Thursday, January 31, 2019

April Fool's Day (1986)

... aka: Die Horror-Party (The Horror Party)
... aka: Inocentada sangrienta (Bloody Innocent)
... aka: Week-end de terreur (Weekend of Terror)

Directed by:
Fred Walton

What appears to be your standard 80s slasher movie for the first 80 or so minutes pretty much is just your standard 80s slasher movie for the first 80 or so minutes, only more restrained. Much more restrained. One could even say curiously restrained... almost as if there's a reason they're being so restrained. Hmm. Yet this one has a reputation for being "different" and "clever" and "a cut above the rest" because there's a pull-the-rug-out-from-under-the-audience "surprise" ending that anyone with an IQ above 70 should be able to figure out given the film's title. But even if that wasn't the case, this is far from the first genre film to even use this same ending (you can go all the way back to at least 1935's Mark of the Vampire) so how this got singled out for adulation is beyond me. I suppose the twist had never been applied to a slasher flick before but, really, so what? This particular genre's bread and butter is high body counts, gore, inventive killings and nudity, so to strip an otherwise pedestrian whodunit slasher of all of its exploitative elements and then put a recycled gag ending in its place makes this worthy of praise how exactly?

It's Spring Break and rich Vassar college student Muffy St. John (Deborah Foreman) has invited some of her "privileged" (and mostly repellent) collegiate chums to spend an "unforgettable weekend" on a private island that her family owns. Among the attendees are the perverted / obnoxious weirdo Chaz (Clayton Rohner), oversexed and sarcastic Nikki (Deborah Goodrich), studious and uptight Nan (Leah Pinsent), womanizing jock Archie (Thomas F. Wilson), try-hard country boy Harvey (Jay Baker), who's basically there to try to brown nose his way into a job with the hostesses' multi-millionaire father, Muffy's very distant cousin Skip (Griffin O'Neal, who was indicted on drug-related manslaughter charges a few months after this film was released) and comparably normal couple Kit (FRIDAY THE 13TH 2's Amy Steel) and Rob (Ken Olandt), who have some minor drama going on about whether or not he's going to medical school.

The island requires a ferry to access and, on the trip over, a couple of the guys decide to pull a morbid prank on everyone. April Fool's! However, said prank ends up leading to the "real" injury of deckhand Buck (Mike Nomad), who gets his face smashed when he's crushed between the boat and dock. After he's rushed off to the hospital, the local constable (Tom Heaton) shows up and tells them they're forbidden to leave unless they hear from him otherwise. The only way for him to get back to the city is to borrow the St. John families only boat. Now everyone is trapped on the island and forced to endure a barrage of gags Muffy has booby trapped the house with, including whoopie cushions, collapsing chairs, exploding cigars, rigged lights, leaky pipes, doorknobs coming off, etc. And what better time for a psycho to start bumping them all off one by one?

Skip, who's feeling responsible for the accident that hurt the deckhand, is the first to disappear that first night. While fooling around in the boat house with her boyfriend the following day, Kit sees his corpse floating under the floorboards. The guys then split up and start searching the island, but Arch finds himself hanging upside down by his leg with a snake about to strike and doesn't return to the mansion. Due to Muffy's sudden bizarre behavior, the miserable Nan wanders off and we don't see her again either. That is, until Nikki stumbles upon her corpse, and the heads of the two missing guys, in a well. Others get bumped off (all off screen) until only Kit and Rob remain. They then find clues scattered about that suggest their hostess has an evil identical twin who's recently escaped from a mental hospital.

One thing that needs to be addressed out of the gate are these contemporary critics proclaiming that this beat Scream to the punch by a decade and a half when it comes to self-aware slasher flicks. Back in reality, the two films are in no way, shape or form comparable. Name dropping Agatha Christie one time does not a self-aware film make. This is frequently also referred to as a spoof. How exactly does it spoof anything? This neither references nor playfully toys around with slasher flicks or slasher flick conventions and hits every beat one would expect from a routine slasher right up until the twist. If this was meant as a spoof it's one of the least clever spoofs I've seen. Part of me thinks those claims were just Paramount's way of marketing the film in light of the success of their critically-despised Friday the 13th series. As in, "See! We're making fun of ourselves now!" Except they're not.

While this does boast a generally likable cast (Valley Girl's Foreman; Summer School's Olandt; Just One of the Guy's Rohner and Goodrich), none of them are likable in this particular film due to the script. Nearly everyone is an asshole and not getting to see any of them actually die is incredibly unsatisfying. Besides, what's the point in scripting stock slasher victim characters if you're not even going to bother doing anything interesting or humorous with them? Least said about the rest of the script, the better. The more you actually think about the plot, the dumber the movie gets until you're left sitting there feeling completely insulted.

Any praise that can be doled out goes primarily to the genius who designed the poster and some of the production people. This is, technically-speaking, slickly made and well-produced, especially as far as 80s slasher flicks are concerned. Some studio head obviously put more faith in this than they did the entire Friday series, as no Paramount-produced Friday film surpassed the 5 million budget April Fool's Day was given. And yet every previous, and later, Friday film managed to far outperform April Fool's Day at the box office. Go figure.

Shot mostly in British Columbia, Canada, there were several alternate endings filmed that ultimately weren't used. Jeff Rovin wrote a novelization based on Danilo Bach's script and Charles Bernstein's (very good) score was released by Varese Sarabande. A God awful pseudo "remake" that's so bad it makes this original look like a masterpiece was released in 2008.


Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Click: The Calendar Girl Killer (1990)

... aka: Calendario mortal (Deadly Calendar)
... aka: Click
... aka: Click - O Retrato do Crime (Click: A Portrait of Crime)
... aka: Maniaco

Directed by:
Ross Hagen
John Stewart

Two directors. Two different directors of photography. SIX credited writers. A troubled production? From all indications, yes, yes and more yes. When you watch the film itself that becomes all too evident. The plot is disjointed, nonsensical and padded out with all kinds of extraneous nonsense, there are numerous dead end subplots and characters miraculously appear and then vanish for no real reason. Though I'm not entirely sure what happened here, online rumor has it that some of the actors (ones who were Screen Actors Guild members) had to be pulled from the production midway through the shoot because it was a non-union film. Having dual directors on one shoot isn't so uncommon but having two different DOPs (Thomas L. Callaway and Gary Graver) is a fairly strong indicator that at least two different shoots occurred at two different times.

A hefty nurse chastises a crying little boy and says his parents don't love or want him. We then cut to an adult male shaving his chest and putting on lipstick and a nurse's uniform before shattering a mirror with a knife. Hope you enjoyed that, because it's the last thing you'll see being stabbed for about an hour. We're next taken to poolside party to watch awful white people dancing and a female hair band performing a song called "Never Bored," which we soon find out is about the least appropriate theme song for this turkey. Bitter veteran model Nancy Johnson (Playboy Playmate and Andy Sidaris movie vet Dona Speir) arrives with some schmuck who immediately ditches her for another girl before the two accidentally knock Nancy into the hot tub. Frustrated and humiliated, it isn't long before Nancy, who prides herself on never doing nude work, is stripping to pose as Miss January in an upcoming nude centerfold calendar.

Alas, after around fifteen minutes are spent on the Nancy character, Speir is never to be seen again. However, the photographer who shoots her is. Jack Hackerman (co-director Hagen), "one of the hottest up-and-coming photographers in the business," is putting together a new creation called "Deadly Weapons," a calendar which will feature models brandishing a variety of firearms, swords, blowtorches, machetes and even chainsaws in grim scenarios involving rape or murder. Or as he calls it, "violent high fashion" that will appeal to "sick-o lawyers and politicians." Nudity-shy aspiring model Cindy (Keely Sims) gets hooked up with Jack and his crew, including Jack's weird assistant Alan (Troy Donahue), but she's having problems with her jealous / insecure boyfriend Johnny (Gregory Scott Cummins). While she attempts to pursue her dream of becoming a model, he begs her to stay home so he can take care of her, trails her everywhere and attempts to destroy any chance she has of having a career. Instead of getting a restraining order, Cindy just makes out with him a lot.

Along with a dozen or so other selected models, Cindy is invited to Jack's secluded ranch for a few days to take part in the "Deadly Weapons" photo shoot. Johnny follows them there on his motorcycle and ends up wrecking. Apparently impressed by either his terrible driving or felony-level stalking, Jack invites him to stay there and do a motorcycle stunt for one of the shots. Johnny makes it clear that he's only there to protect Cindy from the users, creeps and perverts who populate the modeling industry and may try to take advantage of his girl. However, seeing how just minutes after Cindy goes off to shoot he immediately starts making out with one of the others models perhaps he should be more concerned about his own behavior. And this guy is the film's HERO.

Speaking of the models, there are a few names of interest here to horror fans. The first is Susan Jennifer Sullivan, who played the uptight bitch Melissa in the seventh Friday the 13th entry and gets to play another uptight bitch named Lisa here. Sullivan had been erroneously reported as dead for a number of years (a "fact" that also was reported in the 5 1/2 hour retrospective documentary Crystal Lake Memories) despite not actually being dead. She simply got out of the industry, perhaps because she was sick of always being cast as an uptight bitch.

The second name is Juliette Cummins, who appeared in the fifth Friday the 13th entry as well as Psycho III and SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II. Cummins stopped appearing in movies around the same time as Sullivan and for probably the same reasons. I'm sure by this point she was sick of doing the whole get-naked-then-get-killed routine as she's asked to do here yet again. She's not even listed in the credits of this one. However, unlike Sullivan, she at least has a few memorable moments. The best involve the photo shoots, one where Hagen chastises her for holding her gun "like a limp dick" and another where she's playing a cavegirl getting gang raped by cavemen (!!!) and sighs to Jack, "I think working for you is worse than getting raped!" Cummins also strips down to a thong and dances topless before her big death scene getting her throat cut in a bubble bath, so at least she ended her film career with a bang.

As previously mentioned, it takes nearly an hour for any of these oxygen thieves to die and it's decidedly not worth the wait as nearly every kill here is bloodless and every murder sequence is ineptly staged and directed. Most of the crew gets blown up in a van while trying to leave and there's also death by syringe, plastic wrap, hanging, strangulation and blowgun. One of the double murders is completely ruined due to a strobe light effect and we get one more flashback to the killer's childhood where the nurse catches him with a girlie magazine and warns "If I catch you lookin' at women again I will cut you to pieces!!"

Because co-director Stewart was a stunt man, he makes sure to throw in lots of brainless action. There are three motorcycle wrecks, a car crash / flip, a half dozen vehicles getting blown up, several fist fights and literally dozens of explosions during the big finale where the killer chases the two last survivors around with a flare gun spitting out embarrassingly awful one-liners. If only this were anywhere near as much fun as it sounds! Click doesn't even bother trying to have a plot until the last half hour and pads the rest of the time out with endless modeling sessions and a bunch of useless dialogue scenes featuring incredibly unlikable characters. The two leads are especially bad and their moronic relationship drama and constant bickering is truly insufferable.

Hagen also co-scripted and produced, along with his wife Claire Polan. Hoke Howell was another of the writers and appears in a useless role as a detective who's seen snooping around the ranch with a gun and camera. Other small roles are played by Jack Vogel (Demon Wind), Diana Karanikas (Dead Girls) and Playboy / Hot Body model Tracy Dali (Virgin High).

One of the last Crown International releases, this isn't difficult to find at all. It's part of Mill Creek's 32 movie set "Drive In Classics" and part of an 8 film set from BCI called "After Dark Thrillers." In other words, it's quite possible you will suffer through this one day if you haven't already. Best of luck!

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