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.



spookyx3 said...

second viewing. chuckled in delight at the ending this go around: for how long it took the hysterical boyfriend to comprehend, and amy steel's reaction was well done. i'd've _liked_ to experience the film as intended, to have that realization in tandem with them, except no matter how much time was put between the initial pranks and the reveal, whatever else came up, i wasn't buying any of it. has anyone actually owned up to being fooled by this ever? the idea's OK, just way too obvious to work as written here, and if you guess the twist (from the _title_ alone, say) there's not much else happening... i don't care about people or their privileged lives. what else? it is kinda fun to watch deborah foreman interact with the group when you know she's orchestrating everything. i focused on the art direction, those attractive of-the-time pastel hues/complimentary colors, the introduction of more red danger tones after skip is discovered inc. arch's & rob's shirts, kit's tie, porter's flare, nikki's robe etc. no blu yet but prime has a nice HD print for rent.

spookyx3 said...

> i don't care about people or their privileged lives.

_these_ people. i write too fast.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I remember liking this OK as a kid but it seems to get dumber and dumber each time I watch it. Already knowing the ending, I was rolling my eyes several times before they even hit the island, especially with...

1. Arch and Skip playing the knife game. Arch throws what is a (I assume plastic?) prop knife and it basically rockets in a completely straight line halfway across the ship and hits Skip directly in the stomach, manages to stick there and I guess break the squib he has hidden under his shirt. Really?

2. The "deckhand" getting his face mangled managed to do a two to three hour professional makeup application on his face in a matter of seconds WHILE UNDERWATER. Amazing!

And a lot of the other "scares" relied entirely on a ridiculous amount of sheer coincidence.

Good example: The corpse under the floorboards of the boathouse bit.

To pull that off would not only require impeccable timing but also psychic ability. They had no clue anyone would even go in the boathouse and even less of a clue that a couple would happen to be lying on the floor in there and one would just happen to turn their head to the side so they'd even see the body. No one was lured there as Amy spontaneously pulled her boyfriend in to cheer him up. And then after they see the "body" neither even bothers trying to look *under* the boathouse or in the water to see if the corpse was still there.

The more I think about all of the individual prank scenes, the dumber it seems to get!

spookyx3 said...

it's a disaster. the "final couple" need to act illogically to stay in the dark. otherwise, they're in on the joke just like everyone else. don't immediately flee the boathouse, stick around ten seconds and you'll see skip isn't dead! truly, the scheme would've fallen apart at the first hurdle.

and nan looking non-plussed during the ending celebration to set up the (already neutered) last scare... nothing works.

nicely photographed, though.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Not to mention the whole set-up is about Muffy doing a test run to turn the place into a murder mystery bed-and-breakfast type establishment to save her inheritance. Seeing how her first attempt includes one guy almost getting injured (perhaps killed) by a snake, one woman driven to hysteria because she's reminded of a past trauma AND someone bringing a gun that very well could have been whipped out and used against HER or anyone else at any point, you would think she's realize her idea is terrible. Well, unless she wants to get sued or end up in prison. And yet she acts like she's ready to go afterward! Ha!

I read that the ending was changed three times. They filmed two different endings in Canada, one where Skip (really) tries to kill Muffy for the inheritance and another prank they all orchestrate to get back at Muffy. The ending with Nan scaring her was filmed 3 or 4 months later in L.A. and tacked on instead.

spookyx3 said...

FANGO's piece on APRIL FOOL'S DAY doesn't give up anything interesting. fred walton (misnamed "frank" on the contents page) talks a bit about shooting the snake scene, how he got the job, and WHEN A STRANGER CALLS.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Lord, I hope Fango wasn't actually *praising* the film back then. I actually wondered how the genre specific magazines reacted to this when it was released.

I got a little annoyed reading some 30th Anniversary articles about this movie after I did my review. One on Daily Dead (https://dailydead.com/april-fools-day/) claims it "largely flew under the radar." This was a wide theatrical release from a major studio that was in EVERY video store in the U.S. and all over cable for decades. It was pushed and promoted very hard with a higher budget than even the Friday series got. As for revisionist write-ups decades later behaving as if this was some kind of underdog production: No way! I don't think you could have avoided this film if you tried.

But the same Daily Dead article also has a Walton interview that explains a lot. He claims it was conceived as a parody but he didn't love the script and simply tried to make it scary without any gore. That probably explains why it's not really a parody despite the PR people referring to it as such.

Here's part of the article where the ending is discussed:

“Don Bach wrote a third act which had always been in the script, and we shot it up there on the island,” explained Walton. “The kids take the ferry back to the mainland the next day (after the party scene), while Muffy remains behind to clean up the house. On the ferry, the kids decide to return immediately and pull an elaborate prank on Muffy to get back at her, to scare her as badly as she had scared them, which they do and it’s all in good fun, of course.”

“The whole thing took about 20 additional minutes of screentime, so when the Paramount execs saw the director's cut, they decided to drop the third act. It's not that they didn't like it so much as they felt the party scene hit such a high note that it was the natural place to end the picture. Frank convinced them, however, that audiences would want some kind of comeuppance for Muffy, so we put together that final scene with Muffy and Nan and the jack-in-the-box, and we shot it in L.A., months after we had left British Columbia, along with the bonfire sequence at the very end.”

Bonfire sequence? Why do I not remember that?

spookyx3 said...

> The more I think about all of the individual prank scenes, the dumber it seems to get!

the one that gets me is the well scene. maybe nikki wouldn't have fallen and cracked her skull open because they loosened the rungs (hilarious joke, guys!) but the staging of it, with the bodies and decapitated heads undetected for several minutes before emerging from the water... no!

> I hope Fango wasn't actually *praising* the film back then.

i'll try to dig up any mentions subsequent to the promo. there's probably a review or at least a note of the video release a little later. they didn't cover I SAW WHAT YOU DID! or the STRANGER CALLS sequel, AFAICS, but they did get walton back for a WASC retrospective (september '95). in that, writer keith bearden calls APRIL FOOL'S DAY an "underrated horror/comedy".

looked up AFD in john mccarty's OFFICIAL SPLATTER MOVIE GUIDE (it happened to be within arm's reach) immediately after this recent viewing. he says: "cleverly directed and well (and amusingly) acted by it's youthful ensemble cast, AFD definitely isn't great, but it does have its moments." book published in 1989.

> final scene with Muffy and Nan and the jack-in-the-box

you know, i actually like them both in that scene and how it plays out, even if it doesn't work as a scare. just too little, way too late.

> Bonfire sequence? Why do I not remember that?

i'm blanking, too.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I think it was Roger Ebert who called it "The Idiot Plot" where if people behaved like normal human beings the movie would be over in about 5 minutes. I think it's safe to say that if anyone behaved like a normal human being in AFD the end credits would be rolling right after the boat docks at the beginning! And then it adds insult to injury by removing all of the exploitative elements that really fueled 80s slasher flicks so it doesn't successfully parody them either. Not very well thought out at all. Based on his comments, I don't think Walton was ever really on board with the "comedy" and directed accordingly. A lot of people always knock Jim Wynorski, but Sorority House Massacre II and Hard to Die are far better parodies of slasher-exploitation but will never be given credit for it.

I'm utterly perplexed at all of the reviews calling the characters likable. I hated nearly all of them even though the actors themselves were good. I think my favorite was Goodrich, who has that rare ability to deliver lots of sarcastic dialogue yet not come off as being too bitchy. I'd probably rather be friends with her than Amy Steel's character, who didn't get me in her corner after humiliating her boyfriend during dinner, even though I think she apologized for it later.

I didn't mind the last scene so much either. It's basically the only murder prank in the entire film that could plausibly be pulled off! But, yeah, too late!

spookyx3 said...

about rovin's novelization (SPOILERS):

the murder tricks work far better in print than the awkward cut-away staging for the screen. where the movie stops, the book continues on, ending in another slightly more satisfying twist. damn near every character has some sort of a potential motive or precedent for the killing spree, no matter how tenuous. heck, even muffy's maid, clara (barely there in the film), served two years for the accidental stabbing of a pharmacy clerk. a great deal plays out just like the movie, except with heaps more character detail and wholly new dialogue.

opens with muffy dreaming about a knife-wielding intruder. the initial stabbing prank comes during a protracted game of "knife-toss." the group discusses muffy's acting roles in various plays on the ferry over.

after seeing skip's body floating under the boathouse, rob actually goes under the pier to investigate, but is pulled away by kit protesting loudly from the shore. instead of the snake scene, arch is run over by a tractor. nan finds both heads on pikes out in the woods and then is attacked by someone wielding hedge clippers. harvey and nikki find all three bodies simply by peering down into the well. rob's let in on the whole gag just before kit spills into the living room for the big reveal.

the book continues with everyone leaving the island the following morning. nan confronts muffy about the audio-tape of the crying infant left in her room. muffy disclaims all knowledge of an abortion, says what she put on the tape was totally benign. harvey confesses to nan that he caused the accidental death of an old girlfriend, running her off the road after a fight. he found cruel reminders, newspaper clippings of car accidents in his room the first night. similarly, there was hard drug paraphernalia in chaz's room.)

chaz, nikki, kit & rob decide to give muffy a taste of her own medicine. they return with blood capsules, a make-up appliance and a trick-knife. skip calls ahead; lets muffy know they're coming. back on the island, nikki is assaulted in the dark and chaz is overcome by carbon monoxide fumes. inside the house, rob is hit in the hand and shoulder with a meat-cleaver. thinking it's a gag, muffy appears and stabs at the attacker with a trick blade. eventually rob finishes him off, with scissors in the back. turns out, the would-be killer was skip, who had planned to bump off his sister muffy -- becoming sole heir to their estate -- and make suspects of the other "mystery weekend" attendees. wraps up with muffy, driven mad by all this, cradling skip in her arms.

still no idea what the "bonfire sequence" was.

spookyx3 said...

i also read danilo bach's screenplay; a "revised first draft" dated july 30th, 1986. this is basically the movie beat for beat, except of course, with the original (?) ending. oh, and nikki doesn't climb down into the well here either, but it has the snake scene, and all of muffy's little jokes -- the collapsible chairs, trick doorknobs etc. -- that were mostly absent from rovin's book. AFAICS, unlike in the book, there's no explanation for the car-wreck clippings in harvey's room, and no confession to nan. in the script, psycho skip killing his sister for the inheritance ("it's all over, muffy! everything'll be mine!") is finally revealed as _another_ prank. there's a epilogue shot, showing both of them running the inn together, with the first guests arriving.

i think i'm done now with this stupid movie. the book was better, ha.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...