The Lost Continent (1968)

Saturday mornings as a kid in the 1970s and 1980s was great.  While I did like some cartoons, what I always waited for was a show on KPHO (now a CBS affiliate, but back then an independent station) called The World Beyond.  Opening with the sounds of Jon and Vangelis's "Curious Electric", and featuring a spinning galaxy, it featured everything from old Universal horror films to Godzilla vs. everything.  Sure, there were things to do outside, but they could wait.

That's not to say everything I ever saw on there was of the greatest quality.  They played the Hammer and American International films as well (edited slightly for content, of course), and that even included the lesser efforts, like The Lost Continent.  The last time I could remember seeing it was at my grandparents' cabin in Payson, and this was probably when I was 11 or 12.  I had seen it before, and it wasn't any better that time around.  The only thing that stuck with me over the years was the theme song and the mechanical scorpion.  In truth, I even forgot it was a Hammer production, equating it more with the Doug McClure films from the 1970s, like The Land That Time Forgot. 

Watching it again after all these years I honestly wonder how I even got through watching it at that age.

We start with the Corita purposely busting through a customs inspection as it flees Freeport, Sierra Leone, and heads across the Atlantic for Caracas.  Capt. Lansing (Eric Porter) is not only carrying a cargo of phosphate explosives, but also Eva Peters (Hildegard Knef), the disgraced mistress of a deposed South American dictator, as well as Dr. Webster (Nigel Stock) and his daughter Unity (Suzanna Leigh).  Turns out the good doctor was a little too hands on, while his daughter is looking for any way to rebel.  Thrown into the mix is alcoholic piano player Harry Tyler (Tony Beckley) and First Officer Hemmings (Neil McCallum), who is in no way amused with the surprise cargo his captain is carrying, and Ricaldi (Ben Carruthers), who was sent by Eva's former lover.

Things are tense from the start between Lansen and Hemmings, but they come to a head when the Captain decides to ignore hurricane warnings and sail straight through.  An accident with the anchor causes the ship to be holed, flooding the cargo hold with the explosives.  Since they are sensitive to moisture, Hemmings decides to mutiny with a number of other men and abandon ship.  Initially, Lansen convinces the others to stay behind and help move the explosives to a drier area, but eventually comes to the same conclusion that abandoning ship would be best as the storm worsens.  Patrick (Jimmy Hanley), the ship's bartender, and some of the other men stay back, while Lansen and the others depart in a lifeboat.

The close quarters in the lifeboat make things worse.  As Lansen tries to keep order, Tony incites Dr. Webster by consuming the medicinal alcohol they brought with them.  The resulting fight results in the doctor being punched overboard, followed by Tony trying to save him.  However, a passing shark as different ideas.  Tony expects Unity to be devastated, but she is actually delighted to no longer be under her father's thumb.

The storm tosses the lifeboat into the Sargasso Sea, and the crew find themselves surrounded by carnivorous seaweed.  They also find that the Corita was not destroyed, but made it through the storm intact, to be deposited within the mist-enshrouded sea itself.  Returning to the ship, the weed quickly befouls the propellers, and they find themselves carried along by the weed, which becomes more aggressive as they go deeper within the Sargasso.  They are brought within sight of land, and see figures walking in the distance.  Soon, a woman wearing shoes designed for walking on the seaweed and balloons attached to keep her slightly aloft arrive to warn her that the figures they saw are a party of marauders coming to kill them.

After a fight, the invaders are repelled.  The woman, Sarah (Dana Gillespie), is from an island settled by people who had fled religious persecution and had become trapped in the Sargasso on their journey.  The raiders, whom her people are at war with, are the descendants of Spanish conquistadors, nominally led by a boy-king called El Supremo, but in truth he is controlled by the Inquisitor (Eddie Powell).  Sarah decides to return to her island, but Tony and Patrick go out looking for her, getting lost, but eventually finding a small island.  Thinking they are safe, they are attacked by a giant hermit crab, which itself is attacked by a giant scorpion.  Unfortunately, the humans themselves are captured by the forces of El Supremo, and taken back to their galleon.

Lansen shows up to rescue his crew, and offers the others on the galleon the chance to join him and attempt to escape the sea.  A number of people agree, including El Supremo, sparking a battle between those loyal to the Inquisitor and those who wish to join Lansen.

Although called The Lost Continent, two thirds of the movie takes place on board the Corita, and deals with the various conflicts and dramas of the crew.  It's for this reason that I am surprised that I made it through this twice as a kid.  When you are expecting action, giant monsters and such, a soap opera can be quite the disappointment.  The fact that there are too many characters doesn't help.  Eric Porter is great, especially since Capt. Lansen is not a strict good-guy hero, but someone who does things for selfish reasons and only becomes the hero once he realizes how his bad decisions have affected everyone else.  As cliched as it is, this is one of those times where he just needs a trusty sidekick and damsel in distress to rescue from a snickering villain.

Instead, we early on get Ricaldi as a kind of villain light, tasked with retrieving the money Eva stole from her lover.  Unfortunately, though Ben Carruthers gives him an air of menace, he isn't given much to do except look evil, get hit on by Unity and, finally, get eaten by seaweed.  As for heroes, it appears early on that Hemming is going to ultimately be the dashing one, standing up against the selfish Lansen and saving the crew.  Neil McCallum plays him as such, but once he's in the lifeboat, he's out of the story.

While Eva has an interesting backstory and Unity is set up to be said damsel, they are mainly there for drama and eye candy.  Same with Sarah, as Dana Gillespie is almost literally exploding out of her costume.  It's one of those typical Hammer touches that brings a chuckle even if the rest of what is going on is a giant mess.

When we finally get to the real villain, there is so little we see of the Inquisitor to make him interesting in any way.  From what I understand the heads of Hammer Studios were not too pleased with director Michael Carreras going over time and over budget, and they showed up to shut things down.  That may explain that by the time we really get into something interesting, as silly as balloon-buoyed weed-walking religious fanatics may seem, it's over before it even begins.

Direction-wise it is fine, and it looks like some effort was put into making this a truly epic adventure story.  However, the mechanical monsters are far from convincing, even if the hermit crab and its clockwork nature is interesting.  Otherwise, we have actors wrapping tentacles around them while pretending to be attacked by giant plants.  It looks about as convincing as the octopus scene in Bride of the Monster.

Somewhere in this mess there was the intention of making a great movie, or at least an interesting tale of high adventure, but it was lost by being over-ambitious and relying far too much on drama between characters that one doesn't really end up caring about anyway.

The Lost Continent (1968)
Time: 97 minutes
Starring: Eric Porter, Hildegard Knef, Suzanna Leigh, Tony Beckley
Director: Michael Carreras


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