It’s a horror comedy! It’s a drama! It’s a murder mystery! It’s definitely not a slasher movie. Sure, the movie poster for it is legendary, but “April Fool’s Day” despite always being plugged in to the slasher sub-genre is not at all a slasher movie. What it is, is a murder mystery with a great sense of humor. If you go in to “April Fool’s Day” with a good nature, you just might enjoy how it twists horror conventions and tells a ripping good mystery. It’s “April Fool’s Day,” one of the many holiday oriented horror movies that dared to stray from the trend of slasher films when everyone else was featuring a masked maniac walking around hacking teenagers to pieces. Thanks to it doing poorly at the box office, it’s often blamed for the death of the slasher movie in the eighties. I think the blame falls squarely on the laps of Paramount who probably didn’t know how to advertise this movie, and wanted badly to create another holiday themed slasher film.
The wealthy Muffy St. John is hosing a party at her island mansion with a group of her close college friends on the weekend leading in to the ever infamous April Fool’s Day. Muffy is a lover of pranks and gags, implementing them on her guests, and encouraging them to have a good time. Suddenly party guests begin to disappear and guest Nan realizes the games aren’t so funny anymore, discovering the bodies and limbs of her friends. The guests soon realize they’re incapable of leaving the island until the end of the weekend and must figure out a way to survive until then. Especially now that they’ve learned their friend Muffy has been replaced by her criminally insane and psychotic twin sister Buffy.
I’ll repeat: This has all the set up of a slasher film, but it’s not at all a slasher film. It sure is clever and quite funny, though. I must have gazed at the poster for “April Fool’s Day” a thousand times when I was a small kid, mainly because it was prominently hanged in the video store my aunt worked in, and whenever she babysat for us I’d pass it every minute when playing with my cousin. Horror movies of the eighties were known for creating some of the most interesting and memorable movie posters in cinema history, mainly because the poster had to encapsulate everything about the film in one poster. It also had to slightly mislead you, which movie fans often forgave.
“April Fool’s Day” has a bang up movie poster with a young woman standing in front a party cheering a glass of champagne, her pony tail tied in a noose, while she brandishes a butcher knife behind her back. While there is no slashing to be had, the presence of nooses and ropes are quite prominent in “April Fool’s Day” and it serves as a consistent gag. The poster is a prime example on how to market a horror movie that is essentially a whodunit mystery film with slight tinges of murder here and there. The movie holds true to its title, offering so many plot twists and fake outs in the first twenty minutes, you’re left watching the rest of the film never really sure if you’re being tricked in to something, if a maniac is on the loose murdering guests at young Muffy’s party, or if Muffy’s intention for a nice party has ended in blood soaked terror.
Director Fred Walton is very good about pacing his movie, offering a nice build up to the horror by featuring a lot of exposition and neat gags here and there. With Muffy inviting her friends over a weekend getaway, the party quickly spirals in to a series of hilarious April fool’s pranks. There’s the old dribble cup gag, the break away chair that character Arch (Thomas F. Wilson fresh off of “Back to the Future”) falls for twice. The funniest physical prat fall involves him in his room preparing to look at a skin mag and tumbling backward. There’s also a hilarious gag involving trick lamps that prompts character Nikki to respond with uncontrollable laughter. What becomes the general premise of “Apri Fool’s Day” is how much are we seeing it made up, and how much is complete truth?
Some audiences may find the ultimate resolution completely ridiculous and a big waste of time, while others might enjoy that the movie not only completely avoids being a typical horror movie, but also side steps a typical finale involving the murderer and a fight for survival. Director Walton likened “April Fool’s Day” to an Agatha Christie mystery, and for the most part, the movie unfolds exactly as such. What begins as a nice light hearted romp of friends involving pranks turns in to terror as each party guest are systematically knocked off. They’re also knocked off off-screen by an unseen assailant leaving us to try to figure out who among these people are knocking off the guests. Walton directs the sequences well, including one moment involving a snake, and another centered on floating severed heads.
“April Fool’s Day” garnered a significant cult following later in its shelf life, thanks to the fact its low blood and boob count allowed it to be aired on late night television numerous times. It’s sad that “April Fool’s Day” earned an audience with that kind of circumstance since the movie is so clever and witty most times. It even garners a nice cast of eighties character actors like Amy Steel, and the lovely Deborah Foreman who is absolutely gorgeous as central antagonist Muffy. “April Fool’s Day” ends up being one big labyrinth of back story and exposition intended to keep the audience on a hook and waiting for the big delivery much like Muffy’s party guests, and it works if you can appreciate what director Walton was going for.
Like most murder mysteries, there’s the big explanation to resolve all of the lingering plot points, and for the most part it works, and works very well. You might have to suspend some disbelief in the reasoning for what occurs, but it goes down well thanks to the above average performances, and light hearted sense of lunacy that ensues. Director Walton’s film is one big parlor trick with a great twist ending, and he embraces it with a fun final frame set to the hilariously weird “Too Bad You’re Crazy” by Jerry Whitman.
When I first saw “April Fool’s Day,” I was a preteen who loved everything involving slasher movies and was utterly sore after finishing it realizing it’s not a slasher movie at all. Years later, I appreciate it so much more as a sly twist on the murder mystery, brandishing a slick sense of humor, a stern tongue in cheek, and a ton of great moments of misdirection that make it a nice horror gem worth experimenting with. In a decade filled with slasher movies, “April Fool’s Day” dares to be different, and passes the test.