The Lost Continent
Are movies the only thing you can be bad at but still somehow end up making something good? Take Michael Carreras for example - he was really bad at directing movies (Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is stupefyingly abysmal) and yet… The Lost Continent is a barmy barrel of fun.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s still really badly directed. Characters do things that make no sense, storylines appear and disappear for no reason, the ‘heroes’ are fundamentally unlikeable, motivations come and go like bad improv acting exercises, and the special effects are laughable.
So, why is it so much fun to watch? Some credit has to go the book it’s adapted from surely. Even though I’ve never read it, it’s by Dennis Wheatley who also wrote the book The Devil Rides Out is based on, and that’s enough to assume, at the very least, that the man wrote books Hammer could make great films from. The acting is also terrific, partly because they’re all absolute cads which I’m sure must be the most fun to play. You don’t have to be good or noble or suffer quietly. You get to shout, insult, chew a bit of scenery, and in general behave in a way we secretly wish we all could, especially in stressful situations.
And there’s just something compelling about a boatload of bastards, beyond any hope of redemption, voluntarily sailing to their own doom. There’s a great bit near the beginning where the First Mate finds out the boat is carrying a hold full of a powder that will explode if even a drop of water touches it. So he complains to the Captain that not only is that completely unacceptable, but also that they’re sailing into a hurricane in what amounts to a bucket of floating bolts on her very last legs. The Captain shrugs and tells him - fair enough, ask the passengers if they want to turn back. There’s something about the evil curl at the corners of his mouth that so deeply unnerves the First Mate he almost doesn’t want to. But when he does inform the passengers, who we have been introduced to and seem harmless enough, they all vote to sail on, eyes cast down in shame, and you realize that everyone in that room apart from the the First Mate is hiding something terrible. It is a brilliant scene, and one which I’m just going to go ahead and assume is from the book, because no way Carreras came up with that.
After that, it’s relentless barmy, and the complete inability to tether the characters and their actions to any sort of believable motivation only adds to the surreal nature of their voyage. There’s a bit where they abandon ship and then, after days of floating adrift in a lifeboat, bump up against the ship they abandoned, still floating but now in a totally different bit of the ocean. It works precisely because no-one reacts as they should. Nobody expresses even a tiny bit of frustration that the harrowing lifeboat ordeal they’ve all been through was completely pointless or even any real relief that they’re OK and back on the ship. They just clamber back on-board with a weary resignation that the horror will never be over and all they can do is keep going. Their inexplicable forward momentum even starts to become admirable. Again, it’s not deliberate but the total inability of Carreras to have things make sense really, really helps in a film about a ship’s doomed voyage to a nightmarish realm.
I suppose that’s the point, isn’t it? I mean, the whole idea of a film about an undiscovered continent in the modern age harbouring descendants of lost conquistadors and massive rubber monsters is inherently ridiculous. But if a man who can’t direct for toffee is in charge of it, where characters and themes and plot will change in a heartbeat with no explanation, well then you end up with a movie that plays out like a dream. And, as it turns out, that is one way to turn ridiculous into surreal. Because the truth is - you can’t fake bonkers. Maybe you could try with a crazy visionary director who doesn’t care about the rules. Or you could just use someone who doesn’t understand the rules (but thinks they do) which, in this case, leads to a much more believable bonkers.
In the end, The Lost Continent is is a happy accident of a film, where the right conditions are in place to produce a film so utterly rudderless that the audience start to feel as disoriented as the characters. It’s almost immersive. And you can’t beat effective escapism, no matter how you get there. Speaking of which…