A dystopian future, where a car race across all country requires contestants to run down innocent pedestrians to gain points that are tallied based on each kills brutality…on-screen entertainment wise – how better can it get?
In 1975, the already famous B-movie filmmaker Roger Corman produced the film known as “Death Race 2000”, which fits into the description of the previous paragraph.
The film was destined to become a cult classic, which at the time was made for some $300,000.
David Carradine (1936-2009), who played the leading character “Frankenstein”, an experienced champion driver, was already somewhat famous at that time, previously appearing in TV-series “Kung-Fu”.
Although, Carradine himself said at that time that it was “Death Race 2000” that really started his career.
“I started that picture two weeks after I walked off the ‘Kung Fu’ set, and that was essentially my image, the ‘Kung Fu’ character, and a lot of people still believe I’m that guy. The idea was to do something right away that would create the image of a monster to get rid of the image of that little Chinese guy that I’d been playing for four years. And, you know, it did kick-start my movie career,” Carradine said.
The role of Frankenstein was originally offered to Peter Fonda, who considered the movie too ridiculous for words.
“Death Race” kickstarted Carradine’s long career in movies, and while he never really became an A-list star, it did not limit his appearances, most noticable of which were “Lone Wolf McWade” in 1983 with Chuck Norris and Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 “Kill Bill”.
Unlike Carradine, the young guy by the name of Sylvester Stallone wasn’t all that famous in 1975, having done just a few movies (with only one starring role in “Nowhere to Hide”), and he was looking for his big break.
The big break definitely came, as Stallone’s character of “Machine Gun Joe Vitterbo” not only had a cool name, but also years later “Death Race 2000” was re-discovered by many film fans, since Stallone’s popularity was growing non-stop.
In “Death Race 2000”, Stallone wrote some of his own dialogue, and also did most of his own driving, just like Carradine.
A long time assistant to Roger Corman at that time, Beverly Gray spoke to BZFilm and she shared her memories of how she first met one of the actors for “Death Race 2000”.
“I’ll never forget the day when Paul Bartel, longtime Corman story editor Frances Doel, and I were having lunch in a gloomy motel coffee shop down the street from New World’s offices. Out of the darkness loomed a large, grim figure dressed all in black. It was Sylvester Stallone, who had come to read for the role of Machine Gun Joe Vitterbo. He was an unknown at that point in his career, but he certainly made an impression,” Gray told BZFilm.
Interesting thing happened with film’s marketing, especially years after its release. On the original poster of the film, there’s only David Carradine present, while when the film was re-released later, the posters were changed, and it was now “Carradine-Stallone” or “Stallone-Carradine” film.
Below are some examples of different posters of “Death Race 2000”, that were released later (various VHS releases, DVD releases, releases in different countries, etc).
Actors appearing in “Death Race 2000” also worked together a few times, for example, Stallone appeared in Carradine’s “Cannonball!” film one year later in a bit part, and Martin Kove (Nero the Hero in Death Race 2000) starred with Stallone in “Rambo 2”.
“Death Race 2000” isn’t a great film by any stretch of imagination, yet its entertaining, it has a good cast, and it also spawned a remake (Death Race in 2008 with Jason Statham), and a prequel (Death Race 2 in 2010 with Luke Goss).
Who knows, maybe if David Carradine was still alive today, Stallone would offer him a role in one of his “Expendables” films?
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