April Fool’s Day (1986) (out of 4)
Director: Fred Walton
Starring: Deborah Foreman, Amy Steel, Ken Olandt, Leah Pinsent, Thomas F. Wilson, Jay Baker, Pat Barlow, Deborah Goodrich, Mike Nomad, Griffin O’Neal, Clayton Rohner
April Fool’s Day (2008) (out of 4)
Directors: Mitchell Altieri, Phil Flores (AKA The Butcher Brothers)
Starring: Taylor Cole, Josh Henderson, Scout Taylor-Compton, Joe Egender, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Samuel Child, Joseph McKelheer, Frank J. Aard, Sabrina Aldridge
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Muffy St. John is having a weekend get together at her parents’ island home. Guests include “southern” gentleman Harvey (Jay Baker), literary-minded drama girl Nan (Leah Pinsent), jock-type Arch (Thomas F. Wilson – yes, it’s Biff Tannen!), the buffed up Rob (Ken Olandt, who later starred in Leprechaun), Rob’s level-headed girlfriend Kit (Friday the 13th Part 2‘s Amy Steel), and video camera-weilding Chaz (Clayton Rohner). They’re all rich, just graduating, and nobody has any idea what he or she will be doing for the rest of their lives. Everyone seems to be harboring some sort of secret (hey, don’t all well-to-do folk have skeletons in their closet?), but there is too much fun to be had right now, as it is April Fool’s Day, and the pranks are numerous. Collapsing chairs, dribble glasses, trick lighting, whoopee cushions… they’re all here. And what about the disappearances, and the dead bodies… are they pranks too?
That’s what you have to figure out in April Fool’s Day, an entry into the “holiday horror” genre that is really only “horror” on the outside. On the inside, it’s part comedy, part Agatha Christie novel (the film runs with the Ten Little Indians premise), and it mostly succeeds at mixing the two genres. My main issue is that we are only offered mere glimpses of the contents of everyone’s “closet”. For example, Harvey has a history involving some kind of car crash, and Nan’s apparently involves abortion. But we never really explore these revelations – they are brought up and then the plot moves on. The killings themselves are hardly shown and mostly take place off screen (but this is for a reason). I think a lot of horror fans were turned off by the film, because it promises to deliver something, sort-of delivers it, and then takes off its mask at the end and reveals the trick. Hey, the movie is called April Fool’s Day – what did you expect?
I can go no further talking about this movie without revealing some spoilers, so you might want to stop reading if you haven’t seen the film yet. I am reminded so much here of David Fincher’s The Game, which seems like it took its cue from this film. If you have seen that Michael Douglas vehicle, you know about a man’s terrifying ordeal involving a company called Consumer Recreation Services, which goes all out in delivering him a “game” to play. Douglas’ character is drugged and left in Mexico, has his house vandalized, and is shot at, among other things. The twist-reveal at the end of The Game is like the one at the end of April Fool’s Day; we find out that the purpose behind the mayhem is to commence a test run for a special hotel experience (a B&B for mystery buffs? Haunted house for the rich?). Good luck with that one – how long until a guest suffers a heart attack and sues the pants off the management? Anyway, when I first saw this film many years ago I felt cheated, because a big joke had been played on me (and the audience). I expected Friday the 13th, and instead was given something like a documentary of life on the Friday the 13th set! After seeing it again recently, I admired the movie for this move and for staying true to its purpose. It’s not a horror movie – it’s a horror movie commentary. For example, is it plausible that a girl everybody knows would turn out to be an asylum inmate? Isn’t the idea of Muffy having a twin sister Buffy even more absurd? Should you be laughed at for believing it?
There is merit in exploring the messages of the film, which I think are an indictment of the upper class. The tricks played in this movie are cruel when you look at the whole picture – what I find interesting is that those who figure out the joke agree to continue playing the game when anyone could have ended it at anytime. Life is a joke to the rich brats, and the suffering of others is warranted if there is treasure to be had. There might also be a connection with this theme of “temptation” of our main characters and Milton (Nan is reading Paradise Lost at the beginning). And note the ending, where the “remaining” couple, having been exposed to the worst parts of the game eventually fall in line as well, and the one girl who suffers the cruelest joke one-ups the perpetrator, having also fallen under the spell of power and manipulation. That’s what I think April Fool’s Day is really about – manipulation – of the main characters and of the audience. Why do we go to the movies? I think partly, we want our emotions to be manipulated, we want to be the willing puppets. April Fool’s Day simply exposes the strings. I suppose that how you react to it reveals how seriously you take slasher films. If you’re mad because Jason Vorhees didn’t really kill that guy (like say, in Part 5), you probably won’t want to accept what this movie has to tell you.
Somebody at Paramount decided it was necessary to do a remake, and in 2008 that remake went straight to video. It basically copies the “skeleton” of the original’s plot, but makes some modifications, like moving from an island to a city setting and turning all the main characters into complete assholes. The characters in the original are assholes, sure, but you could believe that they have good sides, that they are really friends with one another. In this movie, everyone that’s either in on the prank or a victim of a prank are equally vile. You may have heard otherwise, but this remake isn’t that bad, really. It’s competently shot by The Butcher Brothers, however if you are expecting gore because of the name “Butcher Brothers”, you can look elsewhere. The twists in this new version are that there are indeed a few “real” deaths. The first death, which is a prank gone wrong (a girl has roofies slipped into her drink, she has a bad reaction, falls off a balcony) is the catalyst for the goings on – everyone that was at the party gets a note saying that unless the “killer” confesses, more people will die. Some of these victims include a gay gossip colomnist Charles (Joseph McKelheer) , aspiring actress Torrance Caldwell (Scout Taylor-Compton), Senator-wannabe Peter (Samuel Child), freaky Spielberg-wannabe Ryan (Joe Egender), Desiree (Taylor Cole) and her brother Blaine (Josh Henderson), who have been fighting over their parents estate.
The plot itself is fairly predictable – hey, this is a remake, so you already know that there will be a revelation at the end and most of the “deaths” will be exposed as magic tricks. But this isn’t that hard to figure out – since Desiree is the one who witnesses most of the deaths by herself we can guess that she is obviously the mark. Acting and dialogue here ranges from so-so to horrible, but I was willing to let it go; the “shock” ending, which I actually didn’t expect, sorta makes the tedium worth it. Especially considering that the unfortunate victim at the end is the one person who came closest to redemption. That makes the ending quite nihilistic – learning the difference between good and bad doesn’t seem worth it when everyone around you doesn’t give a damn about being good. I was actually intrigued by the lack of morals and the self-indulgent behavior on the part of the characters in this film – Peter’s extreme self-obsession is particularly funny. Ultimately, 2008′s April Fool’s Day is 1986′s April Fool’s Day mixed up with Peter Berg’s Very Bad Things and a whole lot of bad WB 90s-style soap opera. In the end, like so many remakes, it doesn’t come close to the original, and on top of that nobody really asked for it, anyway.
- Bill Gordon