April Fool’s Day
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Director: Fred Walton
Stars: Deborah Foreman, Griffin O’Neal, Amy Steel
A group of nine college students staying at a friend’s remote island mansion begin to fall victim to an unseen murderer over the April Fool’s day weekend.
Okay I realize that April Fool’s Day is still about 4 months away but I wasn’t actually talking about the date, I was talking about the movie. I’ve used a lot of words to describe various slasher movies I’ve seen. Some are “good”, some are “entertaining,” some are “total shit,” and some are Savage Weekend. Very rarely have I ever seen a slasher movie I can describe as rewarding.
A Talented Group of People
There were two things that immediately caught my interest during the opening credits of April Fool‘s Day. Frist there was “Produced by Frank Mancuso Jr.” You know what Frank Mancuso Jr. gave the world? Just about every single Friday the 13th film. He’s produced plenty of other great flicks as well (like Ronin). So from his name in the credits I already knew there would be something to enjoy in this rather obscure slasher film. The second thing to catch my interest was that the film is starring Amy Steel. She played the role of Ginny in Friday the 13th Part 2 – which has eventually become an iconic role for the whole series. She’s really had no major starring roles outside of these two films – which is a shame because she seems to be a very talented actress. Watch the 8 hour Friday the 13th documentary Crystal Lake Memories and you’ll see that she’s a great person. Also, the film is directed by Fred Walton who earlier directed the wonderful thriller When a Stranger Calls.
The rest of the cast in April Fool’s Day are not bad. They are more talented than your usual bunch of 80s slasher film actors which makes for a rather enjoyable movie. It makes me wonder why this film flopped upon its initial release. Well it did come out in 1986 which was the tail-end of the huge slasher-film craze in the 80s and this appeared to be yet another slasher movie based around a commemorative day or event. You already had Halloween, Friday the 13th, Prom Night, Graduation Day, My Bloody Valentine and now comes along April Fool’s Day. So despite the fact that there was a very talented group of people behind this film I can understand audiences’ hestation at “Oh Christ, not ANOTHER one of these.”
There are some of the usual slasher/horror tropes afoot in April Fool’s Day. There’s a lot of the same character types and a lot of scares are generated not from a murder itself but from the later discovery of a dead body or a goofy severed head. The greatest example would be when a character wanders into a dark room looking for someone and then a cat leaps out of the shadows causing a jump scare. That’s probably the most this film plays with it though. What makes April Fool’s Day much more memorable is the way that it subverts the tropes. My God, the subversions.
Let’s talk character types. From when the characters are introduced we have several possibilities for who our ‘Final Girl” is going to be – and the likeliest ones are killed off pretty early on. Every character drinks or has sex or does drugs or wanders off alone and none of these actions are a direct result of their death as is seen in so many slasher films. Then, of course, there is the ending of the film which subverts every possible trope – but I’m not going to spoil that.
A Familiar Story
What was the first slasher? I always consider it to be Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel And Then There Were None where a group of 10 people gather at a house on an island where they are systematically killed off one-by-one by an unknown killer. It’s been adapted as a movie several times, usually under the title Ten Little Indians. What really makes April Fool’s Day so unique is what it has in common with And Then There Were None – making it a film that feels much more like a well-crafted mystery instead of a horror film. Many critics complained about the film’s ending, calling it a cop-out even though the ending totally fits with the rest of the movie, is alluded to several times and is a fitting conclusion to a great mystery story.
April Fool’s Day takes place on an island as a group of people begin to get systematically murdered off. There is a mystery to solve here. On top of this, it’s April Fool’s Day, so there is a whole school of Red Herrings in this movie as the characters and the audience both don’t know what’s a prank, what’s a clue to the mystery or if a character has indeed been killed or not. Every character death happens off-screen, emphasizing the point that the story is carried by the death of a character rather than in other slasher films where the characters on-screen deaths are the focus of the whole film. April Fool’s Day has a lot more in common with a classical mystery-suspense story than it does with the slasher genre but, alas, it’s forever to be associated with the slasher genre.
A Cult Following
As I said before, this film bombed upon its initial release and recieved a lot of negative criticism from both posh critics and horror fans alike. Time has been good to April Fool’s Day though and it’s become something of a cult film. One reason for this success would be the boom in home-video and the fact that you could ALWAYS find this movie to rent somewhere. The other reason is because the film is so light on gore and sexual content. If April Fool’s Day where released, as is, to theaters today it would probably get a PG-13 rating. It’s because of how light it is on these things that April Fool’s Day appeared on television a lot more than any other slasher film of the time. With more exposure people began to see the movie as a lot more than just “yet another 80s slasher.” People have more recently started to see that this is a very unique film and one of the best “obscure gems” that the 80s had to offer.
There is a 2008 film called April Fool’s Day that has often mistakenly been called a remake of this 80s classic. It’s not a remake, not in the slightest. It’s a slasher movie that happens to be called April Fool’s Day but has nothing to do with the 1986 film. Avoid that 2008 movie like the plague because it is a total piece of crap.
I’ve seen a LOT of slasher movies and occasionally there is one that rises to the top and I say “Well that one was pretty good,” but then there are plenty of others that I can’t even remember watching because they were that bland. April Fool’s Day is different. Yes, it’s one of the few that rise to the top and make a clear impression – but April Fool’s Day is so much more. It’s not a “good slasher,” it’s a very rewarding film experience that deserves the recent exposure it’s gotten and needs to be watched again and appreciated.