You’re home on a wet, dreary winter Saturday afternoon. It’s the mid-1970s, so you have no recourse to a personal computer, video games, or handheld devices more interesting than a Texas Instruments calculator the size of your hand. You turn on the TV, and as you channel surf, you stop at one of the UHF channels — this incident predates the cable era — and happen to catch the end of the opening credits for a movie, accompanied by a Britpop title track.
The first scene opens on the deck of a ship, and, intrigued by the tableau, you watch intently as the camera tracks among a motley collection of people, some wearing contemporary attire and armed with rifles, while others wear animal skins or are dressed like conquistadors. It soon becomes clear that they owe their somber expressions to the occasion — a burial at sea.
Then, the story starts in earnest, for the funeral scene is merely the pretext for a movie-length flashback: There’s a tramp steamer — a beat-up freight vessel whose captain isn’t too particular about passengers or cargo — and you get to know the assortment of people who have paid for a berth, all of them with some reason for not traveling by above-the-board channels. You also find out that the ship will be hauling a volatile contraband cargo: an explosive that ignites when it comes into contact with water. (Hmmm, that’s a handy item — I wonder if it will figure in the plot later?)
Things take a while to get going, but you remember the Viking types and the conquistadors, so you’re committed. At last, there’s the obligatory storm and mechanical troubles, and then an unexpected turn: The ship is ensnared in the Sargasso Sea, where a morass of seaweed — surrounding some sort of landmass, though the plot doesn’t explain or exploit it — traps unsuspecting vessels. There, the passengers and crew encounter a demented civilization consisting of descendants of voyagers from various countries and centuries.
Oh, and did I mention that the seaweed is carnivorous? No? What about the giant arthropods? Sorry — must have slipped my mind.
Hammer Films, the legendary U.K. studio, which produced The Lost Continent in 1968, is apologetic about the movie on its Web site, calling it a “strange and unsatisfying film,” but that assessment is only half correct. This lurid horror film is a cut above grindhouse fare, with goofy special effects and an uneven cast, but it’s amiably cut-rate (it went over budget and was patched together in postproduction) and ultimately fascinating — though I haven’t seen it since my teen years, and my critical faculties have presumably improved since then.
But once you get past the extended exposition and the setup and arrive at the titular landform, it’s undeniably weirdly inspired: The inhabitants cross marshes wearing snowshoe-type apparatus and suspended by weather balloons, and there’s a theocracy of sorts, with a puppet princeling controlled by Inquisition-era priests garbed like the Ku Klux Klan. The plot is a bit of a mess, but everybody is onboard, so to speak.
And, if nothing else I’ve said convinces you to seek out this film, note that per Hammer Studios policy, there are several hot chicks in the cast, including a Viking maiden already equipped with her own weather balloons.
The Lost Continent, based on the novel Uncharted Seas, by prolific mid-20th-century pulp writer Dennis Wheatley, is a must-see for any fan of fantastic films, especially Hammer aficionados who someone missed this wallflower among the studio’s more celebrated Frankenstein and Dracula movies. (Don’t confuse it with the dreadful 1951 sci-fi film Lost Continent or the 1961 George Pal dud Atlantis, the Lost Continent.) Wait, if you must, for a rainy day, but don’t go on your last voyage without seeing this fascinating flick.