The Third Saturday in October Parts 1 and 5 — Fantastic Fest 2022 Movie Review

So often in horror, people want to return to the past. Netflix’s Stranger Things reinvigorated the ’80s aesthetic. The new Halloween films hearken back to the 1970s look. Et cetera. This backward-looking adoration is all well and good. I can appreciate a good pastiche.

Jay Burleson’s The Third Saturday in October sets its backward-looking eyes on sleazy, regional horror of the late 1970s. It borrows its opening title narration from Texas Chainsaw and much of its plotting from Halloween. Positioned as a “lost” film, it comes off like the latest Vinegar Syndrome or AGFA release — a glossy remaster of a hazy, decidedly non-glossy 1979 low-budget slasher.

The emulation of the ’70s aesthetic is pretty handily nailed, from the floral pajamas to the wood-paneled walls to the excessive fog and southern-fried haze. And the film is exactly what it appears to be. It recreates the look of a crappy, low-budget horror film. True to that spirit, the film itself is, in a way, a crappy, low-budget horror film.

According to the title card of the film’s “sequel,” The Third Saturday in October: Part V, the “original” film was conceived as a “cheap cash-in” of Halloween. It feels like that, certainly. It is a suburban serial killer feature set in small town Alabama. And, aside from a few canny, era-appropriate shots, it isn’t much else than that. Of course, the franchise itself is an artifice, so there is the meta-textual element to it all, as well.

In a sense, the double feature of The Third Saturday in October films covers the promising beginnings and dull end of the 20th century slasher. Part V is situated in the mid-90s, right before the release of Scream and the onset of the Kevin Williamson school of reflexive teen screams that would ring in the new millennium. Recreating these two moments is an ambitious formal experiment. Burleson manufactures “forgotten” bookends to a generation of horror cinema. And he takes care to craft the films as if they were made in their respective decades. Part One employs simple and crude practical effects. Part Five amplifies the gore and kill count.

I am fascinated by the project of this double feature. Although, this fascination has more to do with means of production than with the films themselves. As these are faithful recreations of particular moments of cheap knockoff horror and opportunistic sequels, there is a clearly visible ceiling to which they can rise in terms of excitement.

On the other hand, Burleson’s efforts here shed a different light on the nostalgia tripping of other horror franchises. The new Halloween films, for example, while effective and gory in individual set pieces, take the reputation of its franchise seriously to a fault. The desire to re-create a feeling that the original film evoked is, in many respects, a fool’s errand. This is the case with any IP which are considered by some to be precious. Popular culture’s relationship with nostalgia might be the scariest thing that Burleson’s films put forward.

But if we take these films at face value, as horror films, they are only entertaining to a certain degree. The “first” film, in particular, drags constantly and is forever indebted to the most insufferable group of hippie stoners. The “fifth” film fares a bit better with its characters, who fit into neat archetypes (as is the case with many a 1990s horror movie). But this film, in true sequel fashion, adds more kills with less oomph.

While the experimentation with form is great, the films themselves are not wholly great in their own right. Perhaps they need not be to scratch an itch the horror fan didn’t know they had. But these are two full feature-length films worth of (intentionally) mediocre material. That might be too great a commitment for some.

At the same time, I’ve watched far inferior real horror sequels that The Third Saturday in October: Part V blow out of the water.

The Third Saturday in October, Parts One and Five: B

As always, thanks for reading!

—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)

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