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April Fool's Day

Paramount // R // September 3, 2002
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 10, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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.
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