December 3, 2023

Abandon ship all ye who enter here: The Lost Continent

Poster - The Lost Continent (1968)
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The Lost Continent (1968)

Pros: Haunting imagery; Good, nuanced performances
Cons: Seems like two very different films spliced together; Sub-par creature effects

Thanks to Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews and Barry at Cinematic Catharsis, it’s time once again for the great Amicus-Hammer Blogathon (fourth installment), wherein enthusiastic movie bloggers come together to honor the works of these two great production companies.

Since this blog is dedicated to underdog B movies and genre films that live in the shadows of their more celebrated brethren and and tend to be starved for love, I decided to write about a Hammer fantasy-adventure that over the years has gotten lost amid Hammer’s beloved Gothic horrors featuring Messrs. Cushing and Lee.

Debuting a little over a decade after Hammer launched its wildly popular horror cycle with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Lost Continent was one of a clutch of fantasy-adventure films (She, One Million Years B.C., Prehistoric Women, and The Vengeance of She among them) that Hammer produced in the mid-to-late ‘60s featuring lost and/or ancient civilizations.

Although Hammer was still committed to its technicolor Gothics -- Dracula Has Risen from the Grave and Frankenstein Must be Destroyed followed Lost Continent in quick succession -- at this point the studio realized there was plenty of money to be made in fantasy-adventure, especially featuring stars like Ursula Andress and Raquel Welch in various states of ancient/prehistoric undress. (One Million Years B.C. in particular was a hit in the U.S., where the legendary poster of Welch in a prehistoric bikini adorned untold numbers of teenage boys’ bedroom walls.)

Poster - Rare UK half-sheet poster advertising One Million Years B.C. and She
Thank you Hammer. Thank you very much.

The Lost Continent, based on a novel, Uncharted Seas, by UK thriller writer Dennis Wheatley (more on that later), suffers from Multiple Thematic Disorder (a term that I made up exclusively for this post; ® pending). MTD is characterized by two or more distinct themes competing for control of the same movie.

In its first hour, the film effectively anticipates a 70s-style disaster movie, introducing the viewer to an assorted cast of troubled characters who sail into a perfect storm of intrigue, jaw-dropping screw-ups and nasty weather.

Eric Porter plays Captain Lansen, owner of a rust-bucket freighter, the Corita, which he is planning to run from South Africa to Caracas, Venezuela in a desperate bid to make a retirement nest-egg for himself. Desperate, because he illegally loaded the Corita’s hold with drums of Phosphor B (white phosphorus), which is highly explosive and has multiple military uses. Some shady types in Venezuela are willing to pay top dollar for the cargo, but there’s one catch -- Phosphor B has a tendency to explode spectacularly when wet, and the Corita is not the most sea-worthy of vessels. What could go wrong?

Screenshot - Eric Porter in The Lost Continent (1968)
"Aye Captain, we only have impulse power, the shields are down to 30%, and I canna keep the cargo hold from flooding!"

Sitting on top of the Corita’s explosive cargo is a rogue’s gallery of passengers, each of whom have booked passage on the rust-bucket for mysterious reasons that are gradually revealed as the voyage gets underway:

  • Eva Peters (Hildegard Knef), has run away from her abusive boyfriend, a former banana republic dictator, and taken millions worth of cash and bonds with her
  • Dr. Webster (Nigel Stock) is a pompous blowhard who has gotten in trouble for performing illegal operations on his patients
  • Webster’s attractive daughter Unity (Suzanna Leigh) resents the doctor’s attempts to control her life and the trust fund her wealthy mother left her
  • Harry Tyler (Tony Beckley) is an unapologetic drunk who keeps wads of cash in the lining of his jacket
  • Ricaldi (Ben Carruthers) is a lean, dangerous looking type who seems to have an unusual interest in one or more of the other passengers
  • Serving this motley collection is Patrick the bartender (Jimmy Hanley), who seems a little too cheery considering the circumstances

After some desultory backstory revelations, the film gets down to the disaster you know is coming. Due to the highly illegal cargo, Lansen orders that the ship avoid busy sea lanes. Then, another metaphorical fuse to the powderkeg is lit when the crew finds out that the ship’s course is taking them straight into a hurricane.

First Officer Hemmings (Neil McCallum) and most of the crew are none too happy with the situation, and make it known to the Captain in no uncertain terms. When an accident with the ship’s anchor punches a hole in the bulkhead and water starts flooding into the compartment with the Phosphor B, it’s every man and woman for themselves.

The metaphorical powderkeg finally explodes when the panicky First Officer and many of the crew mutiny. Lifeboats are deployed, shots are fired, and one of the mutineers is killed in a freak, Rube Goldberg-esque manner involving a lifeboat pulley. Yikes!

The Captain, the passengers and the remaining loyal crew members battle to keep the cargo dry, but as the weather gets dicier the Captain finally gives up and orders everyone to abandon ship. Ironically, after a harrowing ordeal on the lifeboat with various survivors violently arguing over limited provisions and one of them becoming an appetizer for a shark, the ocean currents push the boat straight back to the freighter, which has miraculously survived.

Screenshot - Lifeboat scene, The Lost Continent (1968)
Johnson knew he shouldn't have gone back for seconds at the ship's buffet.

At this point we’re about an hour into the film, and so far we’ve seen a pretty good action-thriller with sketchy characters trying to keep dark secrets to themselves, growing suspense involving the cargo and the hurricane, and characters behaving very badly (not to mention bravely) when the Phosphor B threatens to hit the fan.

With only a little over a half hour left in its running time, the film abruptly changes course into high fantasy-adventure territory. The freighter, its propeller and rudder fouled by sentient, blood-sucking seaweed (the Captain almost loses his hand to the unholy stuff), drifts into a graveyard of lost ships stuck in the muck somewhere in the Sargasso Sea.

As time and the movie’s limited budget run out like the sands of an hourglass, The Lost Continent throws everything and the kitchen sink at the characters and the audience:

  • Not one, but two (count ‘em!) lost mini-civilizations: one, the descendants of 16th Spanish Conquistadors and members of the Inquisition attempting to sail to the New World; the other, the descendants of Europeans fleeing religious persecution (naturally!)
  • Two (count ‘em if you want) extras that get fed to the carnivorous seaweed
  • Ingenious lost civilization technology for walking over the killer seaweed, consisting of buoyant footpads and a harness with balloons to keep the wearer upright (?!)
  • Three (if you can believe it!) giant creatures -- an octopus, a crab and a scorpion -- that scout their prey with eyes that look like colored car headlights as they prepare to munch on assorted cast members
  • A bloodthirsty Spanish boy-ruler, dubbed El Supremo (Daryl Read), and his equally bloodthirsty advisor, an Inquisitor-monk dressed in a dirty cowl with only the eye-holes cut out (Eddie Powell)
  • The eye-popping and bodice-stretching cleavage of Sarah (Dana Gillespie), a member of the gentle lost people, who needs the help of the ship’s crew to avoid the clutches of the evil Conquistadors

Screenshot - Ships trapped in the Sargasso Sea in The Lost Continent (1968)
One upside of getting trapped in the Sargasso Sea is that there's plenty of free parking.

That’s a lot to cram into a paltry half-hour and some change. It’s as if the producers decided in the middle of filming that a simple action-thriller set on the high seas was not going to cut it, and they needed to spice things up with prehistoric monsters ala One Million Years B.C. and some inbred Conquistadors chasing after fair maidens with heaving bosoms. (Robert Mattey, who supervised the Oscar-winning special effects for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, created the monsters for the film, but these creatures are poor cousins to the impressive giant squid of the Disney film.)

The whiplash nature of two movies seemingly spliced together at the last minute is further accentuated by sudden character changes that seem to come out of nowhere. Harry, after spending the first two-thirds of the film staggering around dead drunk and fighting with his fellow survivors over half-empty bottles of rum, suddenly gets stone sober and wields a cutlass like Errol Flynn as he fights off the Conquistadors. (Admittedly, he becomes repentant after throwing one of his fellow lifeboat passengers over the side in a drunken fit, but still…)

And Unity, after her corrupt father becomes shark chum, celebrates by throwing herself at anything or anyone wearing pants. Yes, she’s very attractive and newly liberated, but still…

Screenshot - Suzanna Leigh in The Lost Continent (1968)
Unity did not take it well when she learned her luggage ended up on another cruise ship.

Lastly, it takes El Supremo less than half an hour to transition from a sadistic little monster who delights in seeing his subjects tortured and thrown to the carnivorous plants, to a conscience-ridden young boy who wants his new friends to take him away from the hellish prison of his wrecked Galleon.

Amidst these sorry characters, two stand out. In a potboiler like The Lost Continent, by rights Captain Lansen should be a cardboard villain (and a not very bright one at that) -- he’s shipping a highly volatile, highly illegal chemical in a leaky freighter across a stormy ocean in order to sell it to nefarious arms dealers for personal gain. To top it off, he’s sold passage to a collection of desperate characters who aren’t in a position to question the danger they’re in.

But in the hands of veteran Shakespearean actor Eric Porter, Lansen turns out to be complicated and surprisingly sympathetic. He’s determined to see his desperate plan through, and at least thinks he has the competence to make it work, but he also has enough of a conscience that he doesn’t want to see people hurt. (They hurt themselves anyway, but people are like that sometimes.)

The other stand out is Hildegard Knef as Eva. The film sets up her character as a femme-fatale who has cleverly swindled a wealthy politician out of a hefty fortune. But just as we’re ready to judge her, she reveals with a touching mixture of sadness and defiance the very human reason for stealing the money.

Later, on the lifeboat, her quick thinking saves Lansen’s life when she shoots a menacing crew member with a flare gun, but instead of exhibiting the typical movie protagonist bravado, she breaks down with shock and remorse. It’s a very moving and authentic performance.

Screenshot - Hildegard Knef in The Lost Continent (1968)
Hildegard Knef as Eva.

There are two pretty decent movies here masquerading as one. After watching it, I couldn’t help thinking about how you might end the action-thriller that takes up the first hour without veering into lost worlds and monsters. And then there’s the fantastic, hair-raising third act that is so rushed and compressed that it plays like a highlight reel. I wanted to see much more of the mini-world of the Spanish Conquistadors stuck in time, their weird customs, and more fleshed out backstories for El Supremo and the Inquisitor. But that’s another movie.

Whatever its virtues or faults, The Lost Continent is producer-writer-director Micheal Carrera’s baby. Michael, the son of Hammer co-founder James Carreras, was instrumental in ushering in Hammer’s horror renaissance, helping to produce The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, The Mummy and Curse of the Werewolf.

He had a contentious relationship with his father, and in the early ‘60s he formed his own company, Capricorn Productions. But Michael couldn’t stay away from Hammer for long, and leading up to The Lost Continent, he found himself writing and producing One Million Years B.C. (1966), and producing and directing The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) and Prehistoric Women (1967). 

According to an extensive article on The Lost Continent in The Dark Side magazine, despite Carreras’ heavy involvement in the Hammer horror films, his personal tastes ran more towards the “exotic, adventure and action genres,” and Wheatley’s source novel Uncharted Seas was of interest because it was in the “swashbuckling vein.” (Around the same time that Lost Continent was filming, another Wheatley adaptation, The Devil Rides Out, was underway at a nearby location.The author managed to visit both sets.)

Screenshot - Jimmy Hanley is attack by a giant crab in The Lost Continent (1968)
Patrick suddenly regretted ordering the Alaskan King Crab legs.

The production did not go smoothly. Leslie Norman started out as director, but when it became apparent that he wasn’t well, Michael took over the shooting. As the film threatened to go over budget and behind schedule, studio head James put pressure on his son to make changes that would at least deliver it on time. [The Dark Side Magazine, “Monsters, Maidens & Conquistadors,” Issue 223, 2021, pp. 20-21]

The result was the most expensive Hammer production to date, but one that would be eclipsed in popularity and critical reception by that other Wheatley adaptation. It seems clear that the changes Michael was forced to make resulted in a third act that at one and the same time was overstuffed and abbreviated.

And yet, Carreras still managed to tease out of all the chaos the beginnings of a good, rip-roaring action-adventure tale, a couple of solid, nuanced performances, and the weird spectacle of Conquistadors frozen in time. It’s not The Devil Rides Out, but it’s worth a look.

Where to find it: Blu-ray

Screenshot - El Supremo (Daryl Read) and the Inquisitor (Eddie Powell) in The Lost Continent (1968)
"Your excellency, I got the tickets for the next showing of The Devil Rides Out."

Image - The Hammer-Amicus Blogathon IV


  1. Fun and fascinating review, Brian! Since I do enjoy experiencing a cinematic double feature whiplash, I should definitely seek out the Lost Continent because it sounds like it's exactly that but in one film!

    1. 👍 I'm looking forward to seeing this gem.

    2. Indeed, it's a great drive-in double feature rolled into one. But dang, El Supremo and his Inquisitor advisor really get short shrift. It's interesting that both actors appear way down the list on the IMDb page.

  2. Great review, as always, Brian! I'll have to remember your term, "Multiple Thematic Disorder," and pay the proper royalties, of course. :) I'm still not sure what to think of The Lost Continent, but it certainly has its moments. Perhaps it would've worked better as a TV miniseries? Thanks so much for joining our little blogathon!

    1. Thanks to you and Gill for hosting another great installment of the blogathon! With all the remake-itis going around, why not Lost Continent as a mini-series? Surely Netflix has loads of cash lying around and is need of some more old properties to exploit?
      P.S.: I accept Paypal, Venmo, Apple Pay, Bitcoin -- you name it! 🤑

  3. Where can I find this adventure? I've been searching and still can't find it. ✨️

    1. It's readily available on DVD and Blu-ray from places like Amazon, but it doesn't appear to be streaming anywhere.

  4. I remember watching this about a decade or so back, it occasionally comes to mind but I've never gotten round to rewatching. To be honest I'd forgotten how compressed the fantastical section is, in my mind it was at least half of the runtime.

    1. Thanks for visiting! The lost world part certainly makes an impression. It's clear that the vision for the film outstripped the means, and things got left out when the studio stepped in to curtail the production before it went way over schedule and budget.

  5. Likewise, do I quote you for copyright for the use of "Multiple Thematic Disorder" and it's definitely used to its maximum here and the Disaster franchise... thanks for bringing this and you to the blogathon.

    1. Hi Gill! Kudos once again for co-hosting an outstanding blogathon! You know what, I've changed my mind and will leave "Multiple Thematic Disorder" to the public domain where it belongs. Less paperwork. 😉 My apologies for getting this post out at the last possible minute. I had flashbacks to school and tackling the end-of-semester essay the day before it was due. My bad!

    2. Sorry if you got some scary flashbacks...

  6. Technically, it's three movies - at first, it feels like a Caine Mutiny kind of film, with a mad captain, then the film takes the captain's side and it becomes a peril on the seas movie, and then they run into Dana Gillespie ... I mean, the lost-world plot.

    Of all the Hammer movies I've seen, this is the most bonkers, and possibly the most entertaining! Although they're not Hollywood blockbuster standard, some of the creatures are pretty good. It has a pretty good cast ... including Dana Gillespie. What's not to like?

    1. Yes, I can see this being a three-ring circus instead of a two-ring one. Bonkers it definitely is, with perhaps Prehistoric Women giving it a run for its money in that dept.!

  7. Brian, this was such a fantastic read! I felt like I was watching it with your wonderful descriptives and your take on every aspect of the film. And... you really do need to own MTD. That's perfect! Tony Beckley is perhaps one of THE most interesting psychopaths. He gives me the willies with his performance in Beware My Brethren. Not to mention When a Stranger Calls.

    1. Thanks Joey! I did not make the connection between Beckley and the other two films at all. I've never even heard of Beware My Brethren, so naturally I'm intrigued. I see it's out on Blu-ray, so I may just make it a New Year's resolution to acquaint myself with it. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  8. I love 1970s disaster movies, but, based on your description, this one seems disappointing. It sounds like it was meant to be Rafael Sabatini meets Jules Verne, but the filmmakers couldn't figure out how to make it work. Then, after shooting the first hour of footage, they realized the money was running out and had to slash script and budget to finish it. However, frozen Conquistadors are worth a viewing!

    1. This falls into the category of interesting failures. I think another problem was the the script was not ready for prime-time. The lead-up to the pay-off of the lost world goes on far too long, and yet there's a lot of suspense and interesting character development there. You can do an action-disaster-thriller in 90 minutes and change, or you can do a lost world adventure, but you can't do both. Thanks for visiting!

  9. Your review is better than the movie, that's for sure! Seriously, I didn't care for it. I thought it was a mess. It definitely has a severe case of MTD-19. ;) Everything but the kitchen sink was thrown at the audience.

    1. Thanks Eric! MTD-19 is nothing to fool around with, as it can lead to severe whiplash of the brain. 🤯

  10. Another fabulous review, Brian! The Lost Continent is another Hammer film I have yet to get around to. But, it is on my Christmas list, so we shall see. I wasn't aware the first two thirds were a different movie. In that sense, it reminds me of The Damned. Much like the action-thriller portion of The Lost Continent could have been it's own picture, Oliver Reed's violent gang in the first half of The Damned deserved its own film without the radioactive children in the second act.

    1. Thank you! You're absolutely right about The Damned suffering from MTD as well, segueing from a violent youth picture to sci-fi midway. I can perhaps see a filmmaker using an abrupt thematic change successfully, but both The Damned and The Lost Continent have problems, not the least of which is audience confusion. Still, they're very interesting and entertaining failures.

    2. Agreed. Despite the flaw of MTD, I really enjoy both parts of the Damned. I just wish they were each given their own film.

  11. "Unity did not take it well when she learned her luggage ended up on another cruise ship." When an airline loses your luggage...that's a perfect premise for a horror parody!

    1. Oh the horror, the HORROR! of holiday travel -- delayed or canceled flights, missed connections, lost luggage, sleeping at the airport because all the hotels are full... May you avoid all of that this holiday season!

  12. These movies sound glorious but for different reasons. The watchlist grows bigger...

    1. That's the problem with blogathons -- the watchlist keeps growing, but time doesn't expand to compensate. 😉