Posted August 7, 2012 by Paula Hammond - Features Editor in Features
 
 

Director Kevin Connor


Amicus – along with Hammer – is a name synonymous with cult cinema.

Amicus – along with Hammer – is a name synonymous
with cult cinema. The sort of films you settle down to watch on a wet Sunday
afternoon and are amazed to discover that they’re not only as good as you
remember: they’re even better.
Dr
Who And The Daleks,
The Monster Club, The House That
Dripped Blood, Tales From The Crypt
. Amicus’ back catalogue reads like a compendium
of classic films. The good news for fans is that, since the company was
reformed in 2005, new editions of many long out of print productions have
slowly started to appear. This month sees the re-release of four Amicus
favourites – Warlords Of Atlantis
(1978), At The Earth’s Core (1976), The Land That Time Forgot (1975)
and They Came From Beyond Space (1967). Filmjuice’s
Features and Interviews Editor, Paula Hammond caught up with the man
responsible three of these classics – Director
Kevin Connor
– to discuss his career and just what it takes to make an
Amicus movie.

Can
you tell us a little about what inspired you to become a director?

I lived near a
disused American Hospital in Hertfordshire and one night discovered that a film
crew had arrived and turned the place into Auschwitz. It was just magical and
awe inspiring and I knew then and there that I wanted to work in movies. (The film was Odette Churchill VC starring
Anna Neagle and the director was Herbert Wilcox.)
I left
school at 16 in 1953 and managed to get a job by writing to every Film Company
in the London Telephone Directory.
After many negative letters, I finally landed a position as a Trainee
Editor with a company called British Films Ltd in Soho. I wanted to go into the
camera department but, as it turned out, the editing experience was the best
route to go for directing.

What
do you think the key skills are for any successful director?

A strong bladder and stout shoes! But seriously –
the ability to think quickly on your feet and meet every crisis with as much
calmness and patience as possible – even though you’re head is whirring and that
dreaded sick feeling in your stomach is welling up.

What’s
your favourite Amicus film and why?

I think Land That Time Forgot. It was such fun to
make – my second film – and everyone so enjoyed being involved in it. It was a
very happy film. Also it shot at Shepperton Studios which was the first ‘real’
studio I worked in, so had nostalgic memories.

With
Amicus productions were you ever aware of a ‘house style’ – a certain feel/look
which made an Amicus film? If so, how did you try to achieve it?

Milton and Max [Amicus’
founders] 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 Derek Meddings [who went onto
work on Bond movies] SPFX and so on. I had choice of my own editor, John
Ireland and sound crew. 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
given the restricting budget and schedules. It
was just the best of times. The business has changed so much these days.

Doug
McClure and Peter Cushing were two of Amicus’ regular stars. What were they
like to work with?

They were both delightful and great fun to be
around and always up to all sorts of pranks. Peter Cushing was one of the great gentlemen of the
cinema. From Beyond
The Grave
(1974) was my
first directing assignment and Peter was very supportive and responded to my
direction and ideas without question. I did several films with him and he never
changed his love for everyone on the crew and fellow actors.
Doug
was a great asset. In fight scenes he was especially good due to his hours of
American TV action films. He knew exactly where the camera was at all times and
in fights threw punches precisely where the effect would work for the screen.
He was always co-operative and came up with many ideas. Great guys. I miss them both.

Films
like At The Earth’s Core rely quite heavily on special effects. What challenges
did that pose in a pre-CGI era?

The special effects were challenging but we had on
board one of the great up-and-coming SPFX guys in the business, Derek Meddings.
I was very involved with him on all aspects of the production and with his
already formidable experience in new ways of achieving shots for very little
money – I learnt so many tricks from him. We went for large dinosaur
hand-puppets, (designed and made by another great artist, Roger Dicken), which
created a more fluid look. Roger created such fine details and also had the
movements down so well that we stayed with that technique.
Also, we developed the use of a small VistaVision camera to shoot the
dinosaur back-ground plates which gave us great quality because the exposed
frame is twice the size of a normal 35mm.
Everything was shot front projection as well.

On
At the Earth’s Core we created life-sized beasts to interact better with the
actors – more one-on-one. We had a somewhat bigger budget thanks to the success
of The Land That Time Forgot. The beasts were specially designed so that small
stunt guys could work inside the suits in a crouched position and on all-fours.
Needless to say it was very cramped and the stunt guys had to take frequent
breathers. Some worked better than others – but we were experimenting and
trying something different. Some of the effects are a bit creaky, but given
the times and low budget I think in that context they stand up pretty well
today.

People
often say that Amicus films had very small budgets. Is this true and, if so,
what did that mean to you as a filmmaker?

Yes, the budgets were pretty low. But, as first
time director, you just have to tackle the problems, be smart and try to keep
within the costs allotted. Also, get the best technicians around and use their
knowledge! Having such
constricting budgets forces you to make and explore other ways of solving
problems. Usually for the best.

Looking
at your Amicus work today how well do you think it’s lasted the test of time?

Difficult to say – but I think there is a
nostalgia about that period of British films in that genre. A sort of innocence
to them. They were what they were and had no pretensions. The mid to late 70’s
was the end of it and the new technology was being ushered in in the form of Superman and the like.

Where
there any stories which you have loved to have brought to the screen during
your time with Amicus?

We were moving onto make the John Carter series but the rights were so expensive that we
couldn’t afford them for our sort of budgets. I had also tried to get Amicus
interested in Alfred Bester’s – The
Stars My Destination
and John
Christopher’s – The World in Winter
– all too expensive.

What
are you working on now?

I’m looking forward to
directing a feature called Crossmaglen
– a very fast and taut IRA thriller set during the early ‘80s in Ireland. We have a fantastic cast, Ben Kingsley, Vinnie Jones, Michael Gambon
and a first class crew lined up – but it’s been a difficult show to get off the
ground. I also have three 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. A more ‘commercial’ script that I’m getting underway to be shot in North Carolina
is Agnes And The Hitman. A ‘rom-com’ as they say here! And
another favorite project, Connemara Days.
A beautiful and funny script by Steve Mayhew which tells the story of
two children who were extras in Ford’s
The Quiet Man
. A delightful tale and a loving nod to an iconic film.

Warlords
Of Atlantis, They Came From Beyond Space, At The Earth’s Core and The Land That
Time Forgot are all now available to own on DVD from StudioCanal.


Paula Hammond - Features Editor

 
Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email: writerpaula@icloud.com