PLEASE NOTE: This post contains many spoilers. If you haven’t seen this movie, please do not read any further. This is also the 1986 American movie not the 1986 British slasher horror movie Slaughter High also titled April Fool’s Day in some markets.
A movie like April Fool’s Day reminds me of the line from This is Spinal Tap where there’s a fine line between stupid and clever. By 1986, the slasher horror subgenre had been exhausted thanks to Halloween, Friday the 13th, Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine, Graduation Day, etc. All these movies were low-budget schlock starring actors who would only appear in one or two episodes of a popular TV show and maybe a small role in a more modest movie. Yet, this one, does something else.
The cast is actually impressive given their status at the time of filming. There’s Deborah Foreman, who was in Valley Girl stars as well as Thomas F. Wilson. Yes, fucking Biff Tannen is in this movie. Wilson had appeared in one of the biggest movies of 1985. There’s also Deborah Goodrich and Clayton Rohner, who had both appeared in the teen comedy Just One of the Guys also feature in the cast. Ken Olandt, who had become popular on the hit TV show Riptide and Griffin O’Neal (son of Ron and brother of Tatum) round out the cast. So, what’s a young group of familiar face actors doing in a schlock slasher?
Well, here’s the twist. And SPOILER ALERT!! read no further. This isn’t really a slasher. It’s more a black comedy. Not one character in this movie is killed, harmed or maimed. At this point, I need to remind people of what the title is.
This is basically Scream and The Game a good decade before those movies were made. It’s a movie that sets up the audience and the characters on the notion this is another run-on-the-mill horror movie. A group of college-age characters assemble to meet their friend, Muffy St. John (Foreman) at her mansion on an island. Muffy is the cousin of Skip (O’Neal) who along with Arch Cummings (Wilson) pull a prank with a switchblade en route by a ferry.
But when everyone thinks Arch accidentally stabbed Skip with the knife, he falls into the water. Ferry deckhand Buck (Mike Nomad) jumps in to help, but soon finds out Skip is faking. So, he decides to just tie the ferry off since they’re near the dock while he’s in the water. Unfortunately, the ferry smashes him up against the dock causing a gruesome accident that freaks everyone else. Buck is taken back to the mainland in a small motor boat screaming as the rest of the young people try to enjoy their Spring Break trip.
Muffy has set up a bunch of practical jokes and pranks that first start off fun and innocent before becoming more disturbing. One by one, people start disappearing. And then severed heads are found. Could it be revenge for what happened to Buck? Or is there something more sinister going on?
Chaz Vyshinski (Rohner) is discovered dead in what appears to be his genitalia cut off. And then, Rob Ferris (Olandt) and Kit Graham (Amy Steel of Friday the 13th Part 2 fame) discovered that Muffy has been decapitated as well. And the Muffy they have been interacting with is actually her mentally disturbed twin sister, Buffy.
But, and remember, major spoilers ahead!
After being chased and trying to hide, Rob and Kit discover this has all been a prank. Everyone including Buck were in on an elaborate prank. Muffy has invited everyone there as a “dry run” as she hopes to turn the island mansion into a “funhouse” for guests to a weekend of staged horror. All the special effects and gore have been accomplished by Muffy’s associates in Hollywood.
It’s at this point, the movie probably lost some fans who were expecting another gruesome slasher. But by 1986, it’s easier to assume the young people in this movie like the ones in the Scream movies live in a world where they’ve been watched slasher movies left and right. The movie itself, written by Danillo Bach (who co-wrote Beverly Hills Cop) seems to follow all of the tropes. Most of the characters seemed to be written one-dimensional intentionally as we won’t have much sympathy for their violent kills. At the same time, there’s the trope of the prank gone wrong which was the case in Prom Night and Terror Train as well as others that sets up an accident usually leading to the slaughter of certain characters.
But no one is really killed, even though the movie ends with the obligatory catch ya trick in which Muffy gets her just desserts when guest Nan Youngblood (Leah Pinsett) uses a trick razor and fake blood to act like she’s slit her throat.
While slasher movies were already being parodied in movies like Student Bodies and National Lampoon’s Class Reunion, this one takes it up a notch while actually presenting itself as a slasher then revealing it’s just a black comedy. And it is called April Fool’s Day for a reason. Some people credit the marketing that portrayed it as a slasher but then again, why wouldn’t they?
Movies are always being marketed different than what they are. The MCU does it all the time and no one complains. Made for only $5 million (which was actually a high budget at the time), it made $13 million and was a modest success. But as it was mentioned in the documentary Going to Pieces, some people many years later still view the movie as a cheat. But as my late writing professor once asked, “Do you earn the twist?”
I’d have to say this movie does earn it. I remember sitting in a theater during a Saturday matinee of The Game 25 years ago it’s finally revealed all the events that have been happening to Michael Douglas’ character were staged as part of an elaborate birthday gift by his brother played by Sean Penn. You watch that movie and you suspect a generic thriller plot because that’s what Hollywood studios have churned out.
By 1986, Hollywood studios and independent production companies were churning out these cheap slasher movies almost every weekend. And all critics talk about how there is no originality in Hollywood anymore. Yet when a movie decides to turn the aesthetics inside out, we get mad.
The ironic part of April Fool’s Day is that all the slasher movies are fake. We know it’s corn syrup and food coloring for blood. We know we’re watching the works of Tom Savini or Greg Nicotero when we see someone’s eye gouged out or arm chopped off. So, why are we mad when the same type of fakery happens to the characters in the movie? Maybe it’s because we’re the ones also being tricked and some people don’t like to be tricked.
So, for this April Fool’s Day, if you have access to Showtime or if this movie is in your personal collection, I suggest you watch it and have some good fun.
What do you think? Please comment.