31 Days of Horror: Day 20 – April Fool’s Day (1986)

I am doing the 31 Days of Horror Challenge. Every day in October, I will watch a different horror film I have never seen before and write about it here on the blog.

I initially had not planned to write about April Fool’s Day. But the more I thought about the film, the angrier I became and I felt I couldn’t just walk away from it. I had to get the white-hot hatred I feel toward this film off my chest and the only way I see to do this is in a SPOILER-filled account of just why this movie makes me so mad.

Muffy (Deborah Foreman), a young woman from a rich family, invites several of her college friends to her family vacation home on an island for the weekend. Most of the group doesn’t know each other; the only thing they have in common being they know Muffy. Things start out on a bad note when there is an accident on the ferry the group has to take to the island. After settling in at the house, each member of the group finds items in their room that seem to point to some tragedy or misdeed in their past. Not long after this, people start disappearing or getting killed. When the phone dies and the sheriff on the mainland can’t be reached, panic builds among the group as they wonder who the killer might be. And hey, why is Muffy suddenly acting so strangely?

April Fool’s Day runs ninety minutes. For the first eighty minutes, I had a blast with it. The screenplay by Danilo Bach was sharp and witty, providing just enough characterization to the large group to allow the talented cast to have fun. And this is a stacked cast. None of them were stars or became stars, but all are reliable and familiar (Foreman, Clayton Rohner, Thomas F. Wilson, Amy Steel, Leah Pinsent) to anyone who watched too many films in the ‘80s.

So why, if I enjoyed the first eight minutes of the film, does it anger me? I’m so glad you asked (meaning, I’m going to pretend anyone cares enough to ask).

In the first act, some pranks are pulled by different characters and there is even a fake knife gag that makes it clear that some of the murders could be faked. If some of the murders were faked while others were real, I think this could have been a great film. Imagine the confusion among the characters trying to decide what’s real or not. It could have been a fun game for the audience as well.

SPOILERS AHEAD

And then comes the big third act reveal: all the murders were faked. Muffy is planning to turn the vacation home into a murder mystery-themed bed and breakfast and the group just unwittingly took part in a dry run to prove the concept. Champagne is brought out, Muffy explains away the numerous coincidences and contrivances that keep the plot making sense, a final fake murder happens and credits roll.

I watched, mouth wide open in shock and disgust at what had been pulled on me. It’s alright for a film to pull a trick on the characters, but the second the filmmakers trick the audience and make them believe they’re watching a horror film when they’re not…I have to cry foul. Even though I enjoyed the film up to the point of the big reveal, the final ten minutes ruined it for me.

Most people tell me I’m over-reacting to the fact that a silly ‘80s horror film turned out to be a comedic sleight-of-hand. I don’t think I am. I feel that director Fred Walton demonstrated a complete lack of respect for the horror genre and by extension, a lack of respect to me as someone who loves horror films.

Obviously, it’s a good thing when filmmakers try something new within the genre. Pushing the boundaries of what a horror film can accomplish and consist of keeps everyone on their toes. But when the film turned out not to be a horror film at all, I felt cheated. It’s like being told you’re getting a kitten for your birthday and then presented with a porcupine. That doesn’t make sense? I don’t care! I’m angry and ranting!

Walton is a skilled filmmaker and he will always have a special place of honor in the horror world for his work on the classic When a Stranger Calls. But in my mind, April Fool’s Day will taint his legacy.

You can contact me at obsessivemovienerd@gmail.com and read all the extraneous crap that goes through my head by following me on Twitter.

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