April Fool’s Day (1986)

Directed By: Fred Walton
Written By: Danilo Beach
Starring: Deborah Foreman
  Jay Baker
  Amy Steel
  Thomas F. Wilson
April Fool’s Day

The plot of April Fool’s Day won’t, at a glance, distinguish it greatly from a lot of teen slasher flicks of the time. Taking a leaf from Happy Birthday to Me (1981), the teens here are a privileged bunch of college students, assembled at the request of their wealthy friend Muffy St. John (no, that’s not a typo) to spend the weekend celebrating at her parents’ private summerhouse which is located on a secluded isle accessible only by boat. As the title implies the party happens to take place on April Fool’s Day, so naturally pranks are played and the ante is upped, but it’s not long before the jokes get out of hand…fatally so.

April Fool’s Day holds a unique place in the slasher pantheon that burgeoned between the 70′s and the mid-to-late 80′s, as it possibly marks the end of the “golden era” of slashers and is in fact an early precursor to the likes of Wes Craven’s Scream (1996), with a wit and sophistication to the script that, at the time, regular slasher fans were unprepared for and for those whose palettes had been somewhat dulled by the endless recycling of the template popularised by Friday the 13th (1980), this was completely unacceptable. The recipe for success there was to make the deaths the centrepieces (made possible through Tom Savini’s pioneering FX work) and throw in plenty of gratuitous T&A, a formula refined and regurgitated ad nauseum. April Fool’s Day actually bucks the “gore is more” trend and is more reminiscent of Halloween (1978), which was more about suspense than blood. In fact, you never really see any of the characters being killed, all you see is the aftermath, which is sufficiently gory for the average taste but gorehounds will probably be disappointed. This is deliberate as it not only comes to fruition within the boundaries of the shrewd Ten Little Indians style murder-mystery plot, but is also something that is slyly subverted by the movie itself, pre-empting what Scream would do by a decade and without ever quite relying on the kind of self-referential, in-jokey humour that Scream‘s sequels and tiresome copycats would eventually flog to death. It plays with the genre conventions and audience expectations very cleverly, some of these are subtle enough upon the first viewing that when you re-watch it you can’t help but grin, like watching a magician’s sleight-of-hand trick a second time once you know how it’s done.

Even the characters are both recognisable slasher staples (the joker, the jock, the slut etc.), but at the same time there is the sense that these are being gently pastiched, but given a touch of humanity from with the reasonably able cast (which includes Amy Steel from Friday the 13th: Part II (1982) and a fun, goofy performance from Thomas F. Wilson, better known as Biff Tannen from the Back to the Future series). There’s a sense of humour (often black) throughout which keeps it bubbling along nicely and the production and direction are assuredly sound if nothing mind-blowing, but gives the whole thing a pretty solid finish compared to some of its siblings in the field, and at a lean 89 minutes it never outstays its welcome or becomes too clever for its own good.

Overall it’s one of the better 80′s slashers with a touch of Agatha Christie and some humour. Underrated, but it’s easy to see why audiences with certain expectations were left underwhelmed at the time and perhaps to modern eyes brought up on 90′s slashers the twists and turns may seem a little bit quaint.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

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