Sometimes, you have the start the story in the middle to get the beginning right. That’s exactly what writer/director Jay Burleson did with his new franchise The Third Saturday in October. The opening film is actually the second in the franchise, following Part V which for storyline purposes frames Part 1 as a cult classic previously “lost” to history (read our Part V review). Now found, Part 1 does a complete 180 on tone and structure to deliver a retro film heavy on grimy 70s horror, and depending on your palette superior to its Part V companion.
Starting in October 1979, we’re introduced to survivors Ricky Dean Logan (Darius Willis) and Vickie Newton (K.J. Baker), who lost their children to killer Jakkariah Hardy and are on hand to watch his execution. When the electrocution goes awry and bestows Hardy with supernatural powers, Ricky and Vickie embark on a chase to stop Hardy’s renewed murder spree throughout the fictional Alabama town of Hackleburg.
Although the film’s synopsis cites Black Christmas and The Town That Dreaded Sundown as influences, there’s also a strong giallo vibe that gives the film a more serious tone than the quirky and overtly satirical Part V. Hardy treats some of his kills like art, mutilating and placing victims in grotesque death poses. Frenetic music changes accompany most of Hardy’s attacks, a staple of giallo filmmakers like Dario Argento. Hardy himself goes most of the film without his childish horror mask, displaying a bloodied, scarred face that’s missing an eye. Add even more impressive, Part 1’s reliance on natural light and smaller cameras perfectly recreates the “gritter” and grainy look that defines much of 70s cinema.
Another significant divergence from Part V are the characters. While the teens were prevalent in the predecessor, Part 1 focuses on the adults starting with our vengeful and grieving parent protagonists Ricky and Vickie. As a black man/white woman tandem, some of the obstacles they encounter are unique. Ricky treats the casual racism he faces as an annoyance, something he easily defuses using cultural commonalities like the town’s fixation on the college football rivalry between Alabama and Tennessee. Ricky also uses moments like this as a teachable moment for Vickie who’s completely new to these realities of black American life.
The other adults aren’t as sophisticated. A certain level of naiveté to flat out stupidity is required to make most horror situations work. In Part V, it came from the teens’ lack of life experience. Here, some of the adults can attribute their lack of common sense to an overabundant use of party drugs or sheer denial of the killer’s resurrection. While this isn’t a big detriment to the film’s pace, it does make it obvious who’s around for the long haul and who’ll serve as meat from Hardy’s bloodlust.
Outside of the grown folks, the teenaged Heather Hill (Allison Shrum) has potential to be the “Laurie Strode” of this series. Despite the Halloween influence, Heather isn’t forced to go at it alone against Hardy. Although you could argue that’s a misstep since it would add to the film’s tension, the door remains open for Heather to get more screen time in the presumed future sequels.
In just two films, The Third Saturday in October has achieved its goal of capturing the essence of two very different decades of horror. If the more crass and juvenile 80s humor of Part V doesn’t suit you, the irony and brooding atmosphere of Part 1 likely will. For now, we await Jakkariah Hardy’s next timeline setting.
The Third Saturday in October is available for streaming through August 21 at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival.