By the time 1986 rolled around, about the only holidays left untouched by slashers were Arbor Day and April Fool's Day. I
wouldn't be surprised if director Fred Walton (When A Stranger Calls), writer Danilo Bach (Beverly Hills Cop),
and producer Frank Mancuso Jr. (Friday the 13ths 2-5, 7) tossed around some tag lines for the
former ("if a tree kills in the forest and there's no one around to hear it..."), but for whatever
reason, they settled on the 1st of April. Despite the surface similarities of a group of isolated stereotypes systematically
murdered by an unseen killer with a calendar obsession, April Fool's Day isn't just another Friday carbon copy.
Vassar student Muffy St. John (Deborah Foreman) is the daughter of a fabulously wealthy industrialist whose net worth is
reputed to top $50 million. Muffy has plenty of friends, and she's invited a bunch of them over to her remote island home
for a weekend getaway. As a cheerful coincidence, the first day of the trip coincides with April Fool's Day, and Muffy and
several of her friends are obsessed with topping each other's pranks. Even before meeting Miss St. John at her palatial
home, one stunt goes horribly awry, sending a disfigured buddy to the hospital and stranding Muffy and her guests.
Muffy may have cut corners when providing her guests with sporks and cans of pork n' beans, but she spared no expense when
stocking up on trick chairs, dribble glasses, and whoopie cushions. She also took the time to stash ominous items in her
friends' rooms, including newspaper clippings of fatal car accidents, S&M regalia, and a tape recording of a baby's cries.
Their discovery and Muffy's increasingly spacey behavior are unsettling, but her friends are more rattled by the rising body
count. A killer is among them, and there's no escape in sight.
Slashers generally offer some combination of mystery and comedy in with the pile of dead teenagers, but April Fool's
Day fiddles with the usual proportions. As I racked my brain to find the words to best describe April Fool's Day,
the first phrase that came to mind was "fun slasher". It's not as self-referential as more recent movies that would fit that
description, nor does it feel the need to wink knowingly at the audience in every other shot. Still, April Fool's Day
is frequently funny, and its oddball cast of characters would seem more at home in a "Savage" Steve Holland movie than
something by "Slasher" Steve Miner.
Maybe the lighter tone is to be expected by a casual skim of the cast and crews' filmographies. April Fool's Day was
screenwriter Bach follow-up to the immensely successful Beverly Hills Cop, and lead Thomas F. Wilson is instantly
recognizable as Biff from the Back to the Future series. A friend of mine with a disturbing obsession with one-time
HBO mainstay Just One of the Guys spotted Deborah Goodrich and Clayton Rohner from his favorite movie. Among some of
the other notable cast members are Deborah Foreman (Valley Girl), Amy Steel (Friday the 13th Part II), and
ubiquitous character actor Tom Heaton.
I've found myself ranting at length in my past few reviews about the evisceration of slashers to snag an R rating from the
MPAA as well as Paramount's stubborness to provide the target audience for its horror titles the uncut versions they crave.
As April Fool's Day has little interest in shocking the audience with graphic, gory imagery, it suffers the least (if
at all) of these four slashers as far as cuts are concerned. As for that other tenet of slasher films, there isn't any
nudity I can remember offhand, though Deborah Goodrich comes awfully close in an unbuttoned shirt that clings to her chest
courtesy of some sort of unseen magnetic force.
I first caught April Fool's Day on VHS a couple summers back after more than a decade of being intrigued by its cover
art, and its ending completely caught me by surprise. This is a movie that, as enjoyable as it is for a full hour and a
half, is defined by and will forever be remembered for its final few minutes. I was skeptical about how well it would hold
up for another viewing, but, as is probably evident by my relatively upbeat tone thus far, I enjoyed it every bit as much the
second time around. As unappealing as the lack of blood and breasts may sound to many genre fans, slasher devotees ought to
take a stab at April Fool's Day.
Video: Following a windowboxed Paramount logo and some shot-on-video footage, the anamorphic widescreen image expands
horizontally to reveal...a scope slasher! Though not too terribly uncommon nowadays -- Valentine, Urban
Legend, and the Scream series immediately spring to mind -- the vast majority of similar movies treading in the
wake of the success of Friday the 13th were shot flat and matted to 1.85:1
during their domestic theatrical runs.
Some exceedingly minor film grain is visible in a number of early shots, and that is the closest thing I can come to saying
anything negative about this phenomenal presentation. The image is razor sharp, boasting an impressive amount of detail and
rich, vibrant colors. The source material appears to have been in excellent shape, and though dust and assorted specks
haven't provided reason for concern in any of Paramount's four slashers released this past Tuesday, their presence is the
least intrusive in April Fool's Day. I was still a DVD evangelist when I first caught the movie on VHS a couple of
years ago, and I couldn't resist the temptation to cringe at the soft, washed-out image that filled the television in front
of me. The difference between that video and this DVD teeters on night and day, making for yet another genuinely impressive
effort from Paramount.
Audio: April Fool's Day joins Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan as the recipients of
unexpected Dolby Digital 5.1 remixes (I guess My Bloody Valentine and The New Blood drew the short
straws.) The subwoofer isn't given much of a chance to shine, and I didn't notice it thumping to any great extent
until Three Dog Night's recording of "Mama Told Me (Not To Come)" kicks in during the final few moments of the film.
Surrounds fare better, generally buzzing with activity of some sort, providing solid ambiance and reinforcing the sparse
score by prolific horror composer Charles Bernstein (A Nightmare on Elm Street). Dialogue is rendered cleanly and
crisply, though it's mixed lower than I would've preferred. The six-channel audio of April Fool's Day isn't
awe-inspiring by any means, but it's more or less what I went in expecting. Other audio options include an English stereo
track and a French dub, along with English subtitles.
Supplements: April Fool's Day is as bare-bones as they come. No supplements of any sort are provided, not even
a theatrical trailer.
Conclusion: Unlike the glut of paint-by-numbers slashers spilling off video store shelves in the mid-'80s, April
Fool's Day is willing to take a few chances. Though the lack of grue and its overall light tone might not sit well with
some genre completists, I'd be willing to bet most slasher buffs will find April Fool's Day to be a welcomed change.
At the least, it's a near-essential rental for the slasher crowd, and I'd also recommend it as a purchase.