APRIL FOOL’S DAY
“Guess who’s going to be the life of the party?”
Director: Fred Walton / Writer: Danilo Bach / Cast: Deborah Foreman, Amy Steel, Ken Olandt, Deborah Goodrich, Clayton Rohner, Jay Baker, Thomas F. Wilson, Leah King Pinsent, Griffin O’Neal.
Body Count: 7…or is it?
Dire-logue: “Three people are dead and you’re telling me to relax.”
Paramount decided to add a touch of class to their mid-80’s slasher lexicon with this slightly more traditional murder mystery-esque light-hearted horror film to offset Jason’s ever-mounting body count over at Crystal Lake.
Rich girl Muffy St John (Foreman – excellent) invites eight of her privileged college friends to her island mansion for Spring Break. There’s kinky couple Nikki and Chas, meaty Arch (Wilson, who was Biff Tannen in the Back to the Future films), the elusive Skip, bookish misfit Nan, southern ranch rich boy Hal, and ‘nice’ couple Rob and Kit – the latter played by orgasmically good uber-final girl Dame Amy of Steel.
There’s a strange flashback-credits scene with some weird jack-in-the-box prank as Muffy clears out her basement in preparation for her friends and ‘the help’ goes home for the weekend. Meanwhile, on the ferry over to the island, Arch and Skip’s April Fool’s prank results in an accident that hideously disfigures the deckhand, who yells blame on the young people as he is zoomed away in a Zodiac by a handy cop.
Guilt-ridden, the group attempt to enjoy themselves as Muffy lays on food and unleashes some rigged chairs, water-pistols and exploding cigar gags. But silly soon becomes sinister as it becomes apparent they’re not alone on the island and someone is baying for their blood…
In the morning, the gang play around, talk about sex and explore the locale, which inadvertently leads to Rob and Kit finding what they believe to be the body of Skip floating by. They raise the alarm and split off in search of their absent friend, regrouping again to find that another couple of people have gone AWOL – and what’s with Muffy’s zombie-like behaviour? And her nurses shoes. Nurses shoes? What nurses shoes? Those clod-hoppers she’s been walking around in – crepe soles apparently. Shrug.
Anyway, when the water conks out, Nikki and Hal pay a visit to The Well with a bucket and Nikki somehow ends up climbing down and falling in to find herself treading water with the severed heads and slashed-throated-bodies of their missing friends, leading to a grimly comical moment where, recovering indoors, Muffy slams a glass of it down in front of her – “oh God, not the water!”) – before explaining it’s Perrier.
With the police called, who assure them that the wounded deckhand is still at hospital, the gang set about securing all windows and doors and begin uncovering some strange clues as Muffy’s demeanor becomes weirder and weirder. Suffice to say, more murders are discovered until the obligatory survivors are fleeing for their lives and…
Well, there’s the twist ending. I’m sure most people will know what happens but for those who don’t, I won’t be the one to ruin it for you. It works on some levels and fails on others, making enemies of the film out of some hardcore gorehounds. I like it, it bucked the predictable for a change, making April Fool’s Day quite the slasher film for scaredy cats and bloodshy saps.
The film scores high on the character factor, writing its generic-on-paper cast roster into deeper beings. The kinky couple have feelings too, the jock isn’t a macho asshole and the bookworm mightn’t be as dorky as she makes herself out to be. Walton, who directed both the original When a Stranger Calls movies, attempts to crank tension with moody shots of the island, the interior of the house and one of those creepy tick-tock clocks where the cat’s eyes move back and forth but when the film is as lighthearted as this it doesn’t work the same magic as his other, more brooding ventures.
An alternate, far more downbeat ending was shot and has yet to surface beyond some grainy stills on the web – but I like the film the way it is.
I confess my love for this one: one of the earliest genre examples I saw when it rotated on late night TV in the 90s, with most of the language cut out. Oh, what an eye-opening experience it was when I first saw the uncut version! Anyway: investable characters, nice story arc, polished production values and a real sense of fun going for it. Feel the love, AFD!
But avoid the ugly monstrosity that is the 2008 “remake“.