From the Vault: APRIL FOOL’S DAY (1986)

Starring Deborah Foreman, Amy Steel, Ken Olandt, Deborah Goodrich, Clayton Rohner, Thomas F. Wilson, Griffin O’Neal

Directed by Fred Walton

I distinctly remember the first time I ever rented APRIL FOOL’S DAY. It was the summer of 1988 and I was picking out a movie to rent for a sleepover that weekend. Somehow, I was able to convince my mom that APRIL FOOL’S DAY was a comedy and she unwittingly gave me my first true taste of the awesomeness that is APRIL FOOL’S DAY.  But like many of us, horror movies don’t always age well so I was curious to take a trip back to Muffy St. John’s seaside estate to see for myself if APRIL FOOL’S DAY truly stood the test of time.

For those who may not have heard of this underrated horror/comedy gem, let me bring you up to speed.  In APRIL FOOL’S DAY, a group of mismatched college students (all the 80s comedy stereotypes are accounted for in the flick-the book worm, the nice guy, the smart-ass filmmaker, the tramp, the over-achiever, the nice girl, and the jokester respectively) meet up for a weekend trip to their mutual friend Muffy’s (Foreman) house in the middle of nowhere for a little R&R during their Spring Break.

After a tragic mishap on the ferry ride over to Muffy’s homestead, the group is left shaken but they seem to rebound quickly after they realize they’re spending the weekend in a huge mansion that gives Hef’s famous pad a run for his money (okay, so he’s got the Bunnies- I guess he wins this round).  But as the strangers start to connect as friends, that’s when the mystery begins to unfold- first Skip (O’Neal) goes missing and then one by one, the rest of the college kids start vanishing.  By the end, only two are left standing (I won’t spoil who) and it’s up to the surviving duo to uncover the truth about Muffy before it’s too late.

1986 was a banner year for horror movies.  Beyond APRIL FOOL’S DAY, genre fans also experienced other amazing genre flicks that year including ALIENS, David Cronenberg’s THE FLY, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and THE HITCHER to name just a few.  So it’s not surprising to me that more often than not, APRIL FOOL’S DAY isn’t a movie that a lot of newer genre fans know about because it definitely got buried amidst the higher-profile genre films of that year.  In fact, I remember the only real reason I wanted to rent APRIL FOOL’S DAY was because of the cool VHS box cover and tried (unsuccessfully) a few times as a kid to braid my hair in the noose-style.

While a lot of APRIL FOOL’S DAY definitely feels very dated these days to this writer (and please don’t tell me to watch the remake for an ‘updated version’- that’s just a ridiculous excuse of a movie right there), there’s something still engaging and charming about the story that proves that APRIL FOOL’S DAY has managed to age somewhat gracefully. Don’t get me wrong, everything about APRIL FOOL’S DAY screams “I’m from the 80s” but there’s something timeless about the ‘whodunit’ aspect of the story and the sex-infused humor that I think even newer, finickier genre audiences will still find entertaining.

The ensemble, anchored by Foreman, Steel and Olandt proves that when the chemistry and story is there, it is possible to have characters you actually care about in an 80s slasher flick. Don’t get me wrong, almost every single character is a stereotype of the “Me Generation” but the talented cast brings those stereotypes to life in a way that has you rooting for them to survive the mayhem at Muffy’s estate unlike most other slasher flicks coming out around the same time where you hoped no one would make it out alive.

The one issue in terms of the horror aspect of the film is that a lot of the kills in APRIL FOOL’S DAY happen off-screen which, if you’re looking for a straightforward slasher flick, you gore-hounds will be somewhat disappointed in the movie. APRIL FOOL’S DAY definitely skewers more on the comedy side of things but considering the story concept and the payoff in the film’s concluding act, the approach works. Director Walton (who also directed the original WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, THE ROSARY MURDERS and the TV-movie sequel WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK) took a huge gamble by directing such an offbeat horror flick and I think it paid off because for me, it’s by far his most memorable work and features one of THE BEST “WTF” moments in the history of horror movie endings (right up there with SLEEPAWAY CAMP).  True horror fans that haven’t yet seen APRIL FOOL’S DAY would be remiss if they didn’t seek out this underrated gem in the near future.

Rating: 4 out of 5

- Heather Wixson