June 3, 2009 marked the passing of 72-year-old actor David Carradine.
When a friend called me that day to tell me the news, I was a bit taken.
You see, to the cult film fan, Carradine was a hero. He was always taking chances on obscure films for the better of his career, much like his father. Regardless of the role he occupied however, Carradine was always cool and collected.
Quite simply, he was “the man.”
I am going to find it so hard watching his films now and realizing that his career is over. I honestly don’t think we need to know why he committed suicide because what is important is the over 200 credits he made to television and film.
So rather than harp on the mysterious and provocative way he passed, I think it’s better to remember what we loved about him, rather than what shocked us.
And boy, was there a lot to love.
It often seemed that the secret ingredient to a cult film was the addition of a Carradine. The Carradines were a hard working family of actors that seemingly took on all the roles they were offered. That work ethic often landed them in some bizarre and classic cult films. The patriarch of the family, John Carradine, had a career that ranged from “Stagecoach” to “Vampire Hookers.”
The younger Carradine however made his mark in some very important films of our times, with an early appearance as a drunk in Martin Scorsese’s breakthrough 1973 film, “Mean Streets.” The year before, he beat out Bruce Lee for the role of “Caine” on “Kung Fu,” which permanently etched his name in pop culture lore.
However, his greatest contribution to film was the 1976 bio picture, “Bound for Glory.” The then 40-year-old Carradine played folk legend Woody Guthrie. The film was director Hal Ashby’s (“Eight Million Ways to Die”) tour de force and it catapulted Carradine to the A-list for a brief period. After that film, he went to work for the legendary Ingmar Bergman in “The Serpent’s Egg.”
But I suppose people best remember his most recent success in 2005’s “Kill Bill.”
As a cult film fan, my top five favorites from Carradine. These five flicks will help you better appreciate his work.
1. “Q: The Winged Serpent,” directed by cult film legend, Larry Cohen. (writer of “Maniac Cop”)
It is the tale of a giant flying serpent that takes over Manhattan. What separates this film from other cult films are the strong performances. Michael Moriarty, (“Bang the Drum Slowly”) gives a brilliant method performance that seems out of place in this film, but makes for great fun. Carradine and Richard Roundtree (“Shaft”) turn in some good supporting performances as detectives. Of course the real star is Q himself, who is created from stop motion animation.
2. “Lone Wolf McQuade”
This tale finds Carradine going toe to toe with Chuck Norris in one pretty sweet action film. The martial arts are outstanding and the finale leaves you with a bang.
3. “The Warrior and the Sorceress”
This is a cheaply made Roger Corman rip off of “Yojimbo.” The variation with this film is that it is set in a mythic world. Carradine starts a major war between two feuding gangs. The flick is cheesy schlock that will appease fans of the genre.
4. “Sonny Boy”
One of the strangest films ever made. Carradine plays a woman– and what an ugly one. This is one real wacky movie and a testament to Carradine’s convictions as an actor.
5. “Roadside Prophets”
This was Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz’s first feature and is a road trip film, with a ton of cameos including Carradine and John Cusack. A fun ride.
We’ll miss you, Grasshopper.