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Review: April Fool’s Day (1986)

April Fool’s Day (1986)

Directed by: Fred Walton

Premise: Friends gather at an abandoned mansion for a weekend getaway. They are gradually picked off one-by-one until a single survivor remains.

What Works: In the 1980s, slasher movies were very popular and throughout the decade hundreds of these films were released to theaters or directly to the newly created home video market. Slasher pictures almost always consisted of young people in an isolated location who are murdered by a mysterious killer until only one of them remains. By the middle of the decade the formula was tired and filmmakers started to have fun with it by being self-reflexive as seen in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives or turning the genre into a gory satire like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Among the most interesting attempts to shake up the slasher formula was 1986’s April Fool’s Day. The movie follows the basic format of a slasher picture but—without giving too much away—it builds up to an unexpected reversal in the ending. The joke of April Fool’s Day is embedded in its very title and the movie is rewatchable because subsequent viewings reveal how the filmmakers prepare us for the final twist. Viewing April Fool’s Day a second and third time, it’s clear that the filmmakers lay clues to prepare us for the final reveal but also disguise them with genre conventions and by playing on the audience’s expectations. Like Scream, which would come a decade later, April Fool’s Day adheres to the slasher formula and generally satisfies its core audience with everything viewers usually enjoy about this kind of film while also displaying a great deal of self-awareness. This isn’t meta in the same way as Scream or Behind the Mask. In fact, the middle of April Fool’s Day plays as a straightforward whodunit. The threat of the horror is credible and that allows the filmmakers to play their trick on the audience. And, if the viewer allows for it, there is a delight to be found in April Fool’s Day. It possesses the scary fun of a body count picture but also a mischievous quality in the way this film hoodwinks the audience.

What Doesn’t: April Fool’s Day is at heart a slasher movie and despite whatever else it does, the movie is designed to appeal to the horror audience. Unlike Scream, which transcended the horror constituency, April Fool’s Day is unlikely to play outside of that audience. Its appeal is very specific. And that’s doubly true because of the gimmick at the center of it. At the time of its release, April Fool’s Day actually angered some of the horror audience who didn’t like the trick. The movie continues to appeal to a specific taste and viewers who get it will like it and those who don’t get it will not.

DVD extras: None.

Bottom Line: April Fool’s Day is an unusual horror film and a curio from the slasher boom of the 1980s. It’s a movie of its time but the film makes for fun viewing, especially by viewers who are familiar with slasher pictures and their clichés and it is an especially fun title to share with viewers who don’t know what’s coming.

Episode: #692 (April 1, 2018)