April Fool’s Day 1986
Directed by: Fred Walton
Starring: Deborah Foreman, Amy Steel, Clayton Rohner
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
By 1986 the slasher genre was certainly not the money-spinner that it was just five years earlier. In 1981, 63.7% of box office receipts were from stalk and slash titles, a hefty figure and a big motivation to any producer with a million bucks that wanted it at least doubled.
Trends change quickly in cinema, so by the mid-eighties the hits grabbing the spoils were those of the equally nonsensical action kind and production teams had become more interested in uncovering musclemen who would look good holding an M16 than a summer camp that hadn’t yet been stalked and slaughtered.
But even if it was much harder to get a slasher film financed unless it had a hockey-mask and a day of the week in its title or a burns victim by the name of Freddy, there were still one or two notable entries each year right up until 1990. Frank Mancuso Jnr – who you could say had lined his pockets a tad more than most from the craze – noticed the potential here and therefore put his financial weight behind Danilo Bach’s screenplay.
April Fools Day was certainly one of the last big budget non-independent efforts from the decade and arguably one of the first self aware features to play it straight. It’s much like Scream in the sense that it is subtly mocking a well known formula, but it handles the use of cliché for the most part superbly and it all makes sense in the end.
A group of college students head off to Muffy’s lakeside retreat in order to party for the weekend. The pranks are in full flow as it’s April Fools Day. One joke goes too far and a maniacal butcher begins trimming the guest list
Now not everyone likes slasher movies, so in order to get the girl that I was with to watch this with me, I tempted her by saying, I bet that you can’t guess who’s the killer? She loved Happy Birthday to me and next I offered her this, because the maniac’s identity here is very well hidden.
Opinions on the movie are split. I actually read an interesting review in the IMDB where the writer said that this was responsible for killing the slasher genre and was a big fraud. I see the point that he was making, but the cycle was already dead and if anything this was a brief resurrection. I felt quite similar to that anonymous IMDB scribe when I first saw this in the early nineties, but I enjoyed it much more this time around and perhaps the feature is aimed at a more mature audience. Teen-fodder has been replaced by a cast touching on their thirties and as JA Kerswell over at Hysteria Lives has said, the filmmakers were aware that the fans who had populated cinemas in the boom years were now around that age and were the best target audience for an entry such as this.
Walton directs comfortably with finesse and flair in places and there’s a simple yet effective score that helps to keep things moving. I have seen studio stills that prove an alternative ending was filmed, which never saw light of day and it added an interesting slant, which I can’t ruin if you haven’t already watched this. As it stands, I think the movie works fine as, is and in any case, it is much better than Jeff Rovin’s novelisation. The key strength here is that the plot does go where you’d expect it too, but it’s what it does when it gets there that sets the film version apart.
It’s also perfectly cast and there’s no weak links in the dramatics. Obviously having Amy Steel on board was a big plus and added extra ammunition to the main mission statement. The script is surprisingly strong with no major holes and achieves the great feat of making you feel like the victims on the screen did, when the conclusion comes around. How many motion pictures with psycho killers in them can boast that?
Yes this has become the marmite of slasher films – you’ll either love it or hate it, but it doesn’t deserve to hold that accolade. In fact, it doesn’t deserve it at all. I had some fun with it whilst taking notes for this review and the lovely lady that I watched it with did too. One of the toughest slashers ever to work out the killer’s identity. The script is that smart
Final Girl √√√