Lost Continent, The (1968)

The Lost Continent (1968)

A living hell that time forgot!

A creaky tramp steamer carrying an assortment of shady passengers and a cargo hold full of illegal explosives heads straight into a dangerous storm. The crew mutinies and abandons ship when they find out what the cargo is and sea conditions begin to get treacherous. The storm eventually strands the ship and its remaining crew and passengers near a mysterious island, surrounded by weird-looking seaweed and populated by descendants of Spanish Conquistadores.

 

No review would be enough to really describe just how bonkers this film is. It’s just such a weird juxtaposition of films, genres and ideas that it really sinks itself by trying to accomplish too much. For a studio so associated with the horror genre, Hammer’s 1960s forays into fantasy worlds were curious but never good enough or endearing enough to catch on with the public in main like their earlier horror outings. But that’s not to say there weren’t some hidden gems in there. One Million Years B.C. is better known for Raquel Welch’s awesome two-piece fur bikini but featured some cracking stop motion effects from Ray Harryhausen. She was a bit of a tepid adventure but at least gave Peter Cushing something to do other than stake vampires and create monsters. And here we have The Lost Continent, a very obscure film which is very ambitious in its intentions but ultimately falls short because of numerous problems.

The scope of Hammer’s intention with this film must be applauded. It’s arguably their most ambitious work ever and they clearly put a lot of effort into making it look big budget. You’ve got the eerie island which is surrounded by deadly seaweed, drenched in fog and harbours plenty of shipwrecks from various periods in time – it’s a superb set which really conveys the idea of this being a ‘lost continent’ and not just some random island. Even some of the costume design ideas are so bizarre that it’s hard not to give their designer credit. The mushroom-like inflatable shoes that the Spanish conquistadores use to traverse the seaweed are like nothing you’ve ever seen before. The first time you see them in the distance, it looks like some weird monster heading the way of the passengers.

Not only is the seaweed hungry and there are scores of religious fanatics who want to sacrifice the passengers but the island is also populated by a variety of bizarre and even more deadly monsters. The special effects are terrible and the monster models are ridiculous but the best thing is that the cast treat everything seriously. So as utterly pathetic as the crab and the octopus look, the cast battle bravely against them and make them look like a deadly threat. It helps that the creature designs are a bit different with their colourisation too, once again giving the viewer the illusion that this really is a lost world.

The film is entertaining when it finally gets going and they reach the island (and all of the above stuff happens) but it seems to take an eternity to get there. Too much time is spent (badly) developing characters we don’t care about because we know most of them won’t get out off the island alive. The characters all have shady pasts too so it’s hard to really find anyone to root for. A lot less of the backstabbing and bitching aboard the ship and more explanations about what the hell was going on would have been fine. By the time they reach the island, they don’t seem to be trapped for long before they manage to sort everything out into a neat little package and then escape as if nothing happened. The finale is all rushed and you won’t be able to catch your breath before the film is over. It’s as if there’s a lot of random stuff happening and a really flimsy story is patched together to try and work it all out. Did the film really need the long sub-plot about the crew’s mutiny early on in the film? The crew leave the ship as they find out there’s explosives on board. Shortly afterwards the passengers then decide to abandon ship to save themselves. Then a bit later on the passengers come across the ship again and go back on board. Wouldn’t it have been easier for them to have stayed on board? It would have saved some crucial running time for more island action.

The cast isn’t particularly well known but do their jobs well as the group of shady passengers. Eric Porter is brash, arrogant and highly unscrupulous as the captain. There’s eye candy on display in the forms of Suzanna Leigh (who plays a slutty daughter) and Dana Gillespie (who plays one of the enslaved islanders and sports arguably the most gravity-defying pair you’ll ever see). Hammer veteran Michael Ripper is on hand again for another small cameo. There are a few other faces that you may recognise if you’re into your older British films and it helps that there’s no really big names in here like Cushing or Lee. It gives the rest of the cast a chance to shine and they all do a decent enough job. But this really is a film based around its weird and wacky ideas and characters are secondary throughout.

 

The Lost Continent does have its fair share of problems but the ambition and scope of the film are way beyond what one would expect from Hammer. It’s bizarre, it’s obscure and it’s frustratingly brilliant – there’s almost too many ideas floating around here to make it work but somehow it does. It’s strangely compelling viewing and definitely a hidden Hammer gem that’s infinitely better than a lot of their more famous work.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

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