The Genesis of the Slasher Circa MCMLXXIV and ‘The Third Saturday in October Part V’
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The Third Saturday in October Part V, dir. Jay Burleson
In 1974 Bob Clark directed what many would consider to be the first slasher proper. We could get into the proto slasher/giallo markers and who did what first but that wouldn’t be fair for this review since this film has nothing to do with that part of slasher history. But we’ve kind of made our own sequels to Black Christmas by paying homage to it so much, or stealing from it to make our own horror slashers to wrap around a different aesthetic. We can view Halloween as one of these in some regard, its numerous sequels notoriously picking and choosing what parts of the original 1978 story to build on. The franchise also serves as a springboard of ideas in The Third Saturday in October Part V, using some of the more ridiculous plot points from past slashers but balancing that with its serious murder/mystery and sometimes giallo roots, just with a hell of a lot more blood and gore.
Its place comes as a colorful footnote 31 years after the heyday (or hey-year) of the horror subgenre, a mix of what we’ve enjoyed and not enjoyed about franchises specifically wrapped in a neat package. Yet it’s all still in good fun, like how we’d all embrace the bizarre way Crispin Glover dances in the fourth part of Friday the 13th (its subtitle “The Final Chapter” is still a joke amongst those familiar for those who care to make it), or Michael Myers’ inconsistent Party City-quality masks over the course of the Halloween franchise.
The thing about long-running slasher series is there’s always bound to be some weird decisions made, whether they take the shape of uneven performances, retconning details, introducing supernatural powers, or confounding plot threads. There’s more and the list could go on but let’s instead pay attention to this year’s latest self-aware slasher killer offering: the celebration of everything good and bad surrounding slasher franchises, The Third Saturday in October Part V.
Director Jay Burleson has made two Saturday in October films, the above-mentioned Part V and the original in the series. The wide gap between sequels aims to replicate that feeling from the video store days where you’d look for a specific title but it seems to either always be rented out or that store simply didn’t have it (the clerks probably didn’t care enough to pay attention either, so you’d get no help there). This was the only way you could see it unless you were willing to shell out $49.95, usually through a catalog if you had one. Burleson’s intention is for viewers to start with Part V as if the first part was what you were looking for but settled on a late sequel just to get to see a Last Saturday in October movie. It took me a little researching to figure out which one to see first. So, onto the movie itself.
The notorious killer Jakkariah “Jack” Harding has risen from the grave after 7 years of peace, killing & maiming all those he comes across. Everyone in town is gearing up for the big college game between two long-standing rivals, the Alabama-Mobile Seahawks and the Tennessee A&M Commonwealth. Harding makes his way around the outskirts of town wearing his iconic cheap drugstore ghoul/skeleton mask, using anything and everything he gets his hands on as instruments of death. In the world of TLSIO, this fifth installment came out in 1995 and is practically geared towards the slasher fans who have a soft spot for some of the tired late sequels of other horror franchises. The empty scenery of the country will bring Halloweens 4 and 5 to mind, as well as inspiration from Friday the 13th Part VI, wherein an undead Jason Voorhees preys on his usual victims. Burleson uses his homages and references well in this pseudo-horror sequel while making it new and fresh, creating a slasher legend by stealing from others creatively — something other slashers did well, and others not.
Doubling back to the nature of the movie, it could be seen as pseudo slasher, but that’s a little reductive. Yes, the movie is aware it’s being tongue-in-cheek at the very least but it still takes its trajectory relatively seriously once you notice the plot elements kick into gear. The characters feel both archetypal in a throwback way but also real enough for you to get invested in their survival or demise. It’s gentler in its depictions when compared to something like Troma’s output but it has a mean approach to the kills, lovingly crafted by Marcus Koch & Jesse Seitz with excellent practical effects. One sequence in particular involving garden shears and feet is determined to make you squirm, and exceeds in that fashion.
But in true 1995 style, the brutal kills and bloodshed are split evenly between teen drama that may or may not do something for you, but does introduce a more human element to the idea of the slasher franchises Burleson wants to both celebrate and create from scratch. And that’s what so many slashers did in their heyday: participating in the tropes of the genre it payed homage to those who came before. Each newly devised kill is a riff on a theme, and each outlandish resurrection of the killer or passing down of the mask is a mark of respect for that which represents punishment through a revenant spirit — alive or dead.
Due to my own misfortune I’m still waiting for the tape of the first Last Saturday in October to become available at my video rental store. I’m told that the last person who checked it out hasn’t been seen or heard from in some time.