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Not to be confused with C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne’s novel of the same name, and having nothing to do with Atlantis, The Lost Continent is one of Hammer Films’ more outlandish releases. Made in 1968, it’s a strange mixture of no doubt drug-induced fantasy and shipboard melodrama. Garish, loud,  over-the-top, I watch it repeatedly with pleasure—and, it must be said, equal amounts of amusement and bemusement.

In the opening, a body is buried at sea while a motley assortment of extras looks on silently. The scene is too brief for the incongruities in the actors’ appearances to register, and when the story  goes into flashback, you’re likely to forget the strange assortment of costumes they were wearing.

You forget because for the first hour or so The Lost Continent works as a pretty straight forward melodrama, with a host of “usual suspects” crammed together in a tramp steamer. We’re soon trying to figure out why the Captain (Eric Porter) is so antagonistic or why a sexy middle-aged woman (Hildegard Knef) who looks as if she could travel first class anywhere, is on this ship of fools, or wonder at which man the pretty young thing (Suzanna Leigh) traveling with her domineering father (Nigel Stock) is going to throw herself next. Then the crew mutinies for reasons too involved to explain, and no sooner have they fled than the Captain says what’s left of the crew and the passengers should abandon ship too. You see there’s this hurricane coming and the ship isn’t quite sea-worthy, and of course they will be safer in life boats…

After being tossed about and dealing with hunger, thirst, bad tempers and the odd shark here and there, the survivors find their boat surrounded by a carnivorous sea-weed which, in addition to its unconventional diet, conveniently brings everyone back to the steamer. The weed eventually fouls the ship’s propellers and takes over navigation, pulling everyone to a nether world of rotting ship hulks, trapped between islands populated either by “descendants of people fleeing social and religious persecution” (no, I didn’t make that up) or gigantic, repulsive monsters with a taste for human flesh.

But wait, there’s more. Those oppressed victims aren’t alone; they’re still persecuted by the descendants of conquistadores and Inquisitors who hold court in what’s left of a 16th century galleon, also becalmed in the weed. Good thing the Captain’s secret cargo, which has been one of the causes of his ill humor, consists of explosives that blow up whenever they get wet…

No doubt you begin to get the idea. So when the story returns to the present, the rag tag assortment of sailors, soldiers in breast plate, buxom ’60s beauties and priests in tattered robes begins to make sense. I guess something has to. The weirdest part of all, though, is that for all the The Lost Continent’s incongruities and non sequiturs, its strange, oneiric world is actually comforting.

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