Last year, the creepy Old Vic tunnels and the mysterious literary film initiative known as 'The Flicker Club' (free copies of the books the films are based on handed out at every screening!) played host to a series of Hammer horror films, some introduced by dapper (in a culturally demonic kind of way) film critic Kim Newman, who seemed quite at home in the whispering shadows and dank damp catacombs (or even among a makeshift bar stocked with the most satanic-tasting wines - my personal dark corner of choice). The film I went to see (with not that many others to be honest, as this is hardly Hammer's most beloved movie even though, for me - it's easily one of their most twisted and unearthly best) was: THE LOST CONTINENT (1968).
A cruelly neglected masterpiece of late 60s surrealist cinema, THE LOST CONTINENT featured an actor by the name of Darryl Read as El Diablo (or El Supremo to his friends) - a wonderfully flamboyant fling of a role as a deeply creepy but ultimately tragic and heroic boy king in a forbidden land from the twisted mind of Dennis Wheatley who wrote the novel 'Uncharted Seas' which the film is based on.
Darryl's role comes across as slightly unsavoury in such a darkly satanic land where shipwrecked sailors and their mates trample over killer seaweed - or skim over it, carried on balloons - dodge giant killer crabs and end up in the middle of all kinds of ghastly goings-on and crazed power struggles on the shifting shore in a variety of increasingly hallucinogenic settings. This, for me, is one of Hammer's greatest and wildest escapes.
Darryl Read was born in 1952 and started acting at the age of 11 (and in DAYLIGHT ROBBERY/ 1964 he won an award for best actor at the Venice Film Festival). He went on to form the British punk band (probably the first of a kind); CRUSHED BUTLER, but was also the first film 'Dick' too - in FIVE HAVE A MYSTERY TO SOLVE (1964). He's portrayed Keith Richards, Marc Bolan and (almost) Syd Barrett in REMEMBER A DAY (2000) in which he starred as a reclusive brain-numbed rock star not a million miles away from the Pink Floyd ex-man himself. In a number of fertile and frenzied musical collaborations, Darryl worked with Ray Manzarek of The Doors. Poet, punk, pubescent actor; you name it and he seems to have done it.
Darryl Read died in a road accident in Thailand in June, 2013.
After reading a tribute from journalist Piers Hernu about Darryl, mourning the loss of a mutually-minded punk brother, I looked into the man's life further and realised - some great people in our lives, we just forget too easily as years go by. We forget the things they've achieved; the things we know them for. Or we see them perform and later forget their name and their legacy; like acts in a circus that moved out of town.
I will remember Darryl Read's fabulous role in THE LOST CONTINENT with the most affection, and the saddest thing of all - I didn't know at the time (not really) who it was that played the role. I was taken in too well by the character on the screen perhaps to care. Maybe that's the greatest tribute of all. This boy king who looked too young to hold such power captivated attention while a few loyal fans of this Hammer classic slouched in chairs while avoiding the dripping ceiling and blocking out the rumble of overhead trains in the strangest cinema location perhaps ever found, deep underground. But the man himself playing the boy king remained young - right up until the present day. He never really aged much at all over the years and in whatever he did, remained unmistakably Darryl Read. His was a flamboyant, howling, deafening guitar solo of a life. It's what the boy king in The Last Continent would have wanted.
Words: Mark Gordon Palmer