The Lost Continent falls into the category of “oh-yeah-Hammer-didn’t-just-make-horror movies”. Alongside their more famous horror output (beginning with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958)) Hammer Studios squeezed out a whole bunch of other genre work including the sci-fi/horror hybrids of the Quatermass movies (beginning with The Quatermass Xperiment in 1955); a clutch of wonderful psychological thrillers in the Hitchcock mode ( e.g. The Snorkel (1958); The Nanny (1965)) and some big-screen spin-offs of popular British sit-coms such as On The Buses (the second most popular movie in Britian in 1971!).
Sometimes forgotten among this output are what are best described as Hammer’s fantasy-adventure films. She (1965) featured Ursula Andress as H. Rider Haggard’s titular immortal priestess while One Million Years B. C. (1966) cast Raquel Welch as a prehistoric cave-woman in a fur bikini battling dinosaurs (see also, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970)). Alas, all that remains of Hammer’s proposed 1971 picture Zeppelin Vs Pterodactyls is the poster. Luckily for us though The Lost Continent (1968) did get made and explores the same themes of hidden kingdoms, atavistic beasts and maximum cleavage as these other fantasy-adventures. And lest the genre should fool you into thinking otherwise, The Lost Continent still has plenty of Hammer horror to offer- it was granted an X on its initial release for violence and horror.
It’s rated 12 nowadays, which I guess says a lot about how the depiction of killer seaweed is no longer taboo in British society.
Adapted from a novel by Dennis Wheatley (who, much like Hammer, is better-known for his horror output, particularly occult thrillers like The Devil Rides Out, which Hammer adapted in 1968), The Lost Continent is some of the pulpiest pulp that ever did pulp. Picture this: a busted-up steamboat leaves Africa for South America. The passengers are a motley assortment of wrong ‘uns, each with their own seedy reasons for getting out of town as quickly as possible. An impressively red-faced, sweaty and puffy Dr Webster argues with his daughter Unity about his interfering with patients; alcoholic cad Harry Tyler opens his jacket to flaunt the fact it is lined with money; the enigmatic Ms Eva Peters is revealed to have stolen bearer bonds to pay the ransom on her son in Caracas, but sleazy lawyer Ricaldi has followed her and only agrees to back off when she insinuates that sexual favours could be part of his pay-off.
The captain is no less questionable, as his cargo turns out to include several drums of a dangerous explosive which becomes unstable and combustible when in contact with water. Did I mention they are on a rickety old steamer? We can all see where this is going…
Kinda. Because once the ship inevitably hits a storm and springs a leak the crew and passengers find themselves adrift in the Sargasso and then shit really hits the fan. A violent mutiny occurs! Ricaldi is killed by a giant octopus with a single eye (a cycloptopus if you will)! Dr Webster is eaten by a shark! A crewman shot with a flare-gun! The water is enveloped by a carnivorous, semi-mobile seaweed! A mysterious island is ruled by a mad boy-king whose advisers dress in potato-sack Klan outfits (they’re actually descendants from the Spanish inquisition)! A buxom slave-lady escapes the king; she wears life-buoys attached to a strap that elevate them above her shoulders! A giant crab fights a giant scorpion!
It wouldn’t be quite true to say that director Michael Carreras encourages the viewer to think about themes of colonialism and the dangers of conquistador-inspired religious zealotry with this film, but he is a master of throwing random, bonkers images at the viewer. I have no idea what really happened in this movie, but I was never less than entertained. Everyone gives it their all, even when the scenes are ridiculous. Which is often.
In the end, there is a redemptive arc. Harry the alcoholic cad, having been forced to go cold-turkey, seems to find a new sense of purpose. The ship’s illegal cargo is blown up for the good of all, to destroy the bad guys and the killer seaweed. But the ending is ambiguous; we see the ship sailing away in the mists of the Lost Continent, but that’s all we see. Do they get home? Are they still trapped? Did they learn the lesson that religious zealotry is as dangerous, if not more so, than giant crabs and carnivorous seaweed? The ending only offers an ambiguous answer to these questions.
In short, if you are a fan of mysterious islands ruled by insane boy-kings whose reigns are supported by the fanatical descendants of the Spanish inquisition, killer weeds (aquatic or otherwise) and giant crabs, you could do worse than visiting The Lost Continent.