Is life really about that continent of giant exoskeletal creatures and man eating seaweed, or about the journey to that continent? Hammer's 1968 film The Lost Continent (not to be confused with the 1951 film featured on Mystery Science Theatre 3000) seems to argue for the latter, spending just over half its one and a half hour run time in getting to the titular continent. For all that, it's the most expensive looking Hammer film I've seen and the forty-five minutes or so spent on the boat unknowingly destined for the strange continent are spent developing characters. Cliched or trite characters whose stories feel like very condensed versions of their counterparts in the novel the film was based on but I do respect the idea of spending so much time on the characters and the latter half of the film delivers some by turns charmingly campy and effectively creepy visuals.
The film stars Eric Porter as very shiny Lansen*, captain of the Corita, a run down old ship filled with disreputable passengers quietly fleeing Europe for various reasons. Lansen himself has some sketchy cards under the table--several hundred barrels of an experimental explosive in the cargo hold, an explosive which ignites when wet, and Lansen doesn't hesitate when warned of a hurricane on their current course; he'll go right through the storm because he plans on selling the cargo and retiring.
Half the crew, including the first mate, aren't so wild about this idea so they slowly start to move towards mutiny. Slower than you might think because Porter very capably exudes an air of authority and confidence, something continually presented at sort of fascinating odds with his many reckless decisions.
The passengers include a spoiled heiress and her father, a gangster, a former kept woman making a break for it (Hidlegard Knef), and, the closest the movie has to a hero, an alcoholic named Harry, played by Tom Beckley whom Doctor Who fans might recognise as Chase from The Seeds of Doom.
He begins the film as a cynical, caustic boozer whom the heiress tries to seduce. Then, when they're all on a lifeboat together, he has a moment of clarity and instantly gets a different personality. It's with Harry one most feels the condensed nature of the script as what might have been a somewhat more gradual character arc here feels like an illustration of a pamphlet on alcoholism despite Beckley's decent performance.
When they finally do get trapped by the seaweed surrounding the lost continent, they find a society descended from Spanish explorers living in a galleon also trapped in the seaweed. I found the first shot of the interior, without too much context, rather striking.
Everyone gets around by walking on the seaweed with big yellow balloons on their shoulders and what look like snowshoes. A little hard to take seriously, maybe, but I found myself buying into it, maybe wanting to go along with what seemed like such a perfectly 1960s sci-fi conceit.
Harry quickly befriends a busty native named Sarah played by musician and future David Bowie collaborator Dana Gillespie whom I'd somehow never heard of before this movie. I thought the open, cleavage bearing top she was wearing was a bit of Hammer fan service but a Google image search revealed this was apparently Gillespie's thing.
The lady was really proud of her cleavage. Can't say I blame her.
Soon, Harry is standing protectively in front of Sarah while a giant Scorpion battles it out with a giant hermit crab. Instead of models, it looks like Hammer actually built full scale monsters that move about on rollers. They kind of slide back and forth at each other.
The hermit crab has big glowing green eyes and a weirdly pulsating mouth that put me in mind of David Cronenberg's adaptation of Naked Lunch.
Considering the scale of story implied by all the buildup, the time on the strange continent feels very brief. Most of the character moments in the first half are called back to by the second--very quickly--but it feels like this movie ought to have at least been three hours.
*60s makeup artists sure liked shininess I know but this movie takes the cake.