April Fool’s Day (1986)
April Fool’s Day (1986)

Genre: Slasher and Mystery Running Time: 1 hr. 29 min.

Release Date: March 28th, 1986 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Fred Walton Actors: Deborah Foreman, Jay Baker, Pat Barlow, Deborah Goodrich, Leah Pinsent, Ken Olandt, Mike Nomad, Griffin O’Neal, Clayton Rohner, Amy Steel, Thomas F. Wilson

 


 

M

uffy St. John (Deborah Foreman) owns an island, to where she has invited a huge group of friends for a party. It’s only accessible by ferry, and housekeeper Clara (Pat Barlow), the only adult anywhere in sight, is about to leave for the weekend – meaning that no one will be able to help Muffy until Monday. Hopefully, nothing will go wrong during the big event.

Although all the guests are college students who know Muffy, they don’t know one another. During the Friday afternoon ferry ride to the retreat, they attempt to mingle or flirt – or, more accurately, the young men try to pick up the girls. Nan (Leah King Pinsent) is the bookish one; Skip (Griffin O’Neal) and Arch (Thomas F. Wilson) are the pranksters; Chaz (Clayton Rohner) isn’t terribly brave, though he totes a camcorder for kicks; Nikki (Deborah Goodrich) is the sarcastic one; Rob (Ken Olandt) and Hal (Jay Baker) aren’t very distinguishable; and Kit (Amy Steel) is the dumb blonde. Just after Skip lands a killer prank, Buck (Mike Nomad) meets a horrendous accident, forcing Constable Potter (who is conveniently on hand) to take the only boat on the shore to the nearest hospital.

There’s something ominously serene about the opening title sequence, which shows the party guests filming themselves saying crass things, like typical, horny teenagers, while lone Muffy reminisces over haunting memories of childhood pranks. The revelry is shattered by a brief jump scare or two, but the lightheartedness of the partygoers remains for an unusually long time. Perhaps too many minutes are given to the youths, who gain specific idiosyncrasies and personalities – surely wasted on a low-budget slasher. Soon enough, the movie earns its title, as Muffy’s massive mansion is adorned with playful booby traps – such as exploding cigars, a malfunctioning faucet, lights that refuse to turn off, and toasting glasses that don’t hold their liquids. But it’s also studded with more frightful objects, such as needles, a tape recorder that plays back the sounds of a crying baby, and newspaper clippings of deadly tragedies.

It isn’t until more than a half-hour into the picture that the plot finally begins to take shape, and to resemble “Ten Little Indians” (or “And Then There Were None”). Updating the famous Agatha Christie tale with adolescent tricks, sexual innuendo, wrestling under the bedsheets, and bloody violence, “April Fool’s Day” maintains moderate interest – but predominantly through the location rather than the raunchy teen melodrama. The vast estate harbors plenty of dark spaces, eerie lighting, and areas for characters to traverse alone. Even during broad daylight, the coeds meet untimely demises. The horror elements are intermittently effective, while the mystery is amusing; but it’s the atmosphere that seems to escalate the tension more than the actual visuals. It’s commendable that the film relies most often on creepiness and suggestion and consistency, rather than graphic imagery. It also helps that the acting isn’t noticeably atrocious – like in many teen-oriented thrillers of the ’80s. The dialogue has some problems, and the various characters don’t always behave believably, but the finale is nicely unguessable – even if it keeps going beyond a sensible closing shot.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10