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An inventive and entertaining love letter to the slasher heyday, “The Third Saturday in October” is a double feature made for popcorn and PJs.

So, what if you could see two restored films from a ‘lost’ franchise made during the peak of the slasher subgenre? What if I also told you that you needed to watch them out of order as an homage to the days when VHS was king?

This might be lost on many of you younger horror fans. But there was a time when we didn’t have movies on demand and the push of a button. We had to go to the local video store, one of the most popular places on earth, and hunt for our prey. Because demand was so high, we couldn’t always get the exact film we wanted. And it certainly wasn’t easy to get two or more films in a series at the same time.

Thus, it was not uncommon to watch a horror sequel before the original. That’s the conceit of The Third Saturday in October, Part V and I, a double feature of terror from writer-director Jay Burleson meant to be watched in reverse order.

The films follow unstoppable killer Jakkariah Harding as he stalks and butchers the football-loving residents of a small Alabama town (Part V) and escapes death row to embark on a slaughtering spree (Part I).

In the cleverly crafted backstory for the films, we learn these are two recently unearthed films from a series started in 1979 as a quick cash-in on John Carpenter’s Halloween. The idea was to move the setting to the South and center it around football, a Southern obsession, instead of a holiday. Though the original failed to find footing, multiple low-rent sequels were released throughout the 80s. After an unrelated spin-off in 1990 to try to resurrect the franchise, the series returned to its roots with a comedic approach in 1994.

Unfortunately, the films slowly vanished off the face of the earth after a series of unfortunate events, including internal feuding, bankruptcy, a warehouse fire, and cheap VHS manufacturing leading to unplayable tapes.

Decades later, all that remains is the original offering from 1979 and the 1994 sequel (Part V in the franchise), now available for modern audiences to discover in all their restored glory.

I have to say, this concept excited me more than it should, and I was seduced by the chance to return to a time when we all watched films as they were available in our local rental store.

Franchise makers understood how people watched their films, and they made sure to include flashbacks to previous films, allowing them to fill in the blanks for viewers and, conveniently, pad the run time.

So, as per explicit instructions from the filmmaker, I pushed play on Part V.

True to fashion at the time, we begin with some backstory about what we may have missed with Parts 1-4. The last attack took place in 1987. Our murderous madman, Jack, is now (as you’d be wise to expect) something more than just a slasher. He has become something supernatural following a botched execution.

The flashbacks are presented in that great quick-cut style that helps whet our appetite for what’s to come.

The attacks only take place on the Third Saturday in October, which coincides with one of the greatest footballing rivalries in Alabama between two neighboring colleges.

In terms of approach, this sits as a sort of cousin to Jason Lives in the way that it moves rapidly and draws your sympathies more in line with the villain.

What follows is a standard story about an unstoppable force of nature, a collection of disposable characters, numerous moments of gore, and the final girl that was typical of these films.

The “why” regarding Jack’s motivations and actions is irrelevant. All we need is an excuse to put characters in a situation to be killed in a variety of fun ways, following heavily in the footsteps of the later Friday the 13th films.

What Burleson does, quite effectively, is amplify the best of those films so that the whole thing runs with an underlying sense of fun and doesn’t take itself seriously. We also get some great nods to  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (no spoilers here), and the most obnoxious character gets a satisfying taste of his own medicine before things really go south.

There’s no skimping on the gore, which is mostly practical and a welcome sight.

The final scenes are great and involve a lot of knives, with the whole thing ending just how you expect it to.

Part V zips along at a nice pace, keeps you fully invested, and delivers an impressive creation in Jack Harding — impeccably dressed with a great laugh.

(Intermission – grab a drink and a snack.)

From the outset, Part 1 does a fantastic job invoking the spirit and feel of the late ’70s and early ’80s horror films.

Everything works, from the autumnal hues to the nostalgic type treatment used to the soundtrack, which hits like the main refrain from Phantasm.

Quite different in tone from Part V, Part 1 introduces us to Jack Harding, a convicted serial killer who has been sentenced to death. In the viewing gallery for the execution are two surviving relatives of his murder spree, there to witness his departure from this mortal coil and end their nightmare. Of course, it’s a horror film, and this nightmare is only just beginning.

The filmmakers hit the ground running here, as the execution is presented in eye-popping detail.

What follows is a film very much in line with Halloween as Jack moves among the streets, wreaking terror from house to house, with no one safe from his rampage. In so much that Part V is a homage to the latter-day slashers, this one is praying at the altar of Michael Myers and the birth of the slasher phenomenon.

Like Part V, we get more of the same, generally unlikable characters who have been set up purely for the kill. Where this one differs, however, is the approach to the set pieces. These are more measured to wring out as much tension as possible.

Once it really gets going, it delivers some nasty kills as our surrogate Loomis characters follow Jack to put him down for good.

This is a colossal love letter to the genre.

Everything feels familiar, in the best way — from the framing to the obnoxious teen characters to the colors and the fashion. We also get some long periods without action that segue into moments of brief but intense gore, very reminiscent of Halloween and Friday the 13th.

Part of the fun here is getting on board with watching these films out of order and embracing the spirit in which this ingenious combo was intended to be enjoyed.

These aren’t films made as satire, meant to lampoon the tired tropes of the slasher heyday. Instead, they were made as loving tributes to a subgenre we can’t help but love.

For many of us, slashers are the movies that made us, and VHS stores are the places that shaped us. The Third Saturday in October, Part V and I honor that legacy in the most perfect way.

It’s a must-watch double feature for anyone who remembers the thrill of shopping for movies based on some killer cover art, then rushing home to pop up some popcorn and pop in the latest horror treat into the VCR. As for everyone else? There’s plenty to love for you, too.

Just don’t forget to watch Part V first!

The Third Saturday in October, Part V and I  are coming to digital + VOD on May 5th. 

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