One thing that's really great about selling obscure movies here at Trash Palace is that every now and then I get contacted by someone that's actually been involved with one of them who is trying to track down a particular film. Recently I got a phone call from Art Hansl who a lot of people reading this blog may have seen as the lead in Mansion of Madness (1973) from Mexican director Juan López Moctezuma. While not as overtly horrific as Moctezuma's modern horror classic Alucarda (1978), Mansion of Madness (released to US theaters under the slightly more exploitative title Dr. Tarr's Torture Dungeon) is an original and offbeat telling of Edgar Allan Poe's story "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether". In 1975 Art also went on to appear in another Moctezuma film Mary, Mary Bloody Mary. Art's adventures while working with Moctezuma on these 2 movies are just a small part of his new biography book "FLASHBACKS" out now from Robertson Publishing.
Art, seated on the right, shooting a scene from the bizarre Mansion of Madness.
"FLASHBACKS" is a very entertaining book and I admire Art's cards-on-the-table approach to writing. Tracing his life from a young lad in boarding school, to his adventures in the army and his antics in the entertainment industry, Art's writing pulls no punches. Of course the latter part of the book dealing with his film career was the most fascinating to me; after Art moved to Italy in the mid-sixties and began acting with small parts in extravagant toothpaste ads which lead to him landing the starring role in a low-budget (and seemingly lost) Italian spy film Missione apocalisse (1966) to working with Mexican directors René Cardona, Jr. and Juan López Moctezuma. Art's tales of low-budget film making (not to mention his womanizing shenanigans) make for one entertaining read. And I will admit that while I might not always agree with his political views it is refreshing to at least be able to appreciate someone who says it straight from the heart and doesn't dance around things politely -- and that's an understatement (and a compliment)! I will always admire someone who has the balls to discuss past foibles unashamedly, be it drunken frolics on the set of some movie or trying to hookup with some actress behind the scenes. And Art's self-decpricating approach to his acting career is often laugh-out-loud funny.
Art has also written several well received thriller novels all about murder and corruption centered around places he knows quite well like Mexico and Hollywood.
I asked Art these 5 questions:
1. Horrorwitz: We were talking on the phone about how Juan Lopez Moctezuma's Mansion of Madness has quite a big cult following and I noticed in your book you likened it's popularity to that of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Knowing that there's quite a few people that consider it a "good" movie and genuinely enjoy it as an Arthouse type of horror film, did it seem any different or better to you when you watched it again recently on DVD?
Art: I've got to be truthful here. I ran across some positive reviews on the Internet and thought maybe I was wrong in my pessimistic assessment of about forty years ago (all that laughter I endured after the picture came out!). So I sent for the DVD and damned if I didn't think it was worse than I did before. That doesn't mean I'm not grateful that some people liked it; I'm delighted to think I could be wrong. Juan was a good friend, as I've told you -- an intelligent, erudite guy -- and he seriously thought he'd made masterpiece, comparable to Fellini's work. I hope he's right and I'm wrong, but I'd really have to reach to buy that.
2. Horrorwitz: A lot of people reading this blog would find it fascinating that in the '60s you ended up in Italy, dating a model who acted in Fellini and Mario Bava movies, and you ended up starring in an Italian spy film and so on. Being in Italy at that particular time and doing all the things you did seems like such a special era. When all this was happening did it seem that way to you?
Art: The sixties were indeed still "Dolce Vita" days in Rome. Mary Arden's Mario Bava film Blood and Black Lace (1964), which she had just finished when I met her, was the first real "slasher" movie made and it remains a cult favorite. Rome was full of American actors making Sword and Sandal epics, Spaghetti westerns etc. They were all veterans of American films; I lucked in as a novice and learned on the job. My first starring part was in Mission Apocalypse (1966) a James Bond rip-off. We went to Switzerland, Yugoslavia, North Africa. I got mobbed in Zagreb, saw slaves trains near Marrakesh and we always had a large ration of lovelies working with and around us. So, yeah, it was an exciting time, a special era. I did a picture with Ursula Andress, Kirk Douglas and quite a few Italian stars. Sadly, we get jaded and tend to take things for granted. We all played hard, assuming it would never end. As I see it, I had Rome's best days -- and she had mine.
3. Horrorwitz: It seems that, over the years, you've met a few con-men, gangsters and mysterious sorts of fellows, and several of your novels have been about these types of men. Did any of these experiences have an effect on how you approached your first starring role playing a spy?
Art: I hung with some pretty heavy types in Mexico and occasionally in Italy, it's true. I'd have to say their influence showed more when I aged out of heroic parts and got to play heavies which, by the way, is a lot more fun. I was the main heavy in Taste of the Savage (1971), with Cameron Mitchell and Isela Vega, among other films. Maybe a sneer becomes me more than a smile. And yes, those guys and gals found their places in my novels. I've always been influenced by the James Cain school of writing. Most of my lead characters are less than noble, to put it mildly. Understandable? Hopefully. Clean-cut heroes? Never!
4. Horrorwitz: In 1975 you made another movie with director Juan López Moctezuma, Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary, where you got to work with the legendary John Carradine of whom you said some nice things about in your book. Have there been any other actors you've worked with who have also left a lasting impression on you?
Art: Well, Ursula Andress, who was a beauty, left an impression. On the first night of the shoot (on Anyone Can Play, 1968 --Brian H.), Brett Halsey and I were having dinner with her. However, her current guy, Jean Pierre Belmondo, flew in and arrived in time for dessert, putting an end to any relationship along the line I had in mind. Charlie Bronson was cool and professional, not a guy you got that close to, but he had enormous presence even under-playing. I played the heavy in Taste of the Savage with Cameron Mitchell, who tried to re-write the script, making him a pain in the butt. I changed my dialogue back because he was putting in language no one used in the nineteenth century West, so we didn't get along that well. Cristina Ferrare was starring in her first picture -- Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary -- directed by Juan, with myself and John Carradine in the cast. She photographed like a dream but really blew up and nearly quit when the honey wagon didn't show up on location and she had to go behind a bush. Guess she forgot she was in Mexico. These, of course, are just a few among many of the characters I worked with.
5. Horrorwitz: Are there any new projects you have coming out in the future?
Art: I finished a book called "LUCIFER'S SHADOW", a dark mystery in my favorite genre. Now comes the hard part, which is to sell it. However, my memoir "FLASHBACKS" is out in hard cover, as well as an edgy little thriller called "ALL FOR THE MONEY' (Both books just released and available through Barnes & Noble and Amazon). Or they can be ordered from most book stores even if they aren't on the shelves yet. They may give "SHADOW" a boost. "FLASHBACKS" has had a lot of coast to coast radio time and some T.V. exposure, so we'll see.
As of this blog posting Art is just now undergoing some knee surgery so I wish him all the best and a speedy recovery!!