TCM had recently aired it in the wee hours of the morning and, thanks to the technology of DCR, I now had a chance to see this weird film.
And what an strange, odd film it is too!
It was made by Hammer Films (along with Seven Arts Production) in 1968 and is adapted from Dennis Wheatley’s novel Unchartered Seas. I have no idea how closely this film is to the book so perhaps someone can enlighten us?
The film is set in then modern times as a tramp steamer is heading from Freetown to Caracas. There is a small group of passengers (all who have their own reasons for leaving Africa in a hurry) as well as a mysterious cargo being smuggled by the captain. After they put to sea, the Captain informs the First Officer that they are transporting a shipment of Phosphorus B which is a substance which explodes when it comes into contact with water. (So, of course, transporting it by sea makes perfect sense!)
After a mishap with the anchor punches a hole in the side of the ship (conveniently right where the explosives are stored), half the crew mutiny and abandon ship. The captain gets the passengers to help move the explosives to a dry room right in time for a hurricane to hit. For some reason, the captain orders everyone to abandon ship (to avoid the hurricane that he knew was coming all along) and after riding out the storm in the lifeboat (always a good idea) there’s a fight and two of the passengers fall overboard. One is, supposedly, eaten by a shark. I say ‘supposedly’ because you never actually see a shark. There’s just a horribly unconvincing fin in the water and then one of the passengers is pulled underwater. Not even any cheap ‘blood’ effects in the water. The lifeboat then drifts into some seaweed which seems to have the ability to actually attack anything it touches which is the cue for one of the now crazed crew to jump right into it so we can all see that rolling around in seaweed can kill you.
Anyway, the lifeboat drifts right into the boat they abandoned! Seems that the ship didn’t sink after all but now they are stuck in a weed-choked sea. The ship drifts for a bit because the propellers are wound tight with the stuff so they cannot move or steer the ship. It’s during this time that some type of octopus thing decides to climb over the side and accost a young couple who are intent upon doing what young couples do when stuck on a ship surrounded by deadly seaweed. The man is pulled over the side but, thankfully, the blonde girl is rescued because this is a Hammer production after all.
Shortly after, the ship is hailed by a young woman who is walking over the seaweed in some kind of pontoon shoes and wearing a harness that is connected to lighter-than-air balloons that keep her from sinking into the weed. I do not know where this ‘lighter-than-air’ material comes from and I can’t even guess. She tells the captain that she is the descendent of others who have been marooned in the sea and live on an island where they try to survive peacefully. This, of course, doesn’t sit well with the boatload of Spanish descendents in a nearby galleon who are not only descendents of Conquistadores but religious zealots as well ruled over by an annoying teenager named “El Supremo” (I am not making that up, btw) who feeds those who displease him to a sea monster under the ship. I’m sure there’s something Freudian in that.
Well, island girl (showing appropriate Hammer cleavage) decides to run back to her island and three of the crew follow and try and bring her back. Not really sure why. Anyway, she finds them and, lost in fog and mist, they decide to spend the night on an nearby outcropping where, naturally, they are attached by a giant crab and a giant scorpion. Now, a crab I can understand but I’m not really sure where the giant scorpion comes in on the ocean. So they manage to kill the giant crab, which scares off the giant scorpion, but not before losing another member of the crew and being kidnapped by the Spaniards.
Who promptly celebrate this action by firing exploding flares into the night sky because, you know, that’s what you do.
The captain leads an assault on the galleon and offers to let anyone who wants to leave to join him on their ship. El Supremo surprisingly accepts this offer but is then stabbed in the back by his inquisitor who leads a sing along as the boat catches fire from the Phosphorus B and burns.
Seems that the weed also burns so they use that to presumably escape the sea and send El Supremo’s body to the deep.
Several times I had to wonder if I was truly seeing what I thought I was seeing.
This is not a great film by any measure and the quality of the monster effects could be beaten by any 10 year old with access to a computer today. The acting is wooden or else completely over the top. The plot feels like someone is making it up as they go along dependent on what the studio had available that day.
If you can avoid any attempt to take this seriously, then it is a good campy movie. Hammer was clearly running out of steam by this point and this is a decidedly minor effort from them.
I review this film here for several reasons. One, it is based on a novel by Wheatley who was an early Hodgson champion. Two, it has several Hodgsonian touches such as the weed-choked sea and the giant monsters. And, three, it actually does refer to the weed-choked sea as “The Sargasso Sea”. While not on the level of MATANGO, it is worth a viewing if you can believe what you’re actually seeing!
On another note, others have previously equated MATANGO as an odd variation on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND and I’ve seen this movie also described as a horror version of THE LOVE BOAT. Having watched an episode of THE LOVE BOAT yesterday while sick with a cold, I can affirm that nothing is more horrifying than THE LOVE BOAT.