I prefer my horror movies like I prefer my pop music: vintage, specifically from the 70s and 80s. Long before trends like torture-porn and found-footage became the norm, horror films were actually… fun. The formula was simple: you had a killer, a bunch of teenage stereotypes, creepy music, and lots of bright red corn syrup.
Slasher movies, as the subgenre became known , were often holiday-themed. On a recent On Demand Free Movie treasure hunt, I came across one such title: 1986’s April Fool’s Day. It already sounded like a fun way to kill (get it? get it?) an hour or so, and then I saw that it starred Biff from Back to the Future and Julie from Valley Girl, among other recognizable actors from 80’s movies (Just One of the Guys!), um, HELL YEAH! So I settled in anticipating an enjoyable, corny bloodfest.
To my surprise, I got something entirely different.
“What’s that?” ” I think it’s a legitimately good movie.”
A group of college students are invited for a fun weekend at their friend Muffy St. John’s beautiful mansion located on a remote island. It’s April Fool’s Day so the gang have fun playing harmless gags on each other. Soon though, it becomes apparent that someone is playing a far more dangerous game as bodies begin to add up.
Probably the most appropriate photo I’ve ever put under “A Toast.”
Normally in these kind of movies the cast is (literally) disposable except for the main girl (usually a virgin) and maybe her boyfriend. In this case, a good amount of time is spent on each character which makes them a lot more fleshed-out than the typical caricatures in similar films. The writing is actually very smart and there are some hilariously quotable lines. The characters have conversations that sound like real conversations. In fact, during the first twenty minutes I almost forgot I was watching a horror movie; it felt more like St. Elmo’s Fire or something. During a discussion about their post-college plans one character delivers the line “How can anyone be serious about anything when some moron can steal a bomb or push a button and nuke us all until our shadows glow?” That’s a pretty thought-provoking bit of dialogue for a silly slasher flick, and still resonates over 25 years later at that. Maybe even more now.
The cast is as much to thank for this as the great writing. Each actor fits their role perfectly and as a viewer, I actually cared about every member of the group and enjoyed watching them interact. Deborah Foreman as Muffy is the standout here. She really surprised me since all I’d ever seen her in was Valley Girl (and let’s face it, that movie was pretty awful). Thomas F. Wilson (that would be “Biff”) was a lot of fun and had some great moments of physical comedy. Amy Steel (you might recognize her from Friday the 13th Part 2), Griffin O’Neal, Deborah Goodrich, Clayton Rohner, Leah Pinsent, Jay Baker and Ken Olandt round out the above-average ensemble.
“Nobody invited Nicolas Cage, right? RIGHT?”
Every element of this film feels just right, from the spot-on pacing to the fabulously creepy score by Charles Bernstein. Director Fred Walton (When a Stranger Calls) creates a perfect balance of tension, laughs, and scares, without ever stooping to over-the-top gore, sex, or nudity. In a way, it’s sort of an anti-slasher movie, and it’s extremely refreshing.
“Wait, I don’t even have my top off yet!”
Which brings me to the ending. I can’t say too much about it because I don’t want to risk giving anything away, but it’s fantastic. I’m just going to leave it at that. Do NOT cheat and spoil yourself.
One final toast for the song that plays over the closing credits. Two words: kazoo solo. I need to make that song my ringtone.
There just aren’t enough kazoo solos in music and that’s a damn shame.
After reading up on April Fool’s Day (to try and figure out why it’s so tragically underrated), I learned that many horror fans hated it with some even saying that “it killed the genre.” Okay, that is absolute bullshit. I’ll bet those same people also hated Scream. Speaking of, at the very least, April Fool’s Day deserves recognition for clearly serving as an inspiration for the whole meta-horror vibe of that movie, and an entire decade before it. It even holds up upon multiple viewings (I watched it again before writing this review and loved it even more the second time around).
If you want to see a typical 80’s slasher movie with blood, guts, and boobs, take your pick, there are hundreds. But, if you want to see a clever and intelligent gem that’s a hell of a lot of fun and never got the credit it deserved, seek this out right away. I’m so glad I did. (NOTE: make sure you get the 1986 original and not the 2008 remake, which I haven’t seen but heard is horrible.)
Drinking Game (If you’re hosting a viewing party, serve drinks out of dribble glasses):
Take a Drink: every time you see a Jack-in-the-box.
Take a Drink: if you catch the nods to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.
Take a Drink: every time someone mentions that the ferry is the last one of the weekend.
Take a Drink: every time Chaz tells someone their fly is open.
Take a Drink: every time a character plays a prank on someone.
Take a Drink: every time someone says “April Fool’s Day.”
Do a Shot: at the awesome last shot.
Fun Fact: An alternate ending was filmed but never released. Hopefully someday this film will get a proper DVD release with the additional footage.