Monday, July 3, 2017


I have a vague memory of watching THE LOST CONTINENT (1968) on the CBS Late Movie one night when I was in high school back in the early '70s.  It wasn't the greatest Hammer movie I'd ever seen but it was definitely different. I enjoyed it at the time and hadn't seen it since until I watched it again yesterday.

THE LOST CONTINENT, based on the novel UNCHARTED SEAS by Dennis Wheatley, is one weird movie. It takes place in the Sargasso Sea area of the southern Atlantic Ocean. The Sargasso Sea has been used in popular fiction a few times that I'm aware of.

First in THE SARGASSO OGRE, a Doc Savage super-saga originally published in October 1933 and reprinted with a terrific James Bama cover by Bantam in July 1967.

And again in SUB-MARINER #16 published by Marvel Comics in August, 1969.

And who can forget the very first episode of the classic animated adventure series JONNY QUEST? THE MYSTERY OF THE LIZARD MEN, which aired September 18th, 1964, found Jonny, Hadji, Race Bannon, Dr. Quest and Bandit tackling a mystery set in the Sargasso Sea. 

THE LOST CONTINENT centers around a voyage from Africa to Venezuela by the tramp steamer Corita. Captain Lansen (Eric Porter) is a disgraced seaman carrying an illegal cargo of highly explosive phosphorous (don't get it wet!) along with a small group of passengers, all of whom are hiding some kind of secret. To add even more danger to the mix, they're sailing straight into the path of a hurricane.

In order to avoid the storm, the Captain orders the passengers and what's left of his mutinous crew to get into a lifeboat and abandon ship. This part of the story really serves no purpose other than to kill two characters because the lifeboat eventually circles back to the now becalmed Corita, which has become stuck in a vast area of man-eating seaweed.

That's right, killer seaweed. Oh, and there's a cyclopean, multi-tentacled beastie that attacks the ship, killing another character and badly injuring one of the female passengers, Unity Webster (the fetching Suzanna Leigh). The ship is pulled along by the seaweed to a graveyard of ancient ships in various states of decay. A young woman, Sarah (the incredibly busty Dana Gillespie), approaches the ship by walking across the seaweed using a combination of inflated shoes and balloons attached to her shoulders. Told you this was a weird movie.

Sarah is trying to escape the rulers of the lost continent, a small group of Spanish soldiers (descended from their original Inquisition era ancestors) who are ruled by a boy king, who is really a puppet of a hooded figure named The Sea Lawyer (Michael Ripper). Sarah and members of the crew are eventually captured by the Spanish and are about to be put to death when Captain Lansen and his men attack the Spanish galleon, free the prisoners and use canisters of phosphorus to blow everything up.

THE LOST CONTINENT has the raw materials for a rip-snorting pulp adventure film. In addition to the killer seaweed, there's one giant crab monster and one giant scorpion monster, both of which are fairly well realized given the limitations of the budget. But the production feels cramped (everything was shot in a studio), sluggishly paced and frankly, butt ugly to look at. The cinematography by Paul Beeson is faded and washed out throughout the entire film leaving me to wonder if this was a conscious artistic choice by the producers or if they just happened to have some old film stock in storage that was cheaper to use than buying new film. 

The so-called "lost continent" of the title is indeed lost in the sense that the main characters don't arrive there until the third act, but it's hardly a "continent". More like a rocky outcropping than a land mass but "The Lost Rocky Outcropping" on a marquee probably wouldn't sell many tickets. No explanation is ever given concerning the origin of the seaweed and the various monsters and the motivations of the mad Spanish folk aren't fully fleshed out. They don't appear to be a threat to the outside world at all. They only menace the people who have intruded into their bizarre little world.

There's a nice scene early in the film where a character is seen reading a paperback copy of the Wheatley novel upon which the screenplay (by director/producer Michael Carreras) is based. The women in the cast, Leigh, Gillespie and Hildegard Knef are all easy on the eyes and Porter does a good job as the veteran sea dog captain. 

But much of the dialogue sounds dubbed and the musical score, by Gerard Schurmann, with a title song by The Peddlers, is nothing short of godawful. Kudos to the production design and an "A" for effort to Hammer studios for trying something different. 

Call THE LOST CONTINENT a noble failure. 

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