Directed by: Fred Walton
Written by: Danilo Bach
Starring: Jay Baker, Pat Barlow, Lloyd Berry, Deborah Foreman, Deborah Goodrich, Tom Heaton, Mike Nomad, Ken Olandt, Griffin O’Neal
Released: 1986 / Genre: Comedy-Horror / Country: USA / IMDB
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April Fool’s Day plays like a toned-down Friday The 13th, gaining its chauvinistic attributes from PG-13-styled sexual innuendo (you know the type where giddy high school girls read “what kind of orgasm does your man give you” from teen market magazines) whilst sticking itself together on the well-worn conventions of the slasher movie, constantly pulling the wool over its audience’s eyes with the shrewdness of George Pollock’s Ten Little Indians and the delightful fun of Robert Moore’s Murder By Death. In many respects, the film is just another entry in the long line of calendar celebrations, relocating itself to that time of the year we all play tricks on each other, yet April Fool’s Day has such a gleeful, carefree attitude that it’s very difficult not to like. Indeed, with all the component parts in place – the jock; the loner; the new guy; the beautiful blonde; the secluded location only accessible by a boat that won’t return for days; the big house with plenty of hiding places and the forest that surrounds it – it’s a haven for the kind of sadistic trash that made the eighties slasher so appealing. You know you’re in for a twisted treat when the party host Muffy St. John declares that her weekend is going to be “Better than nice, it’s going to be bloody unforgettable”.
The film begins with a group of friends, some of whom know each other, while others are meeting for the first time. They’re all going to Muffy’s Spring Break party at her parent’s secluded mansion, but they’re not quite prepared for what she has in store for them. Straight away strange events start occurring like the unfortunate accident that happens once they reach the island, and the macabre and weird things they find around the house. When one of their number disappears only to be found floating past a couple as they make out, the group suspect there may be a murderer stalking them. But who could it be and what’s their motive?
Director Fred Walton may have a limited C.V. but his debut When A Stranger Calls proved in its first twenty minutes that he had talent as a horror filmmaker. Its opening has to be one of the best, if not the best, of any horror picture ever made with its absolutely perfectly paced tension, superb set-up and terrifying conclusion. Many of these elements are thankfully present in April Fool’s Day but what sets them apart and makes this film far the better of the two, is its lighter tone. Whereas When A Stranger Calls was slow, bleak and downbeat – the very essence of raw terror – April Fool’s Day is quick, to the point and doesn’t take itself seriously. The humour is superbly used, and is at times exceptionally funny, allowing us to lower our guard and engage with the characters before they meet their untimely deaths. Yet instead of trying to bludgeon his audience with a bleak world that offers little optimism, Walton plays on the friends’ aspirations about life after college, their bonds and friendship, and their hunger to get laid. Here, we see the director using exploitative trash to its fullest – if a character is going to joke about having sex with everything in sight, then he’s going to die masturbating. It’s a wonderful conceit that Walton uses for laughs and for terror, making for a film that’s sadistically funny and frequently quite shocking.
Certainly the location plays a large part in April Fool’s Day’s effectiveness, especially the house itself which appears, much like Murder By Death, as if things might not be what they seem. A painting with the eyes cut out makes for a wonderful red-herring, the film constantly defying audience expectation which makes for some great suspense as well as a terrifically, sadistic final ten minutes. Perhaps its greatest attribute is its dark humour and Walton layers it on thick and fast, right down to the climatic twist which is both fulfilling and downright callous. It works though because Walton provides us with a set of characters to be manipulated, and it’s in the film’s voyeuristic sadism that makes it so guiltily enjoyable.
Review by Daniel Stephens