Director Kevin Connor is the man behind Amicus’ most memorable movies: Warlords Of Atlantis, The Land that Time Forgot, At the Earth’s Core and They Came from Beyond Space (all available to win Here!) as well as the insane Motel Hell. We caught up with him to talk past, present and future and more.
LoveHorror: You worked for some time in the sound department and editing before finally getting your first job as a director on From Beyond the Grave. Was directing always your ultimate goal or were you determined to be a part of the film making process no matter what?
Kevin Connor: No, directing wasn’t my ultimate goal – my ambition at school was to get into the film industry but as a camera man – way up on a crane – that looked really fun to me. I was looking to produce and it was Milton Subotsky at Amicus who suggested I direct. He bought one of my projects (‘Beyond The Grave’) and surrounded me with the best technicians. I wanted to be in movies (behind the camera). I was lucky to know it when I was around 12 or so.
LoveHorror: Once you’d directed your first feature it seems like you just kept running from project to project. Were you confident in your work from the very beginning or was there a point when you thought ‘hey, I finally know what I’m doing!’?
Kevin Connor: Interesting question. That ‘confidence feeling’ did come to me about 5 years ago – but I still get the butterflies in my stomach until the first shot is in the can. I guess you get to the point when you say ‘….what are they going to do to me … shoot me? The trick is to surround yourself with good actors and technicians.
LoveHorror: What was it like to work with the Amicus studio? I’m mostly curious about studio style, choice of picture, how much freedom you had in terms of the look of the films/casting/etc?
Kevin Connor: Amicus was based at Shepperton Studios in those days, (early 70’s) and I can only describe it as just the most warm and welcoming experience ever. I never had such a good, fun time since then. Milton and Max left me pretty much to myself in terms of the look, style and casting. They supplied me with the best of all the departments from Alan Hume as DP. Maurice Carter as Production Designer and so on. I had choice of my own editor, John Ireland. I also had a very smart producer, Johnny Dark, who encouraged me all the way and made sure I had all the ‘gear’ and time I wanted. Just the best of times. The business has changed so much these days.
LoveHorror: Motel Hell quickly became a cult favourite and is still garnering new fans now over 30 years later, seeing an up-dated DVD release a couple of years ago. It seems that studios were reluctant to be involved in such a wonderfully bizarre film at the time, with a number of changes of distributor/director/script… When were you brought onboard? And how did juggle everything to get the film made?
Kevin Connor: Motel Hell had had a bit of a history before I arrived on the scene but the two young producers, who were also the writers, liked ‘From Beyond the Grave’ They gave me the script to read after viewing my movie . I took it back to my apartment and started to read it – the first scene was as follows..
EXT. L.S . MOTEL HELL’O’ – NIGHT
Flashing motel sign . Motel Hell*.
INT. MOTEL – BEDROOM – NIGHT
A fat woman is in bed with a pig and a dildo ….
At that point I put the script down and thought ‘… this is what I’ve come to Hollywood to do and further my career!!! Anyway, the upshot was that I suggested to the producers that they make it more in the style of a black comedy – play everything straight – and cut out all the juvenile stuff – and never see any blood or gore – just suggest it. They went along with that it and the movie got made very quickly. I had a great cast and it was fun to shoot as you can imagine.
LoveHorror: How do you account for the success of a film like Motel Hell – it is a very odd beast – and are you proud that it still refuses to go away?
Kevin Connor: Yes, but it was also the last of a genre – there had been a glut of horror films – and blood and guts genre all over the screen followed – to me that’s easy – horror films should have a lot more going for them than slashing throats and splitting heads open.
Several years later an American camera assistant came up to me and said that he had studied ‘Motel Hell’ at film school!! Amazing to me. It’s called a ‘cult’ film – I’m not sure whether that’s a compliment or not.
LoveHorror: It was around the time of Motel Hell’s release that you started doing a lot of TV work rather than features. Was this a conscious choice or do you think that maybe the studios were wary of working with the man who’d directed such a bizarre movie?
Kevin Connor: Good question. It’s really about career moves and all that ‘luck’ business. But because at the time ‘Motel Hell’ didn’t ‘take off’ – I had to turn to TV to earn a crust – but thanks to some of the episodic shows I did, I managed to get a huge 12 hour Mini series called ‘North and South.’ Now, to shoot the American Civil War and have all those toys to play with – I couldn’t resist. So I really was side tracked into big mini series after that – but I don’t regret it for a moment – it would have been great to do big features but you get ‘pigeon-holed’ in the industry in America and I’ve been all over the world shooting these epics.
LoveHorror: As I said earlier you’ve moved from project after project almost without a break, which has led you to work on a huge variety of material from science fiction movies, to an episode of Moonlighting, to a TV adaptation of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. What, for you, have been the highlights of your career so far?
Kevin Connor: I’m glad you said ‘…so far…’ – working backwards, ‘Frankenstein’ was a favourite as was ‘Master of the Game’. I’m very proud of the two Dickens pieces I directed. ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘Old Curiosity Shop’. I‘ve had the pleasure of working with great actors and fine technicians over the years and just had the best of fun. And, of course, I am very proud of the two films I edited for Richard Attenborough, ‘Oh! What A Lovely War’ and ‘Young Winston’. A great director.
LoveHorror: What’s next on your worksheet? The word is that you’re working with Ben Kingsley, among others, on a film about an IRA gunman. Is this true, and if so, are you worried about the challenges of tackling such a difficult subject?
Kevin Connor: No, but it’ll certainly be a challenge, which is what I love – I’m looking forward to that picture. It’s called ‘Crossmaglen’ – a very fast and taut thriller set during the early 80’s in Ireland. We have a fantastic cast and crew lined up – but it’s been a difficult show to get off the ground.
I also have two other personal movies in the works ‘Target Churchill” – rather like ‘Day of the Jackal’ – but set against Churchill’s visit to the States to give his ‘Iron Curtain Speech’. Michael Gambon has agreed to play the great man. I also have a more ‘commercial’ script that I’m getting underway to be shot in North Carolina entitled ‘Agnes and the Hitman’. A ‘rom-com’ as they say here!
LoveHorror: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask whether you might return to directing scary movies again some time? Their popularity never seems to wane, even if the quality of the films does fluctuate rather wildly.
Kevin Connor: I wouldn’t say no to directing a scary movie again. It would have to be intelligent though, with some substance and not just a ‘slasher ‘genre. I have a script in the works with a writer friend of mine at the moment. Who knows, we may get it off the ground – but even horror films are difficult to get financed these days.
LoveHorror: Finally, as someone who’s been working in the industry for a long time, I’d simply like to ask what it is that keeps you working in movies and the industry in general?
Kevin Connor: I love it – it’s just the best job in the world – every film is different, the mechanics are the same but you have a new story – meet new actors and technicians and get paid to go places in the world where you normally wouldn’t visit. As Orson Welles was reputed to have said ‘…it’s like having the biggest toy train in the world..’ Also – I don’t kill anyone and hopefully entertain one or two people.
LoveHorror: Thanks very much for your time.
Kevin Connor: Thanks – good questions – best of luck.