[Popcorn Frights Review] 'The Third Saturday in October' is a Tribute to Low-Budget 80s Slashers that Slays
Move over, Michael. There’s a new killer coming for the Halloween maniac title. Well, sort of…
…Written/directed by Jay Burleson and having just played at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival, The Third Saturday in October is a new slasher franchise masquerading as a forgotten gem that pays loving tribute to the sub-genre with bloody success.
Claiming to be a long-lost film based on a true event, The Third Saturday in October opens in Mobile, Alabama on October 19th, 1979, minutes before Jack Harding (Antonio Woodruff) is to be electrocuted for vicious murders committed in 1968. Attending his execution are parents of some of the victims, Ricky (Darius Willis) and Vicki (K.J. Baker). But when Harding returns to life on his way to be buried, it’s up to the pair to stop him on the third Saturday of October, a day in which a group of unlucky teens has gathered to watch a college football rivalry game.
A horror comedy which plays on tropes from old-school slashers, The Third Saturday in October is not actually the first film made in this series. That honor belongs to The Third Saturday in October Part V, intended to be a love letter to lesser sequels of popular horror franchises. While Burleson recommends starting with Part V, I disagree (read my review here). For one—and I know this is the point—this “original” entry is much better.
Burleson nails the aesthetic of one of those early 80s, low budget slasher films that you might see someone like Vinegar Syndrome release. Shot with a gloriously grainy look and filled with foggy atmospherics—to the point that Vicki comments “I have never seen so much fog”—Burleson transports the audience back in time to the golden age of slashers, accompanied by a delicious synth score from Kelvin Wooten that perfectly sets the mood. A lot of throwbacks claim to be a homage to the era but fail to capture the right vibe. Not the case here. The Third Saturday in October actually delivers on its promise. If not for the dry humor which is clearly (lovingly) poking fun at the genre, it’s easy to imagine pulling up to watch Burleson’s film at the drive-in in 1980, munching popcorn and grinning at the absurdity of it all.
My god, is The Third Saturday in October ludicrous in all of the right ways.
In a traditional sense, Burleson demonstrates an understanding and admiration for everything from Halloween to The Town that Dreaded Sundown to The Burning. The blood of all of them can be found coursing through the veins of—and often spilling out of--The Third Saturday of October. We get Ricky screaming “die” over and over again while Harding gets zapped. Eyeballs explode. A girl scout gets her hair—and some scalp—ripped out. But along with the over-the-top gore we’re used to from these films is a strange sense of humor that takes this homage to another level of WTF.
Along the way we meet Heather (Allison Shrum), a waitress who decides to skip watching the big game with her daddy (Lew Temple) after she’s invited to hang out with John Paul (Casey Aud) and his friends at his Uncle Deeter’s (Richard Garner) house, an old man we’re first introduced to as he traipses through the living room in his underwear with his much younger girlfriend, Bobbi Jo (Libby Blake), to go for a good skinny dip. This is not your average cast of characters for a teen slasher. Instead, they’re exaggerations of the bizarre personalities that would often appear in low-budget slasher fare, perhaps best high-lighted by kooky Denver (Kate Edmonds), who spends most of her time coked up out of her mind and dancing the day away. Instead of screwing, these people take naps. The dialogue is, at best, awkward. And no matter what I say, you won’t understand the utter nonsense that is multiple scenes of characters meowing at each other until you see it for yourself.
All of this is of course intentional and meant to inspire the same feeling of confused joy some of us get when watching lost films of the bargain bin variety. Not all of the comedy works, but Burleson has a great time commenting on genre tropes such as characters repeating each other’s names in a way that no reasonable human being talks. Much of the hammered into the nose commentary is done through the delightful duo of Ricky and Vicki, who are sort of the Dr. Loomis and Marion to Carpenter’s Halloween. The question becomes whether or not this sort of not at all subtle humor is for you. It certainly isn’t for everyone.
As for the film’s killer, there’s a lot to love about Jack Harding. Sporting a pair of hedge-clippers and one brutally scarred face, he’s like a cross between a Lucio Fulci zombie and Michael Myers with a bit of Cropsy thrown in. Unlike modern slasher villains, Burleson goes back to basics, giving the audience no more backstory than Harding is a mysterious drifter. He doesn’t talk. He doesn’t run. But he’s really good at popping up in the darkness behind characters and enjoys a good, gory, sometimes hilarious kill just as much as the next psychopath. The Third Saturday in October never reaches the creep factor of the films it emulates—nor is it really trying to—but Woodruff does an excellent job in inspiring an unsettling fear nonetheless.
A direct spoof of lower-tier slashers of a bygone era, fans will either adore or roll their eyes at The Third Saturday in October. It depends on your taste for the absurd. Armed with a passion for the sort of low-quality, old-school genre films featuring bad acting, head-scratching dialogue and cheap yet entertaining gore, Burleson accomplishes exactly what he sets out to do, which is to make one weird, charming slasher movie.
By Matt Konopka