Reviewed by Blake Kenny
More than any other decade, the 80ís were the original stomping grounds for the teen slasher movie. While films like Scream and I Know What you did Last Summer tried (and succeeded) to capitalize of the success of the 80ís horror films with their big budgets and star power, these modern days thrillers just never worked for me. I just couldnít take them seriously. Somehow a spooky ghost man and a killer fisherman, wearing a raincoat and wielding an iron hook were just silly to me. Who knows, maybe characters like Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th, Michael Myers from Halloween, and Freddy Krueger from a Nightmare on Elm Street worked better for me because these were the serial killers of my generation. These were the crazies that I grew up with.
Iím sure todayís teens are just as fond of their carbon copy psychos as I am of my guys. While Scream is sure to earn itself a place in film history, simply based on its success at the box office, Mike, Jason and Freddy have earned themselves a place in our popular culture - simply because the studios were never willing to let the characters die. (Hell, I think the only re-occurring character with more films under his belt than these guys would have to be James Bond.) Their films were a shinning example of quantity over quality, with each series spewing forth at least a half dozen smelly sequels. While no one will argue that most of their movies stunk to high heaven, itís also hard to argue with their popularity. Regardless of the artistic genius, or lack thereof - involved in the production of these films, fans still turned out in droved to see them again and again. Even armed with the fact that every new release seemed to be worse than the last.
For many itís just hard to fight off the desire to go see Michael Myers hack down another batch of unsuspecting teenagers. After all, the original Halloween is considered by many to be one of the best horror films ever made - and also one of the best of John Carpenterís career as a director. Perhaps weíre all just hoping to see a resurgence of popularity and a return to the evil roots from whence these great characters spawned. But somehow I doubt theyíll ever be that good again. After all, in their latest adventures (yet to be released of DVD) we have Michael Myers killing people in a house linked up to the Internet with web cams, and in the new Friday the 13th film, Jason is wasting teenagers of the distant future aboard a space station. I donít know for sure, but it sounds to me like ideas are running a little thin. Who knows, maybe Freddy Vs Jason will be a little more successful, but somehow I doubt it. All I know is my moneyís on Jason.
Along with these popular movies, a myriad of other slasher films were made in the 80ís. Most didnít generate enough attention to move on to a follow up, and some, like April Foolís Day, were the kind of slasher film that was better left, untainted by a sequel. Sometimes itís best to leave well enough alone - and thankfully in this case, they did. While the film isnít exactly Oscar worthy, it did present a reasonably new experience for horror fans. It was loaded with plot twists, and somehow managed to keep the viewer guessing - right up until the end. Sure, the surprise ending is a fairly typical thing to see in films these days - but back then it was definitely something new. I suppose when I think back about it now, the ending is what I remember best about this film.
I first saw April Foolís Day during its original theatrical run when I was about 14 year old. I remember walking out of the movie theatre thoroughly happy with what I had just seen and thinking how I spent the entire film thinking one thing, only to find out that I never had a clue. It was great! I remember I saw the film with my sister, after all, sheís several years older than me and I needed her to get me into the theatre since the movie was rated ďRĒ and I was underage. After talking to her recently I discovered that she also remembers the film rather fondly. Needless to say itís stuck with me over the years and Iím thrilled to be adding it to my collection. So did the studio do the DVD release of this film justice? Read on and weíll examine it.
April Foolís Day stars Deborah Foreman as Muffy St. John, a young women whoís about to celebrate her 21 birthday and hopefully inherit her motherís secluded mansion. Spring break is looming and Muffy has decided to invite several of her good friends from college to the house for the weekend.
Naturally the crowd of friends contains every sort of stereotypical person you could expect to see in a film of this sort. Every type of character is represented. You have your ordinary, yet attractive girl next door. Your physically fit and handsome hunky male. The slutty, sex on the first date sort of girl, the big tough beefcake, the sheltered and nerdy bookworm and of course the arrogant intellectual who seems to worship money above all else. Needless to say, itís the same group of character youíve seen in a million other movies like this - and you pretty much know from the onset of the film which ones are gonna get wasted and which ones might actually survive. Itís all straight out of the standard, cookie cutter, horror movie rule book.
For the most part the cast is made up of relatively unknown actors; and while most of stars have gone on to work in additional films, none of them are particularly noteworthy. In fact, the two most recognizable cast members in April Foolís Day are Thomas F. Wilson - who starred as Biff in Back to the Future series and Amy Steel who made appearances in several Friday the 13th films, in particular - Friday the 13th Part 2 - the first to feature Jason as the killer. Still, even though the cast is made up of unknowns, the acting is surprisingly above par. Youíd expect to see a lot of horrible line delivery and such, but to my surprise the acting is fairly strong across the board - at least strong as far as low budget films are concerned.
The movie begins with our colourful group of characters getting to know one other on the short ferry ride over to Muffyís isolated island. As they head across the water a seemingly innocent April Foolís Day prank involving a switch blade take a tragic turn when one of the ferry workers jumps overboard to save what he believes to be the victim of an accidental stabbing. Naturally itís all revealed to be an elaborate hoax, yet the damage has been done. The ferry worker, choosing to stay in the water since they are so close to shore is horribly disfigured when his head is crushed between the ferry and the docking bay. The injured man, bloody and screaming in agony is quickly taken from the ferry, loaded aboard the sheriffís speedboat (who just happened to be in the area) and rushed to shore for immediate medical care. All the while the injured man shouting outÖ
ďThey did it! They did it!Ē
Once they reach the island our sombre house guests hop off the ferry and drive the remaining distance to Muffyís home. Naturally theyíre all a little quiet, trying to shake the images of the ferry tragedy from their minds. Skip (Griffin OíNeal) in particular has a rather difficult time dealing with the situation, since it was his silly prank that invariably led to the injury of the ferry worker. His regret is evident as he spends most of the evening drowning his quilt with alcohol and replying the accident over and over again in his thoughts.
As the day rolls on the group of friends does their best to forget about what happened and enjoy the rest of their evening. They all gather together for an enjoyable dinner and some friendly conversation - although Skip has elected not to join them. As you might expect, practical jokes run rampant thought much of the night, as Muffy, their hostess, has set up amusing little jokes all over the house. Everything from dribble glasses to collapsing chair, exploding cigars and doorknobs that come off when you try to leave the room. However, no one's laughing the next morning when they discover that their friend Skip has turned up missing. One couple, Kit (Amy Steel) and Rob (Ken Olandt), swear they saw Skips body floating in the water under the Boathouse, and theyíre positive that he looked dead, although theyíre admittedly unsure if he was just kidding around.
As the film progresses, each of the house guest is slowly picked off one by one. Suspicions run high and the survivors suspect that perhaps the injured ferry worker has come back to exact some sort of revenge over their practical joke. However all is not what it seems, as contact with the sheriff reveals that the injured man always has been and still is - in the hospital. Slowly clues begin to unfold and reveal the truth. The truth that there many be another, even deadlier threat on the island. Could there be a crazed lunatic in there midst? Will any of these April Foolís survive? Or is the killer going to be the one to have the last laugh? Only time, and the films surprise finale can say for sure. So with the basic plot laid out, thatís all Iím going to say, youíll just have to check this film out to see how things end up for yourself.
As it stands, April Foolís Day is still one of the best horror films to come out of the 80ís. However, for an 80ís slasher itís a little light in the gore department, choosing to rely more on suspense, paranoia and itís fantastic ending to make itís impact on viewer. Solid acting, a unique storyline and just plain Ďfuní has kept this film in my mind for years - and after nearly a decade since the last time I saw it, it still holds up quite well.