Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Lost Continent (1968)

The Corita, a leaking rusty old pot of a ship, is heading in the direction of Caracas. On board is a rather unpleasant assortment of passengers including a surgeon with a history of "problematic" operations (Nigel Stock), his nymphomaniac daughter (Suzanna Leigh), Eva Peters (Hildegard Knef) who has stolen quite a bit of money, the man sent out to get that money back and an alcoholic pianist (Tony Beckley). Oh, and the ship's Captain Lansen (Eric Porter) has taken on a highly illegal and dangerous freight in form of a substance called "Phosphor B" that has the tendency to explode when coming in contact with water.

A cute-meet with a hurricane leaves the poor ship even more leaky than before, driving large parts of the crew to mutiny and into the life boats (something the film tries to sell as despicable, but you know what? - it's the only sane thing to do). The captain and a few of the passengers stay behind, try to keep the Phosphor B dry and decide a bit later to try their luck with a life boat too.

Alas, they meet that most dangerous predator of the seas, the man-eating, chirping seaweed. El Weedo munches on poor Doctor Webster and somehow manages to drive the life boat back to the ship. It then proceeds to push our heroes and their explosives-laden ship into a very neat-looking Sargasso sea full of stranded ships and mutant monsters like a giant turtle-crab (with the cutest face I've ever seen) or a deadly, apathetic octopus thing.

But there are other people there too. Some families have been stranded in the area for centuries, braving their dangerous environment by walking on water with the help of big snow shoes and balloons strapped to their backs. A small group of evil Catholic nobility rules over poor hard-working Protestants. Obviously, the explosives will have to be put to use.

The Lost Continent is one of the more bizarre parts of the output of the beloved British Hammer Studios. It's a combination of character-piece, adventure story and assorted random stuff that seems to have accumulated in writer/director/producer Michael Carreras' desk drawers to spontaneously build a script that doesn't make much sense. For a film called The Lost Continent there's also a decided lack of lost continents on display, as two pieces of rock and a few stranded ships do not a continent make.

Carreras the director is his film's own biggest enemy. There's a reason why he mostly produced and wrote films, but only directed from time to time - his directorial style is of the blandest of the point and shoot variety, without style or verve, and not much visible intelligence; it's like a mediocre TV movie with better sets.

Although I approve of Carreras' attempt to fill his film only with sweaty, nasty people without any ethics - you know, the sort of people who quite obviously don't even think about the fact that detonating a galleon that might be full of innocent people for all they know just might be morally repugnant - I'm not too sure about the execution. The film holds too much of the characters' backstories back for too long, only letting the viewer see the characters being unpleasant, and only putting their unpleasantness into context much later. Sure, Carreras tries to make everyone a little more complex (and likeable) the more bizarre their adventures get, but pretending that an audience should be interested in your characters isn't the same as interesting your audience in your characters.

The film's pacing is also a bit off. Everything happens very slowly, with the more interesting (and bizarre) stuff shunted into the film's last thirty minutes. I can't shake the feeling that The Lost Continent was produced in something of a rush, possibly salvaging pre-production work already done for another movie that didn't come to realization and then written around these pieces and shot in a hurry.

Having said all that, I still have to recommend the movie. There's an aura of baffling weirdness surrounding The Lost Continent. The (very effective and strange) sets, the ropey looking monsters, the absurd little details (the balloons!), the nasty people and the fever-dream-like illogic of the plot combine (in a mystical, even alchemical way, probably) to transcend Carreras limitations as a director, pulling the willing viewer into a dimension where the importance of technical aspects of filmmaking is dwarfed by the power of the bizarre. This is not at all a place one would expect to find inside of a Hammer movie, yet one I'll visit again gladly.



Anonymous said...

Love the film, and really liked your review. You hit the nail on the head. Thanks!

houseinrlyeh said...

You're welcome!