March 28, 2015 This Week in Horror Movie History – April Fool’s Day (1986)
This week in Horror movie history, back on March 28, 1986, April Fool’s Day was released in the US by Paramount Pictures. This American mystery and dark comedy was directed by Fred Walton (When A Stranger Calls 1979, I Saw What You Did 1988) and produced by Frank Mancuso, Jr, (Species 1995, Ronin 1998). The screenplay was written by Danilo Bach (Beverly Hills Cop 1984, Escape Clause 1996) while the music was composed by Charles Bernstein (Cujo 1983, A Nightmare on Elm Street 1984) and the special effects were done by REEL FX Inc, (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter 1984, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master 1988). Filmed in British Columbia, April Fool’s Day stars Amy Steel (Friday the 13th Part 2 1981, Walk Like A Man 1987), Thomas F. Wilson (Back To the Future 1985, Action Jackson 1988), Jay Baker (Shag 1989, Naked Lies 1998), Deborah Foreman (Valley Girl 1983, Waxwork 1988), Ken Olandt (Summer School 1987, Leprechaun 1993), Griffin O’Neal (The Escape Artist 1982, The Wraith 1986), and Leah Pinsent (Virus 1996, The Industry TV series), while Clayton Rohner and Deborah Goodrich both starred in the genre-switching comedy, Just One Of the Guys (1985).
Often compared to Agatha Christie’s 1939 book And Then There Were None, April Fool’s Day starts off with a group of upper class kids taking a trip to a friend’s island for Spring Break. Mansion and island owner Muffy St. John (Foreman) has opened her parent’s vacation home to theatre-loving Nan (Pinsent), amorous Nikki (Goodrich), preppy Arch (Wilson), business major Harv (Baker), goofball Chaz (Rohner), her cousin, Skip (O’Neal), and couple Kit (Steel) and Rob (Olandt). As they pile onto the ferry that will take them to the island, Skip and Arch play a prank that looks like Skip has been stabbed in the stomach by a switchblade and then falls into the water. Deckhand Buck (Mike Nomad) is seriously injured when he jumps in to save the now guilt-ridden Skip, starting the weekend off somberly. This being the weekend before April Fool’s Day, though, they also find harmless pranks hidden by Muffy throughout the house, like breakaway chairs and exploding cigars. Each guest finds something a little more sinister in their own bedrooms – a tape of a baby crying, S&M leathers, heroin kits and a newspaper article titled “Six Die In Fog,” a shout out to Carpenter’s 1980 film, The Fog. Skip suddenly goes missing and panic sets in when Rob and Kit see his body float by under the boathouse. The guys think Buck the deckhand is getting revenge on them for causing his accident and try to call the absentee constable for help, since there is no way to get to the mainland until the ferry back comes on Monday. The guest numbers dwindle as both Arch and Nan disappear. Strangely, Muffy does not seem worried, and even asks if anyone would like a cup of tea. Harv and Nikki find the body of Nan and the severed heads of Arch and Skip in the well while hauling water for Muffy’s hot drink.
They finally reach the constable, and he exposits that Buck had been in the hospital all day, so there was no way he could be the killer. He also tells them not to trust Muffy and to wait for his arrival by boat. Chaz and his Boyd Crowder hair try to calm Nikki, who has decided to swim to the mainland, but when she returns to her room to get the rest of her stuff, she finds Chaz dead in her bed with his penis sliced off. She turns and is confronted by the killer. Kit and Rob find their dead bodies along with Harv’s, who has been hogtied and strung up in Muffy’s bedroom. It appears as if the constable has arrived, but when they reach his boat, they find him missing, along with a letter warning the local cops that the violent Ms. St. John, who had been in an insane asylum for the previous three years, has now escaped. This makes no sense, as Muffy had been in Vassar with them for that time. The letter does make them think back to how weird Muffy had been acting all weekend. The couple sneak back into the house and find two separate growth charts – one for Muffy and one for her twin, Buffy, the other Ms. St. John. They realize that they had been spending their weekend with Muffy’s insane twin, Buffy, and that Muffy was actually missing. A trail of blood leads them to the severed head of their hostess stuffed behind a painting in the basement. Upstairs, they are confronted by a knife wielding Buffy who chases Kit into the living room, where she finds all of her friends calmly waiting for her. They all yell, “April Fool’s!” The entire weekend is an April Fool’s Day joke, a dress rehearsal for Muffy’s idea to turn her island vacation home into a murder mystery bed and breakfast. She had used her friends as Guinea pigs to test out her idea. Things come to light – the ferryman and the constable were in on the staged event, Skip is actually Muffy’s twin brother, not her cousin, and Buck the deckhand is, in fact, a special effects and makeup guru who made the severed heads, dead bodies and bleeding wounds. The friends all celebrate Muffy’s success with champagne. That night, as Muffy is stumbling to her room, she finds a wrapped jack-in-the-box. As she tenses for the jack to spring out, the bookish Nan pops up behind her and slices her throat. Muffy screams, but then realizes she is not really bleeding. The knife is a stage prop and the blood is fake. This time, the joke is on her.
At the same time a thriller, spoof and comedy, April Fool’s Day turned the Horror movie idea on its collective ear, using stereotypical slasher tropes to lead the audience into what they thought would be a conventional ending, only to pull the rug out from under them by switching up not only the finale, but the film’s entire makeup. Not until the meta Horror Scream (1996) ten years later would another movie pull off such a spectacular, genre-wrenching twist. There are two alternate endings to the film. One has Skip going crazy and attempting to murder Muffy out of jealousy, getting himself killed by Rob in the process. This matches the finale in the movie novelization by Jeff Rovin. The other ending had Skip taking the place of Nan as the one to jokingly kill Muffy. AllMovie said, “Amid the glut of gory horror films that clogged the cable schedules and cineplexes in the wake of Halloween and Friday the 13th, April Fool’s Day stands out as a fairly restrained exercise in the ’80s teen-slasher genre,” adding that it “has more roller-coaster thrills than most slasher flicks with five times the gore.” With a budget of five million dollars, April Fool’s Day managed to pull in close to thirteen million dollars at the box office, even though critics at Rotten Tomatoes only give the film a 36% rotten rating. There have been three separate DVD releases – in 2002 as a standalone, in 2007 combined with Tales From the Darkside: The Movie (1990) and Graveyard Shift (1990), and in 2008 with My Bloody Valentine (1981), just in time for the Butcher Brothers straight-to-video remake starring Taylor Cole, Josh Henderson and Scout Taylor-Thompson that was released on March 25th. A one-of-a-kind movie with a jaw-dropping twist, April Fool’s Day is the perfect trick to play on even the most hardcore Horror fan.