Terry McMahon (left) in the ‘dodgy’ Roger Corman thriller ‘Dangerous Curves’ (2000) starring David Carradine
When we were kids the greatest show on television was Kung Fu. Today there’d probably a queue of crazy caucasians wailing about cultural appropriation but for us at that time there was nobody cooler than David Carradine as pacifist-monk cum closet-killing-machine Caine.
Every week Cain – played by this mongrel mix of Irish-Brit-Dutch-Welsh and Christ-knows-what-else Carradine – would confront inner and outer demons to restore balance to a chaotic world.
We didn’t have video players, so when something screened there was no pausing or playback or recording for later. The world stopped and you watched. That show spoke to our soul in a way that no Catholic Bible ever did.
When we got a little older we fell in love with the movie, ‘Revenge of the Nerds (1984). We never knew that the brilliantly-realised lead character Lewis was played by none other than Robert Carradine.
Years later, in a bizarre deal brokered by then Minister for Arts and Culture Michael D.Higgins, legendary Yank producer Roger Corman set up a studio in the back arse of Connemara to make American B-movies.
Nobody quite knows the full story of how that happened but there’s definitely a feature-length documentary somewhere in there screaming to be made.
Corman controlled the movies by selecting the scripts, the central cast, and the director. The rest was up for grabs and actors who never got a foot in the door of the closed-shop that was Dublin were allowed audition.
That’s how I got cast as the bad guy pitted against the Carradine brothers in a dodgy straight-to-video Roger Corman movie.
I knew somebody had made a mistake in the Casting Department but I kept my mouth shut because it’s also how I would get to spend a month in the company of two icons that we had grown up adoring.
I was so nervous on the train journey I couldn’t sit. Walking up and down the moving carriages praying for a crash. I had just found out that the central cast were living in the same purpose-built house.
Two great cooks had been hired and we were going to be having dinner together every night. Me and the goddamn Carradines. I ran through the carriages to the tiny bathroom and puked up an already emptied stomach.
A car picked me up at the station and the driver tried to have a conversation but my childhood stammer had returned like a serial killer coming back to gloat over its prey. Fear was ripping my insides out and I regretted ever auditioning for this ridiculous movie.
As the driver pulled into the long driveway, the house was amazing. Built as an active-set to accommodate filming, the staircase was vast, the doors and the rooms were huge and the facades outside were designed for four different film genres. Roger Corman is renowned for his genius pragmatism.
The driver let me out and, as I nervously stepped inside, a beautiful blonde woman smiled the kind of smile that lights up the world. I was in love with her before she spoke a word. Two children came running in.
The girl was angelic and the boy was panting. This was Robert Carradine’s wife Edie, and their son and daughter, Ian and Marika. Before I could exhale, the boy grabbed my hand and dragged me to play with him. It’s as if he knew I was terrified and he decided to turn my fear it into magic.
Brought to Wardrobe and Hair and Make-up, the script may have been crap but the people trying to make it work were wonderful. At my request they shaved my head bald. My eyebrows too. Which was not the smartest move.
I went back to my room and began to shave the rest of my body. I was into the whole ‘method’ thing back then and I decided to go down the line. And down the ball sack. Just as I was about to finish turning my nether regions into a plucked turkey, I heard the door open and the sound of a woman’s voice.
Then I heard his voice. One of the most recognisable voices in movies. There I was with my nutsack in one hand, a razor in the other, and David Carradine had just walked into my room.
I slowly opened the bathroom door. My room was empty. But I heard him again. He was next door. The walls were so paper-thin he may as well have been whispering directly into my ear. I couldn’t believe my room was next to his. I couldn’t believe I could hear everything. I couldn’t believe the pain of shaving my scrotum.
David and his loving wife were looking to express their recently-married yearning for each other so I bolted out of the room to give them a little privacy.
As I ran downstairs, I nearly knocked someone over. He looked up with that gentle smile very few folks in the world possess and said, “You must be Terry.” Robert Carradine extended his hand and, from that moment on, all fear was gone.
From left: Marina Anderson Carradine, David Carradine, Bobby Carradine, Terry and Maxine Bahns
That night I was too excited to sleep so I snuck downstairs to the kitchen. A couple of minutes later, the sound of soft footsteps on the stairs. I thought it was the security guard to tell me to keep my starving fingers off the food.
Turned out it was David Carradine and he wasn’t one for sleeping much either. He tested me at first. Needed to figure out if I was indiscreet. He’d tentatively say, “Why am I telling you this?”
Then he’d stare at you. The way only he can. Caine in Kung Fu. But it wasn’t a real question. I’d stay silent. And he’d continue. Before repeating the same question. This became our nightly ritual for the rest of the shoot. We’d do that dance until 4 or 5 in the morning.
There are too many stories to be told. Plus, some are private. But these people brought me into their lives in a way that blew my mind, the same as they had done when I was a kid; particularly Bobby and his family.
After filming finished they came to visit my little family in our one-bedroom corporation flat on Dorset Street. It was bizarre to see a Hollywood star and his family strolling through the flats. And kind of beautiful.
We stayed in contact for years and Bobby and Edie even loaned me a baby Mercedes to drive my missus and young son from LA to San Francisco in the full knowledge that I had never really driven before and had no license.
David invited us to his house and I’ll never forget his words. He put his arms around me and said loud enough for everyone to hear, “There hasn’t been a day that has passed since, that I haven’t thought about you.” I had no reply. The hero of my childhood.
Time passed and we lost contact. People moved, phone numbers changed and life went on. When David died I thought of Bobby and Edie and their kids. I adored these people and was sad that we had lost contact.
David had become a huge star again with Kill Bill (2003) and Bobby was directing film and television. I had made a couple of tiny movies too and when one of them, Patrick’s Day (2014) was selected for the Woodstock Film Festival, we were flown over.
Woodstock was incredible and, as we were wrapping up an interview outside the sold-out cinema, I heard someone call my name. It was dark and there was a large queue but I knew I recognised that voice. From twenty-years ago. And then I saw her.
That beautiful blonde hair. That smile to light up the world. Edie Carradine. And standing beside her, that beautiful boy, Ian – now a man – and her iconic husband, Robert Carradine. They had read about the screening and, all these years later, they’d traveled half-way across the country to support me. I was so moved I nearly wept.
We went to a small bar after the screening. They were so proud of me. Like family. We raised a glass to the memory of David. The boy who had grabbed my hand that first day had grown up but he had lost none of his magnificent heart.
His mother had lost none of her beauty or her warmth. It was her who took the black-and-white photographs all those years ago. But Bobby had lost something precious. His brother. And it showed. The world hits the kindest people hardest.
They had to leave. A long journey ahead of them. They had come all this way. To rekindle something. With a nobody. We won the Grand Jury Prize in Woodstock that night with our tiny film in front of a huge crowd but all I remember is that quiet drink in that small bar with the Carradines.
Life is a gift. But it’s the people you meet that make it a miracle.
Terry McMahon is a filmmaker and can be found on Twitter @terrymcmahon69
Previously: Terry McMahon on Broadsheet