31 Screams in October, Vol. 2, #4: April Fool’s Day (1986)

Posted: October 4, 2015 in Movie Review
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

April Fool's Day (1986)

Director: Fred Walton

Starring: Jay Barker, Deborah Foreman, Deborah Goodrich, Ken Olandt, Griffin O’Neal, Leah Pinsent, Clayton Rohner, Amy Steel, Thomas F. Wilson

The only way that the slasher formula has been able to survive for as long as it has is by occasionally subverting the audience’s expectations. There’s only so many times you can do the Final Girl vs. Psycho Killer scenario before the audience goes numb to the action, believing that they can write the scripts themselves. How many holiday-themed horror films are out there, now? Even by the mid-1980’s, there were quite a few, most of them relatively indistinguishable from one another. Some people like it this way. It’s comforting. I understand that, but what I can’t understand is how anyone could have expected a movie called “April Fool’s Day” to behave like a traditional slasher movie. If there’s one thing that’s notable about the 1st day of April, it’s that you can’t believe anything you see or hear.

During Spring Break, eight college friends come together to vacation at a secluded island mansion owned by their mutual friend, Muffy St. John (Deborah Foreman). A dark cloud is cast upon the proceedings when an accident on the ferry ride to the mansion results in a graphic facial injury to the deckhand. When the friends arrive at the mansion, they find that every last corner of the place has been set up with various practical jokes. Some are having a harder time maintaining a sense of humor than others, but everyone is doing their best to put the recent tragedy out of their minds. Things once again take a serious turn, and suddenly no one is laughing anymore.

Skip (Griffin O’Neal) is the first to go missing. Kit (Amy Steel) manages only a brief glimpse of what she is convinced was Skip’s corpse. Arch (Thomas F. Wilson) is next, being hung upside down and nearly bitten by a large snake before someone sneaks up on him. He is soon followed by Nan (Leah Pinsent). The remains of all three are discovered when Nikki (Deborah Goodrich) falls in the well. Alerting the authorities does the group no good; there’s no passage off the island until the weekend is over. Up until now, the thought has been that the incident with the deckhand is what has sparked their troubles. But those who remain begin to notice some rather disturbing behavorial changes in Muffy. Soon, only Kit and Rob (Ken Olandt) are left to try and figure out what’s going on. A trail of clues presents itself, and Kit and Rob follow them like bread crumbs. They learn of Muffy’s insane, violent twin sister Buffy, who has escaped from a mental hospital. Not long after, they come across the severed head of Muffy, thus revealing that the “Muffy” who has been their hostess for the weekend has been Buffy all along. Buffy then shows up with a knife and begins chasing after Kit.

Although the body count in this movie has been high, all of the deaths have taken place off-screen. There’s good reason for that. Just when things are beginning to look dire for Kit, she opens a door to reveal… all of her friends alive and well?! Each of their disappearances, it turns out, coincided with their being let in on the gag. Even the deckhand, completely unharmed, had his role to play. The story about the crazy twin? Well, Muffy explains, that’s only a half-truth. She does have a “crazy” twin, her brother Skip (whom everyone had been led to believe was her cousin). What had been taking place was this: Muffy hopes to turn the mansion into an attraction where people can come and participate in a staged murder mystery. But Muffy needed to be sure it could work, and so planned a dress rehearsal. What better test subjects than her best friends? Kit is understandably furious, as the others no doubt were at first, but eventually she comes around and everyone celebrates a gag well played. There’s an extra ending where it looks like Muffy is being legitimately murdered by Nan, but it’s just another prank. Fool me once…

What initially drew my attention to “April Fool’s Day” was the casting of both Amy Steel (“Friday the 13th Part 2”) and Thomas F. Wilson (“Back to the Future” trilogy). However, what really cinches it is that twist ending, showing that this slasher film is not really a slasher film after all. That wins extra points for this quaint little movie, which might have been forgettable otherwise. Whether you’ll have a good time watching it may largely depend on if the unconventional conclusion bothers you, as it has done for some. It shouldn’t. At just under ninety minutes, “April Fool’s Day” has a brief story to tell and doesn’t get bogged down with boring subplots like some other titles in the genre. If you’re a bit squeamish, don’t worry, as what little blood there is in this movie is fake even within the context of the story. As for its re-watch value, well, I’ve seen it twice now and actually had more fun with it the second time, armed with the knowledge of just what the heck is going on. I don’t generally care for practical jokes, myself, but this movie is one “April Fool’s” prank that I can get behind.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    I personally wouldn’t want to be pranked like this for any reason ever, but I do think the plot of this movie sounds very clever!

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