidens and monsters that was the back cover of Famous Monsters of Film Land #116.
It wasn’t until years later that I finally watched the whole damn thing proper, courtesy of my friend John Romero, who I convinced that he must get THE LOST CONTINENT when I saw the wide-screen laserdisc release. We watched it under apropos conditions, on a huge screen TV with his family on a Saturday night in Dallas. I was sold immediately by the credits, an evocative surreal yellow model-scape of wrecked galleons with the psychedelic lounge sounds of The Peddlers actually singing, yes, “The Lost Continent.” If that clip above doesn’t sell you on the film, then I don’t know what. Good day, sir!
As others have noted, the movie’s plot is THE LOVE BOAT on acid. Split into two distinct sections as jarring as Tarantino’s FROM DUSK TO DAWN (1994), the first half of THE LOST CONTINENT sets up a ship of unpleasant fools as only the bitchy Brits can do. Each character is running away from something unsavory or illegal, and that’s how they find themselves on a creaky boat loaded with explosives plunging into a hurricane. After abandoning ship, the bickering survivors end up in a golden watery graveyard of ancient sea vessels and creepy, bizarre vegetation. Discovering their boat that ended up surviving the hurricane, the crew also discover they are not alone. A buxom young lass (a Hammer mainstay) clomps out of the mist, her body held aloft by two large balloons (no jokes) as she pleads for shelter. Behind her, a phalanx of motley conquistadors appear looking for her and the battle between lost civilizations begins.
Not only do we find out that a generation born of very English Spanish Conquistadors have been here trapped in ancient time, but there are also critters like a huge squid with burning tentacles and a giant VW sized rolling scorpion. The monsters are in the usual stodgy mechanical Hammer mold but they’re just freaky enough to be fun and effective. And they fight! I have no doubt Toho studios saw this film when they made YOG! MONSTER FROM SPACE (1970) (boring Japanese title: SPACE AMOEBA) and incorporated similar creatures.
After some boat survivors are captured, they end up before the young fey El Supremo of this lost continent and his unmerry band of religious zealots, peasants and conquistadors. I like how El Supremo is being brainwashed by his aide, a scary monk in robes, his face covered by a pointy-headed hood. You can see the boy’s conflict in the famous aforementioned Weed from Hell scene as his glee turns to revulsion.
So now the rest of the crew must go rescue their comrades, leading to the exciting climax of 20th century guns mowing down 16th century swords. El Supremo decides to side up with the good guys and…I won’t tell you who wins or loses, but you’ll know by the first scene in the film which opens in flashback to the end. Got it? Yes, the script by Michael Nash is a mess, as there’s no reason to spend 40 minutes developing POSEIDON ADVENTURE character and motivations only to switch into action monster movie mode and jettison their problems. To be fair, the piano-funnyman drunkard (nicely played by Tony Beckley) credibly goes from obnoxious lush to concerned hero. I also really liked Eric Porter as the stalwart Captain. For some reasons, when I watch British actors I almost never see a bad one. Or I’m snowed by the accent. Overall, this has a stolid, interesting cast. And did I mention the buxom young lasses?
I’ve probably written way too much about this film, but although it doesn’t get much praise from critics, THE LOST CONTINENT is easily one of my favorite Hammer productions with its bizarro beasties, lounge score and unique cinematography by Paul Beeson. I love its genre mash-up; a perfect Saturday afternoon movie and that’s probably why it appeals to me today. And the man-eating plant is still creepy. Such were the simple horrors against the global backdrop of real war and rebellion circa 1968.