Friday, July 23, 2010

Discovering “The Lost Continent”

Hammer Films’ The Lost Continent (1968), directed by Michael Carreras, has almost become a lost film. Even among fans of the famed British studio, this hidden gem is not a popular feature.

Captain Lansen (Eric Porter), along with his crew and a motley assortment of passengers are traveling aboard the Corita, bound for Caracas. The captain is set on sailing straight to the destination and avoiding any stops and/or possible inspections. Unknown to the passengers and most of the crew, the ship is transporting dangerous material that will explode if it has contact with water. When a freak accident causes the anchor to punch holes in the side of the ship (and in the very same room storing barrels of the aforementioned material), there is a mutiny from most of the crew, and everyone must abandon ship. Things only get worse, as the survivors drift to an apparently deserted land of strange creatures, killer seaweed, and Spanish soldiers who answer to El Supremo (Darryl Read), a leader who appears to be no more than a child -- and “hardly old enough to wipe his own bottom,” as according to the Chief (James Cossins).

One great aspect of The Lost Continent is that it seems to embrace the idea of “out of the frying pan and into the fire.” Once the people aboard the Corita learn that it might explode, they are quickly burdened by the crew’s mutiny. Safely on the lifeboat, the people then must cope with flesh-eating seawood, and eluding that merely takes them to a foreign land of new, unheard of dangers. The plot moves at a frantic pace, and it tends to feel as if the characters are running away from something. In fact, the film establishes that the passengers are traveling on the ship to escape: a doctor with legal troubles, an alcoholic, etc. When they are informed of a forthcoming storm, none of the passengers want the captain to turn the ship around.

For all of its quirks and peculiarities, The Lost Continent presents everything with the utmost sincerity. This is the type of plot that many directors would handle tongue-in-cheek, to show an awareness of the film’s campy qualities. But Carreras’ approach is refreshing, and it lifts the movie above camp. He offers a believable set of people forced into unbelievable circumstances.

The Lost Continent
is full of Hammer alumni. Director Carreras, who also produced and wrote the screenplay (under the pseudonym Michael Nash), had worked on a number of Hammer films in the capacity of producer and director. He was also the son of Hammer co-founder James Carreras. Porter was the star of the terrific and vastly underrated Hammer production,
Hands of the Ripper (1971), and the same year, Suzanna Leigh, playing one of the passengers in The Lost Continent, appeared in Lust for a Vampire. Even author Dennis Wheatley, whose novel, Uncharted Seas, provided the basis for the adaptation, had other books made into films by Hammer studios, such as The Devil Rides Out (1968) and To the Devil a Daughter (1976). (Another of the passengers, played by Nigel Stock, is reading Uncharted Seas while on the ship.)

By the film’s conclusion, one might wonder what exactly is the titular “lost continent.” A somewhat literal interpretation might see it as the land that the people “discover” and the strangers who have created their unique society. But another way of looking at it is that the lost continent was not the foggy collection of giant killer crabs, irate kelp, and a puerile ruler claiming to be a descendant of some Spanish guy (thereby allowing him to be an authoritarian figure). It was the ship, with people who needed to get away, people looking for hope and who refused to abandon ship. Having to take refuge on a small lifeboat and enter a vast ocean of the unknown, Capt. Lansen and the others were then in search of a new place. They are the ones who are lost, not the place where they may ultimately rest.


  1. Good one, Sark! I haven't seen it, but if it shows up on TV I'll make sure to catch it. Actually, the one you mentioned that I would REALLY like to see is The Hands of the Ripper. I missed that Hammer film, and I love movies and books about Jack the Ripper. It's not just the voyeuristic interest in murder -- it's also a picture of an era that interests me very much. Thanks for the tip!

  2. How many Hammer films are there, Sark? I expect you have seen every last one...whereas I might have seen one or two. Anyway, I always enjoy reading about the films they made because it expands my knowledge of film. The part about El Supremo, the child leader, made me think of Tropic Thunder. I wonder if they were parodying this film? Loved reading your review.

  3. Very interesting interpretation of the title. I hadn't thought of that, but you may be onto something.

    It's a truly bizarre film, in many ways. There's nothing else like it. There's some fascinating visuals, even if they don't make much sense. That giant mouth thing where sacrificial victims are thrown into really unnerved me as a kid.

    It's the type of movie that, if you caught bleary-eyed on TV at 3 a.m., you'd think you've entered some parallel entertainment dimension.

  4. Sark, you have done justice to one of my favorite Hammer flicks! I love your interpretation of the film's title--indeed, the ship and its passengers are lost...without direction and with nowhere to go. (It's a huge stretch, I know, but the opening scenes remind me a little of the WB classic BETWEEN TWO WORLDS...except that the passengers are alive in THE LOST CONTINENT). It's a shame the tiny budget results in Hammer's two worst-looking creatures, because otherwise THE LOST CONTINENT is visually delightful. I can always tell if someone has seen the movie when I mention the people walking around the island with snowshoes on their feet and helium balloons on their backs (it's an unforgettable sight!). Plus, it's hard to forget the bizarre title song. Kevin, I saw THE LOST CONTINENT during the wee hours of the night and was fascinated by its quirkiness. It was an exciting day when I found a then out-of-print VHS copy on eBay and won the auction with a $3 bid. Sark, this was an excellent film to highlight as a Forgotten Favorite.

  5. Well written post, Sark, but yours are always a pleasure to read. I don't think I have seen this film. However,Rick mentioned snowshoes on their feet and helium balloons and that rings a bell in my memory...not a likely thing to forget is it? It certainly sounds like a movie I would watch especially with flesh eating seawood...kind of like "triffids." Plant life can be so dangerous! I have seen The Devil Rides Out which is a good film. I will looking for this one to watch too. Enjoyed your review very much!!

  6. Sark, I'm really going to have to get my hands on the collection of, Hammer films. I always love reading your reviews!

  7. I remember seeing this film as a child when it first played in movie theaters. My memories of it are somewhat vague but I do remember being very entertained by it. I would love to see it again.

  8. Sark, this is an excellent review of a quirky picture. The leader looks like he just arrived from Never Never Land so it seems apropos for this to be the Lost Continent. I remember the balloons well. It was fascinating to read all of the Hammer links and made me think it was "all Hammer, all the time." I really enjoyed reading all the comments and was glad to see Kevin post again and Vincent join in, too.

  9. great post..i saw this in the theatre in 1968 and loved it ..40 years later. i do/did not know why until i read your blog..thanx..for all the crap they made, HAMMER studios produce a few gems that are classics...