[John’s note: I had the great pleasure of meeting film director Kevin Connor at the Space:1999 Main Mission Convention in Manhattan in the year 2000. We sat on at least one panel together, and late one evening, a group of fans and I got together with Mr. Connor at the hotel bar and he recounted some amazing stories of his film and TV career.
MUIR: How and when did you become involved with the Amicus anthology From Beyond the Grave (1973)?
KEVIN CONNOR: I was very lucky to have such a wonderful cast for my first movie, and David Warner is a marvelous actor. I’m not sure whether he really enjoyed doing a horror film, but he gave his all and was to me, as a first-time director, extremely supportive and not difficult.
MUIR: Next up was The Land that Time Forgot (1975). And I have to tell you, this was my favorite movie when I was a kid. I loved dinosaurs and submarines…and the two together was perfect bliss. Let me ask first, how did you first become aware of this adaptation of the Burroughs book? Was it your connection to Amicus/Subotsky and Rosenberg, that brought you to discussions to direct?
MUIR: How long, do you recall, did you have to prepare the film?
KEVIN CONNOR: In those good old days, a production was split into thirds: one third prep – one third for the shoot, and the final third for post production. Today, the first and last third are condensed considerably. So I guess I had around 6-7 weeks prep. I must admit.
MUIR: What were your thoughts about casting?
KEVIN CONNOR: I thought I was getting another Western ‘cowboy’ actor. But Doug McClure turned out to be a great asset and a lifelong friend. Doug was a Hollywood product in every sense of the word – very camera aware – great in fights – did all his own stunts, hit his marks – came prepared etc. Susan (Penhaligon) and John (McEnery) were both solid British actors and good fun.
MUIR: At what stage did discussions of special effects begin in earnest, and was there any talk about using stop-motion animation?
MUIR: Overall, the film is a a mix of location work and studio work, so how was your time was split?
KEVIN CONNOR: I would think probably seventy percent on the stages, the rest on location and on the Shepperton back lot and the local sandpits. We were probably on the interior submarine set for a week, and ten days on the exterior set that was built on ‘H’ Stage at Shepperton Studios. It wasn’t particularly claustrophobic – you don’t notice that kind of thing when you’re shooting a movie. It’s so absorbing.
MUIR: The book-ends of the film, with Tyler throwing the bottle off into the sea….where was all that location material shot? It’s quite beautiful.
KEVIN CONNOR: The book-ends were shot on the Isle of Skye and I went up there with a wonderful aerial cameraman, Peter Allwork, and a first assistant. We did everything between the three of us.
MUIR: The movie spawned a series of sequels. When did you know it was a hit, and do you still get feedback about these movies today?
MUIR:What was your relationship like with producer John Dark? Subotsky and Rosenberg? Samuel Z. Arkoff?
KEVIN CONNOR: John Dark and I formed a company with Rosenberg after At The Earth’s Core, when I think Max and Milton parted company. We made another three adventure-type movies using the ERB (Edgar Rice Burroughs) format. I had little to do with Sam Arkoff and never met him. He was more on the distribution side.
MUIR: When did you know you would be directing another Burroughs-based movie, and what were your thoughts on the script for At The Earth’s Core (1976)?
KEVIN CONNOR: Milton wrote the script of At The Earth’s Core and I had become part of the Amicus stable. They seemed pleased with what I was doing so they hired me again. The script wasn’t the greatest but it had some fun sequences in it. Cushing and McClure were a delight as usual and enjoyed working with each other.
MUIR: Pellucidar is a different world from Caprona. Did you have discussions about making sure this was so, both visually and thematically?
KEVIN CONNOR: Again, I get on very well with all my actors and Caroline was no exception. She rarely left the set, and sat knitting next to the camera, distracting all the boys in her revealing costume.
MUIR: This movie was another big attraction at the box office, wasn’t it?
KEVIN CONNOR: It did well in the UK, but not so well in the States, but it does play on cable TV quite a bit. I don’t think the making of the third film was predicated on the success of this one. It was a good franchise and these stories have a good long shelf life.
MUIR: The People That Time Forgot (1977) seems like a return to the more straight-faced, less fanciful adventure of The Land That Time Forgot. Was that a conscious decision?
KEVIN CONNOR: Warlords was the first film that was not an ERB book. We created a story using the concept of going into a strange land/world, saving somebody and getting the hell out This was great fun to make and we shot it in Malta and Gozo.
MUIR: Any favorites among these [fantasy] films?
CONNOR: My favourite is Land and then Warlords, People and then Earth’s Core. However, I did have great fun making all of them. Land seems to be the most shown on TV.
MUIR: Around the same time, you directed two episodes of Space:1999, Year 2. What can you tell me about the experience?
KEVIN CONNOR: I can’t recall exactly how this assignment came about but I knew Gerry Anderson quite well and we were both at Pinewood so I guess one thing led to another. It was between the Burroughs movies. I’d seen the series and they [the episodes] seemed very inventive and another genre for me. The great thing about directing this series is that I met the brilliant production designer, Keith Wilson, and we went on to do another ten TV shows over the years that followed.
MUIR: What are your recollections of working with producer Fred Freiberger?
KEVIN CONNOR: Fred was more a front office man so I had little contact with him, but he was a great listener and Gerry was a terrific ideas man with the effects and scripts.
MUIR: Your first episode “Brian the Brain” involved a malevolent robot. Was it difficult structuring/shooting so much of the story around this mobile device?
KEVIN CONNOR: The robot in fact had the wonderful Bernie Cribbins inside and he maneuvered the device himself so it wasn’t so difficult to structure the shooting. It never broke down except when Bernie wanted a cup of tea!
MUIR: What were your thoughts on the teleplay?
KEVIN CONNOR: Both scripts were written by John Goldsmith, a very talented writer. The script [for “Brian the Brain”] was inventive, fun and unusual. It was a pleasure to work with such a good script. John and I have worked together on many more mini-series over the years.
MUIR: What were your thoughts when you first stepped onto the Space:1999 set and saw those wondrous sets and costumes?
KEVIN CONNOR For its day, the sets and concept were way ahead of its time and very striking. It was a very cleverly designed show by Keith and became a benchmark in studio set design.
MUIR: Your second episode is one of the best in Year Two. “Seed of Destruction” involves Commander Koenig going to an asteroid and being trapped inside a mirror, while a sinister duplicate nearly destroys Moonbase Alpha. Do you have any thoughts on this doppelganger-type story?
CONNOR: A very clever John Goldsmith script; very difficult not to get in a muddle with the reflections of the commander and his real self. You really had to concentrate on where you were and what you were doing so as not to confuse everybody, myself included. I think it turned out a fun piece.
MUIR:. Having worked on two episodes of Space:1999, what were your thoughts on working with the series cast?
KEVIN CONNOR: Martin, Barbara and the rest of the actors were all committed 100% to the series and a delight to work with.”
MUIR: What do you think is the enduring appeal of the series?
MUIR: That last scene where Calhoun reveals the dirty secret of his life is a hoot. Do you recall how that scene was rehearsed?
MUIR: I think Motel Hell is funny and sharp because it asks us to consider if Vincent is any weirder or kinkier than anybody else in the film. Punk rockers who smoke weed? Swingers with whips? Weird is only a matter of degrees, I guess. Any comments on this idea?
KEVIN CONNOR: Only that all these weirdos get their comeuppance at the end of the day. It’s a “Hollywood” cliche – good guys win, bad guys lose.
MUIR: On particular scenes: what do you recall of the creation/shooting of the famous hypno-wheel sequence?
KEVIN CONNOR: The prop guys came up with the mechanics of the wheel, but the idea was spelled out in the script. All I remember about shooting it was that it was night and it was freezing cold. The poor actors who were in the ground were terrified of snakes and spiders.
MUIR: How long did it take to stage the final battle? How difficult was it working with chainsaws on set?
KEVIN CONNOR: I think we did it in a day – big problem was that by now the carcasses of the pigs were somewhat ripe. The chainsaws had rubber blades and we used stuntmen when they wore the pig heads.
MUIR: Did you ever worry that people wouldn’t get the film?
KEVIN CONNOR: I never worried about whether people got it or not. You can’t always worry about that when you make movies. You have to do your thing.
MUIR: Why do you think it has become a cult classic?
KEVIN CONNOR: I’ve no idea why it has become a cult classic. The major difference to the slasher films is as I said before, that you never see any violence or blood – it is all suggested. It’s what you don’t see and imagine that has the effect.
MUIR: How did you become involved with The House Where Evil Dwells (1982)? Had you been aware of the novel by James Hardiman?
KEVIN CONNOR: Doug McClure, who I befriended on the ERB [Edgar Rice Burroughs] movies, recommended me to the producer. I hadn’t been aware of the novel but I met James Hardiman, a wonderful guy, and then read the book after the screenplay had been done.
MUIR: What do you recall about shooting in Japan? How long were you there, and were there any “lost in translation?” difficulties?
KEVIN CONNOR: Shooting in Japan was very easy. I had an excellent cameraman, Jacques Haitkin, and the ghost sequences were the trickiest, but once we’d got the system down, it was fairly straightforward. I personally didn’t have any translation problems but I know that the male Japanese crew didn’t like taking orders from a female translator.
MUIR: My favorite scene in the film is the harrowing one wherein Amy and her babysitter are suddenly and inexplicably overrun by a swarm of over-sized crabs. This is a tense, scary, sequence. Can you describe how it was created?
KEVIN CONNOR: Well, I guess ghosts can conjure up whatever they like, and the crabs were in the script and available by the bucket load so we went with that. I think it took half a day. There’s only so much you can do with non-union crabs and I think Amy was really scared.
MUIR: To me, this film belongs to sub-genre of horror film, sort of “Innocents Abroad” with a scary angle. Where an American is a stranger in a strange land, and doesn’t understand the customs and becomes vulnerable to ethnic spirits/demons. Was any of this in your mind as you made the film?
KEVIN CONNOR: Yes absolutely. This factor was well covered in the book since Jim Hardiman was married to a Japanese woman and had lived in the country and spoke the language. So this element was automatically in the script.
MUIR: This film involved at least one graphic sex scene. What do you recall about that?
KEVIN CONNOR: The interesting story about this is that the producers wanted a more graphic sex scene, which wasn’t in the script. So Edward Albert and Susan George agreed to do it on their terms which was that Susan would wear her panties because of an experience she had had on Straw Dogs where somebody at the lab had copied some of the revealing out-takes from her nude scenes – so she certainly wasn’t going to let that happen again. You can imagine how difficult it was to shoot a nude scene with both your leads wearing underwear, but it worked out very well.
MUIR: The theme of this film seems to be that we’re doomed to repeat the mistakes of our predecessors. That fate/destiny overrides free will. Was that idea on your mind?
KEVIN CONNOR: Yes, that idea was integral in the script and an accurate reading of the idea behind the film.
MUIR: It’s very interesting how the ghosts are depicted in this film. I’ve never seen another film do it exactly this way. With the spirits superimposed over the living, moving back and forth, into their bodies before our eyes. How did you settle on this technique? Do you think it worked well? Why was it important to show the ghosts in this fashion?
KEVIN CONNOR: Well in those days we didn’t have the intricate CGI systems. This was an old German technique called Shauftausen, but basically you shoot the scene with one camera through a right-angled mirror. The ghost actors are on a black velvet background so you can control the density of their image as you shoot, ie you fade them in and fade them out and line them up easily with the “live” actors. It worked very well, and of course you could see the composite dailies next day. Eventually we got this technique down to a fine art. It was important to show the ghosts in this fashion because basically it was an economical and effective process.
MUIR: There’s a great on-screen decapitation in this film. How difficult was this to shoot and how did you make it look so real?
KEVIN CONNOR: Yes it was very effective. The Japanese make-up people made a very good model of the mould taken from the actor’s head. It took a while to shoot since it was high speed, but it just worked.
MUIR: What are your thoughts on this film today? It doesn’t seem to have achieved the popularity of Motel Hell?
KEVIN CONNOR: It isn’t my favourite film. The producers re-cut it after my version and lost much of the relationships and making it a rather empty film.