Shock-O-Rama: Remembering David Carradine (

By:Chuck Francisco
Date: Saturday, June 02, 2012

Three years ago tomorrow (June 3rd), we lost a genre jumping, cult film luminary.  A star of stage and screen, he was a coworker of Hitchcock and Corman and Tarantino. Today I remember David Carradine in the most fitting way available: by delving into his abyssal trench deep filmography to bring you the most magnificent motion picture pearl. With two hundred and twenty-nine films and television shows to his name, it would be a herculean endeavor cataloging them all. And though he shuffled off the mortal coil in mid 2009, his acting productivity cannot be stymied; he continues to appear in films released posthumously (I'm betting on a steel cage match between him and holo Tupak). Have no fear dear reader; I'm not about to pen a love letter to Dinocroc vs. Supergator, the made for SyFy monster mash up of questionable worth. Instead, let me tell you how a ten year old boy became a lifelong David Carradine fan.
Our earliest televisions (all two of them) had two dial knobs on their wood paneled faces. They granted childhood Chuck access to NBC, CBS, ABC and PBS if you spun the top wheel, and access to FOX and two other stations (whose call letters are lost to the forgetfulness of age and time -channels 17 and 57 in the Philadelphia market) if you fiddled with the bottom one. Their magic was made possible via the amazingly high tech rabbit ears, which protruded from the set at whatever angles made the show snow less. I can't tell you exactly when, but before I was ten years old, my family got cable TV in order to watch the PRISM channel. I remember that we only subscribed so that my father could view Philadelphia Flyers games (PRISM was owned by Spectacor, the then owners of the Flyers). 
My father couldn't know it at the time but this was a critical junction point in my life. I was about to discover the wonders of uncensored broadcast networks. Cinemax would teach me about love, sans penetration (the Emmanuelle series) and hospitality (endless runnings of Troll 2); but it was USA Network's long running Up All Night series that would introduce me to many bad B-movies that I still love two decades on. And so it was, late one fall evening, I was tuned in and hanging out with Rhonda Shear well after dark and with popcorn at the ready; she introduced me to the dark comedy action flick: Deathrace 2000.


This Roger Corman produced, Paul Bartel directed film is typical of many of the movies made using the "Corman Method"; it was cheaply budgeted, quickly shot and featured more than one young talent who would go on to greater things after cutting their teeth with the maestro of independent cinema. Carradine heads the cast as Frankenstein, the Deathrace champion who is garbed from head to toe in black to hide his form, mangled many times over by crashes during the titular race. Joining him was a young Sylvester Stallone, who was less than a year away from critical and financial success with Rocky but also less than five years removed from The Party at Kitty and Stud's (later retitled Italian Stallion. Check out the trailer HERE, likely NSFW and you can't unsee this sort of thing). Sly plays rival racer and main heavy, Machine Gun Joe Viterbo, and was allowed to write some of his own lines; not that this is necessarily a good thing as his character utters some of the hammiest sentence fragments this side of Judge Dredd. But what would normally be a groan worthy gaffe in most films comes off as awesome in this dark comedy delight. 


As was the case with many of Corman's films, the bad ass cars portrayed on screen were really rebodied, wimpy Volkswagens. They didn't run half of the time and, at the conclusion of filming, they were sold to a car museum at a tidy profit (everything in a Corman film becomes part of the great wheel and deal of life). Sense of speed was fabricated by severe under cranking of the camera and it's interesting to know that many of the race scenes were filmed on public roads without permits (Corman don't need no stinking permits!).



The film adapts itself from the dark, dystopian short story The Racer by Ib Melchior, which is very much not comedic in tone or message. Both share the intercontinental road race of the film's title; both value the striking of pedestrians as much as crossing the finish line and both focus on the event as mere bread and circuses for an uncaring populace destined to be placated. The stylistic change was the choice of Corman himself, who didn't at all enjoy his original script treatment and asked Robert Thom to rewrite it with an almost Looney Toons dose of wacky. The end result follows the race time activities of  Frankenstein and his new navigator Anne. They fend off rival racers in addition to a revolutionary group who wish to replace Frank with a plant who will then assassinate the dictorial Mr.President. He runs the fascist "United Provinces" with and iron fist and has been using the Deathrace to entertain the people out of a revolutionary state of mind.


All of this zaniness explodes on screen before the eyes of a ten year old and in the process adds one more layer to what would congeal into my psycho slasher psychosis, monster movie mania, and cult cinema cravings. From here I would begin actively seeking out films by Roger Corman, New World Pictures and anything containing David Carradine. For that I'm forever grateful and though he's gone now, at least there's a massive filmography go back and enjoy.


In taking the role for Deathrace 2000, Carradine was hoping to shed the stereotype of Caine from the set of Kung-Fu and it partially worked. He carved a B-movie niche which he would continue to wear as a costume during the ensuing decades. Here are a few other suggestions if dark Sci-fi comedy isn't your specific flavor of Carradine: Circle of Iron, Deathsport, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (with Bruce Campbell!), and Kill Bill vol. 2.




Saturday Shock-O-Rama Streaming Suggestions


Want to watch something schlocky right now? Try on a few of these suggestions, available right now from the listed service (most of which are FREE!).

Netflix -  Deathrace 2000 Action/Sci-Fi/Comedy (1975)

Crackle -  Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla - Horror/Monster (1974)

YouTube - Bonnie's Kids - Exploitation (1973) - Night of the Living Dead - Horror/Zombie (1968)

And if you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking out Tuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).

Chuck Francisco is a columnist for Mania writing Saturday Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a horror co-host of two monthly film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA (home of 1958's 'The Blob'): First Friday Fright Nights and Colonial Cult Cinema.You can delve further into his love of all things weird and campy on his blog, The Midnight Cheese or hear him occasionally guesting on eminent podcast You've Got Geek.