One of my favorite things about the Halloween Horrors series, and something that I had especially hoped to showcase early in this year’s series, is the diversity in the topics chosen by various contributors. Each year, quite a few of us learn of new movies and, particularly in regards to this year’s theme, new characters from reading these entries, some of which may in turn become our new horror traditions. Such is the case with this next submission from debuting Halloween Horrors contributor, J.H. Rood.
While I’ve not had the pleasure of personally meeting Mr. Rood, I have had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with his growing body of work. Whether it be acting, writing, directing, stop-motion animation, or (presumably) interpretive dance, the man is seemingly an unstoppable force of creativity. J.H. is also a fellow contributor to Drive-In Asylum, so now you have even more reason to buy an issue or 6.
For his debut, J.H. has claimed the character “Deke Slade” from the little seen 1989 Troma release, Blades. That said, I expect quite a few viewings of the film after readings of this piece, as J.H. truly sells the film’s appeal.
Deke Slade. What a name! Who hears a name like that without being instantly intrigued? “You know, I’ve been seeing that Deke Slade around here again”, whispers a man at a meeting to discuss the recent wave of ghastly, gruesome mutilation murders at Tall Grass Country Club, where the film Blades takes place. “Deke Slade?! I thought they fired him from Tall Grass!”, whispers a woman, keeping her voice down so as not to interrupt the police chief. Tall Grass is on the verge of something huge: a televised golf tournament and the arrival of their new pro, washed up golfer Roy Kent.
Unfortunately, mere days before the start of the event and Kent’s arrival, mutilated corpses begin to turn up all over the green, “mostly of non-members”, as club president Norm Osgood is quick to point out. The viciousness and seeming randomness of the murders, not to mention how abruptly they began, has Osgood, Kent, Police Chief Charlie Kimmel and assistant pro Kelly Lange completely stymied. Who would do such a thing, and more importantly, why? All signs point to disgruntled former Tall Grass employee Slade, who along with his late father, was responsible for grounds keeping and machine maintenance at the club years ago.
Around the time the murders began, Slade was spotted loitering around the fairway, and the cause for alarm is understandable. Played by veteran actor Jeremy Whelan (The Beastmaster, Hot Splash), Deke is an imposing, menacing figure. Tall and muscular, with his shaved head and chiseled features that make him look as though he was carved from flesh-colored granite, he comes across as the kind of guy that could call Mike Tyson a bitch to his face and walk away unscathed.
As the bodies mount, Chief Kimmel, rather desperate and none too bright, deputizes every gun-toting whack-job in town to bring in the maniac responsible. The mob of goons quickly apprehends Slade near the 18th hole, and Kimmel and Osgood quickly proclaim the killing spree over, and that the tournament will go forward as planned. Kent and Lange, however, are less than convinced, particularly after sitting in on Deke’s interrogation. Kent in particular has a strong, nagging hunch that Slade’s explanation of a renegade lawnmower with a mind of its own and a penchant for slaughter may actually be the truth. If nothing else, Slade believes it, and he makes some interesting points: “I’ve seen machines do some pretty strange things” he says to the detective. “Man builds them, repairs them, maintains them, depends on them, but they ain’t perfect”.
It’s during this interrogation that we really begin to know the character of Deke Slade. He is a rugged, old-school, salt of the Earth type. At first, he comes off as a bit of a yokel, with his denim overalls and subtle southern drawl. But as he continues, we begin to sense a real wisdom to this character. As is often the case in horror films, the person seen as an unstable lunatic by the rest of the characters, save perhaps one or a small handful, is probably the only one with the moxie and guts to actually save the day. Roy Kent knows it, we can see it in his face. Kelly’s opinion of Slade seems to be changing as well. As the audience, we immediately begin to empathize with this guy. We are, after all, a horror audience. Living, murderous machinery? Yeah, we’ve seen it. We got your back, Slade!
Without going into too much detail, and being ever so careful to avoid any and all spoilers, with Slade in custody and the golf tournament in full swing (See what I did there? Swing? Nevermind.) the carnage continues, and it becomes obvious even to a dolt like Kimmel that not only is Deke Slade not responsible for the killings, but his seemingly psychotic ramblings about a loco lawnmower were right on the money.
Slade is immediately released from custody, and Kent and Lange waste no time tracking him down and pleading with him to help them destroy the mechanized menace. It is there, at Deke’s isolated junkyard and workshop that they load up his armored van with an impressive arsenal of weapons and explosives and go on a full on, do-or-die mower hunt. It is on said hunt that we learn the true origin of the killer machine, and it’s connection to Slade. The film almost takes on a “Jaws on land” feel, and Deke’s personal relationship with the mower is not unlike Captain Ahab and his arch nemesis, Moby Dick.
Deke Slade is a serious bad ass, and Jeremy Whelan’s portrayal is exceptional, particularly for a Troma release. He really tackles the role with intensity and professionalism. Anyone who knows me knows that I could give two shits about hoidy toidy awards, but I would call “Deke Slade” an Oscar-worthy performance.
So, if you have yet to experience all the over-the-top wonderfulness that is Blades, do yourself a solid and check it out. If you are familiar with the film, chances are you’re a middle-aged boob like myself that caught it on Cinemax around midnight sometime in the late 80’s, while eagerly awaiting an Andy Sidaris T & A extravaganza to start, with your finger quivering over the record button on the VCR. In either case, I can guarantee that it is the most fun you’ll ever have watching anything golf-related on television!
– J.H. Rood is a multi-talented writer and filmmaker. Along with partner Alex Lopez, J.H. has been behind multiple film projects, such as writing and directing the amazing S.F. Brownrigg tribute, Don’t…, the comedic cop-drama Honkey Thunder, and co-producing the new film Digby?, J.H. can also be found contributing to the genre’s “zine of zines”, Drive-In Asylum. His newest project is a horror anthology entitled The Abode of Mad Tales, due late 2017/early 2018.