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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Carreras’

A now-obscure movie called The Siege was briefly the focus of some attention back in 1999 when odd behaviour amongst some of its patrons was noted: they would buy a ticket, take their seats, but then walk out as soon as the credits began. The reason? This was before the age of widespread and easy internet and they had just come to watch the trailer for George Lucas’ upcoming stellar conflict movie.

Now we are in the age of widespread and easy internet, trailers are a lot more accessible and subject to much more scrutiny than was the case in years gone by. Back then, much more of the heavy lifting when it came to promotional duties was done by the poster. We have considered in the past some of the more outlandish claims made on the posters of ambitious but low-budget exploitation movies, but few attempt the hard sell quite as ferociously as the advertising for the 1968 movie The Lost Continent:

Blood-beasts, female flesh, torture-pits, giant jaw-snapping molluscs, floating death-ship, helpless beauties, crazed kelp-monsters – sounds like a hell of a movie, doesn’t it? Or possibly just hell, depending on your taste in films. The Lost Continent (NB barely features a continent, and certainly not a lost one) was made by Michael Carreras for Hammer Films. Now, Carreras produced many of the studio’s best and most successful films, and deserves credit for that. However, as a writer and director his track record is rather less stellar, with The Lost Continent (one of two films that he wrote under a pseudonym and directed, the other being Prehistoric Women) a powerful exhibit for the prosecution’s case.

The movie opens with beat combo The Peddlers treating us to the title track, which is heavy on the Hammond organ (this forms a key element of the film’s soundtrack). We find ourselves in a strangely-hued graveyard of ships, aboard one of which a burial-at-sea is just under way: various people, some dressed as Spanish conquistadors, others in modern dress, stand around gravely.

Presiding is Captain Lansen (Eric Porter), a man who is deeply troubled by questions of how he got into this situation (there may not have been much acting required from Porter, to be honest). The film obligingly flashes back to provide some answers: Lansen’s ship, the tramp freighter Corita, is making a swift departure from Freetown in Sierra Leone, trying to dodge the customs launch in the process. Why? Well, Lansen has got sick of being the owner-operator of this leaky old tub and has taken on a lucrative but illegal cargo of highly explosive white phosphorous, with a view to selling it and the ship in Caracas and retiring on the proceeds. His more principled first officer is duly shocked.

When the ship runs into a hurricane and starts taking on water, the rest of the crew demand that Lansen turns back (white phosphorous detonates when wet, apparently), but the passengers are having none of it (the crew includes some fine actors, including Victor Maddern, Michael Ripper and Donald Sumpter, but they don’t get much to do in this film). Despite the contemporary setting, the roots of the story in a 1938 novel by Dennis Wheatley are very obvious here, as there is something rather hokey and dated about all these people sitting around the saloon of a freighter making a transatlantic crossing. Amongst them we meet a boozy con-man (Tony Beckley), a former trophy-wife on the run (Hildegard Knef), an enquiry agent in pursuit of her (Ben Carruthers), a doctor fleeing a scandal (Nigel Stock, who is briefly seen reading the Wheatley novel – about as close as the film gets to genuine wit) and his daughter (Suzanna Leigh), whom he is fiercely protective of for self-interested reasons.

None of this lot want to go back to Africa and so the crew mutiny and depart, taking one of the lifeboats; only a handful stick around, including the steward (Jimmy Hanley) and the chief engineer (James Cossins). We have commented in the past on Cossins’ tendency to be cast as pompous establishment figures; this is about as proletarian as he gets, although as the story goes on the chief engineer proves to be a man with a side-line is fierce theological rigour.

With the ship leaking, the movie attempts a tense sequence with the passengers having to shift all the explosives to somewhere less damp. It is not really very tense, to be honest, and concludes with Lansen deciding they have to abandon ship anyway. So everyone piles into a lifeboat, which is launched into something which is very obviously a medium-sized water tank.

Some occasional rowing (‘It’ll keep you fit!’ growls the captain) and arguing over the rations ensues, with everyone bemoaning their lot and the viewer possibly beginning to wonder when the crazed kelp-monsters, giant jaw-snapping molluscs, and indeed the lost continent itself are actually going to make an appearance in the movie. In the end Tony Beckley can’t take it any more and hurls himself over the side in a drunken stupor; Nigel Stock dives in to save him and is eaten by a rubber shark, but Beckley is retrieved anyway.

The lifeboat becomes entangled in thick sea-weed, which proves to be more serious than it first appears when the weed grapples onto Lansen with its thick, thorny fronds – yes, the crazed kelp-monsters have finally arrived! Another extra is eaten by the weed before the lifeboat bumps into the Corita, which has likewise been snagged by the kelp. Everyone gets back on board, which only leads one to conclude that this whole sequence has just been there to get rid of Nigel Stock.

With Stock out of the way, his daughter reveals he has been repressing her for ages and goes a bit mad as a result of her sudden freedom, chucking herself at Beckley (not keen, racked with guilt following the bit with the shark) and then Carruthers (rather more receptive). The two of them slip out onto the deck to see what happens, but any developments are forestalled by the appearance over the gunwale of a giant octopus, which proceeds to eat Carruthers and cover Leigh in green slime before it can be driven off.

There is a sense of the plot finally getting somewhere, and not before time, as the freighter pitches up in a strange weed-infested realm of wrecked ships, some of them seemingly very ancient, and rocky outcrops. (It’s still not a continent though.) Strange shapes are sighted through the mist, and then contact is made with the locals, as a young woman approaches the ship. She is played by latter-day blues singer Dana Gillespie, and has an impressive set of flotation devices. She also has a set of helium balloons strapped to her shoulders.

(Yeah, I do kind of appreciate that that last attempt at a gag is probably unacceptable in these enlightened days of 2021, and I feel duly apologetic – though clearly not to the point of actually removing it from the review. It’s not as though the film doesn’t go all out to exploit the potential of the stunning Gillespie decolletage: the poor woman is in a shirt open practically to the navel, and most of the publicity photos for this film seem to show her leaning forward while sitting on a giant plastic crab:

My mistake, it’s a giant scorpion, not a crab.)

Gillespie is being chased by Spanish conquistadors working for the Inquisition, with whom there is a brisk scrap. (All the locals wear balloons and snowshoes to let them walk around on the weed.) She reveals they are the descendants of explorers who got stuck here centuries ago and are reigned over by the tyrannical El Supremo, a child ruler under the control of a pointy-hood-wearing maniac. Clearly conflict between the newcomers and the Inquisition is on the cards, but not before they can cram in Jimmy Hanley being throttled by a giant crab and a death-struggle between the crab and a giant sea scorpion (the question of which is the worse prop is also fiercely contested).

The poster catch-line ‘A living hell that time forgot!’ accurately nails The Lost Continent as a precursor to the Trampas movies made by Amicus in the following decade (The Land That Time Forgot, etc) – but while those films occasional attain the level of Good Bad Movie, this one is (to quote the Encyclopedia of Science-Fiction’s review) wholly absurd, even if the art direction is good. The Doug McClure films are unashamed pulp from start to finish: Carreras seems to think this film has an outside chance of functioning as serious drama, hence a lot of very intense scenes as the captain and passengers articulate their various personal issues to each other, usually by monologuing. These would probably feel corny even in a conventional context; surrounded by scenes dealing with killer sea-weed and rampaging invertebrates, they become utterly ridiculous and just as funny as the bad creature effects.

The saving grace of The Lost Continent is that its general badness is still somehow exceeded by its extreme silliness; how anyone involved managed to take any of it seriously is a miracle, but somehow they did and the result is an extraordinary piece of unintentional comedy. Perhaps I’m being unnecessarily harsh to the producer class, but so many producers-turned-directors start off by making this sort of tat: plenty of action and character and colour, but no developing storyline, no connections, just incident after incident. The material here is so bizarre that the film achieves a surreal kind of bad-acid-trip quality; afterwards you can’t quite believe what you’ve been watching. It’s a terrible film, but also enormously entertaining.

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Having recently flown the flag for Hammer Films’ reputation as a maker of serious and thoughtful fantasy and suspense films, I suppose in the interests of balance I must now turn my attention to one of their movies which really is just a piece of kitsch exploitation cinema. Which is it to be? (Turns to DVD collection.) The Witches? No, far too serious. Vengeance of She? Too disappointing in the light of how good the original She was. The Viking Queen? Hmm, now there we have possibilities, but I think we can do worse… In 1966 Hammer enjoyed a big hit with the ‘prehistoric fantasy’ (i.e. rubber dinosaur movie) One Million Years B.C., which, with its winning combination of imported American talent (Raquel Welch), lavish location filming (the Canary Islands), and painstaking special effects (courtesy of the genius Ray Harryhausen), made them a lot of money. But not, apparently, quite enough to satisfy producer Michael Carreras, who in an attempt to make the sets and costumes pay for themselves decided to re-use them in another film, only this time without the imported American talent, lavish location filming, and painstaking special effects. The result was Prehistoric Women (1967). The opening titles play over sumptuous, stock-footage vistas of African wildlife, in a brave attempt to prevent the viewer from noticing that the rest of the film is shot on a sound-stage in Darkest Borehamwood. (This attempt fails.) Here we meet David Marchand (Michael Latimer), a slightly moody White Hunter escorting tourists on safari (the setting seems to be Edwardian, not that it matters). In pursuit of a wounded leopard, Marchand trespasses on the territory of a mysterious and hostile native tribe, who explain they’re obliged to sacrifice him to their Rhino God. (There is a bit more exposition and back-story at this point, but it’s essentially gibberish.) But as soon as Marchand touches the idol of the god (i.e., a stuffed rhinoceros that someone had to paint white) there is a flash of light and he finds himself transported into a new, prehistoric world (basically it’s the same sound-stage with the trees moved around a bit and the lighting turned up). It gets even better. In this prehistoric world, Marchand finds lots and lots of prehistoric girls (hence the title), but not so many prehistoric men. This sounds like good news for our hero, but it transpires that the prehistoric brunettes are nasty and keep the prehistoric blondes as slaves. The prehistoric men are all grizzled old coots who are kept down a hole somewhere. The evil prehistoric queen of the prehistoric brunettes (the imposing Martine Beswick) takes a bit of a shine to David Marchand, as he is neither grizzled nor an old coot, but he easily resists her rather unsubtle advances (this is probably the least plausible thing that happens in the movie, and as you can see that’s saying something) as he has fallen for one of the blondes (Edina Ronay). The queen has him flung down the hole with the old coots. But the blondes are plotting revolution, and to succeed they need someone to get close to the queen and spy on her – Marchand is the obvious candidate. Can our hero bring himself to let the queen have her evil way with him? Sometimes you just have to grin and bare it… (Sorry, I mean bear it. Or do I?) I hope I have given some impression as to the quality of this film, which emanates from some specially-dug bunker deep below the bargain basement. However, the fact that it was made in the mid-sixties means that while it’s deeply and obviously exploitative, it’s also incredibly coy and restrained (this movie has a PG rating in the UK). There are acres of straining chamois-leather and many close-ups of taut, undulating feminine midriffs, but that’s pretty much your lot. The pleasures of this film lie in other areas. Chief amongst these, I must say, is the presence of top-billed Martine Beswick, who had a pretty good thing going in the sixties, dancing in the credits of Dr No and acting in two other Bond movies, as well appearing in the aforementioned One Million Years B.C.. Later, of course, she went on to possibly her finest moment, playing one of the title roles in Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (I will leave you to guess which), one of the best late-period Hammer horrors. Here, to be honest, Martine’s performance is a bit rubbish, with lots of shouting and unconvincing evil laughter.

Surprising new evidence that the bubble-bath was in fact invented before the wheel.

I blame the director, who is Carreras himself. All the performances in this movie are rubbish, from Martine at the top of the cast list to Steven Berkoff at the bottom (yes, the celebrated actor, director, and playwright shows up for a couple of lines at the end – he was young, he needed the money). But then blame must also go to the scriptwriter, who is… oh, hang on, that’s Carreras too, operating under the in-jokey (trust me, you don’t want to know) pseudonym Henry Younger. All the African tribesmen and prehistoric folk of this film speak with astonishing articulacy, even when they’re filling in the ludicrous backstory or floridly bemoaning their miserable lot. And there are no jokes in it. Everything is very earnest and serious – actually, for the cast to keep a straight face throughout is a significant achievement, given the number of sequences involving the stuffed rhino (which is put on a trolley and wheeled across the soundstage during the climax, when it doubles up as a real rhino). I suppose that Prehistoric Women is at least noteworthy for inspiring a spoof version that’s actually much better known (and much better) – I refer, of course, to Carry On Up The Jungle, which replicates both its look and (in some respects) plot, with almost forensic attention to detail. That one has jokes in it, of course, and the acting is rather more accomplished. Given the choice between watching a good Carry On and a good Hammer, I would usually have to flip a coin – but Prehistoric Women is not a good Hammer by any stretch of the imagination, and thankfully by no means representative of the studio’s output even at its most cash-strapped.

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