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The Lost Continent (1968)
Director: Michael Carreras

review by Christopher Geary
SPOILER ALERT!
Alongside the success of Terence Fisher's supernatural horror The Devil Rides Out (1968), Hammer Studio's adaptation of another Dennis Wheatley novel, a Sargasso shipwreck adventure on a mysterious island of weird creatures, The Lost Continent is less well known and much less appreciated, even when viewed yet another example of cult genre cinema. In a postmodern in-joke, which might have been clever once but seems cheesy, nowadays, Wheatley's book Uncharted Seas is on screen, being read in a paperback edition by a character in this film.

Departing in quite a hurry from Sierra Leone, bound for Caracas, a rundown old British tramp steamer that's uninsurable under the command of the desperate and gloomy Captain Lansen (Eric Porter, Hands Of The Ripper), has an illegal cargo of explosive material, and a small group of luckless passengers, including struck-off/ disgraced Doctor Webster (veteran Nigel Stock), his sexpot daughter Unity (Suzanna Leigh, Deadly Bees, Lust For A Vampire), soon-to-be reformed alcoholic Harry Tyler (Tony Beckley), and runaway wife Eva Peters (Hildegard Knef) who secretly carries a fortune in bonds for the ransom on her son.

A con-man, a rebellious first officer, and the salty chief engineer are not happy when they discover the dangerous freight stashed away in the ship's hold, and their concern for safety becomes mutinous panic when the ship's hull is breached, accidentally, and news leaks out that a hurricane is approaching fast on their vessel's course away from any standard shipping lanes. Sweaty tension and potentially violent confrontation is only a build-up to despairing resignation when Lansen orders everyone to 'abandon ship'.

Adrift in the lifeboat, the bickering survivors finds themselves menaced by tangles of man-eating seaweed, and only manage to escape certain death by returning to their ship, which has now become stuck in mist shrouded vegetation of a timewarp which conceals the vast maritime 'graveyard' of lost ships. It presents an eerie scene, despite the obvious use of special effects miniatures and a water tank set built at Elstree, and what makes The Lost Continent worthwhile viewing today is not so much the characters or the above-average acting but the inventive oddness of genuinely uncanny scenes that follow.

There are some local 'pirates' from a Spanish galleon where superstitious mania of the Inquisition still rules with a crazy religious fervour. Lansen's ship is raided by a gang of these zealots, who use balloon rigs and 'snow-shoes' to walk on water across the floating mats of seaweed. Rescued from the homicidal conquistadors, busty Sarah (Dana Gillespie, The People That Time Forgot, 1977) reveals the film's rather sketchy backstory about multi-generational descendents of many shipwrecked inhabitants in this bizarre land, a hidden and unknown 'continent'.

Explorers get lost in the heavy fog where huge scorpion and giant crab monsters lurk. These 'fantastic' beasts are supposedly ghastly and grotesque but actually hilarious, especially by today's standards of creature effects. Their obviously rubbery limbs and twitchy 'faces' ensure the attacks, which also include a strike against the ship by a mutant octopus with a glowing eye, are tremendously entertaining albeit for all the wrong reasons.

Overall, then, writer and director Michael Carreras' The Lost Continent is essential viewing for any fans of 1960s' cult pictures. Optimum Classic's new release is a bare-bones DVD, with a trailer, but not even a subtitle option for the hard-of-hearing.

The Lost Continent



copyright © 2001 - Pigasus Press