April Fool’s Day

July 14, 2011

Deborah Foreman, eyebrows at work

Let’s see now—unless I’m mistaken, we’ve run through just about every major holiday for teen horror films: from Halloween through My Bloody Valentine with a detour for that nasty thing with a crazed Santa Claus. April Fool’s Day should put an end to the cycle, unless some wise guy dreams up Arbor Day Massacre.

In fact, by now, April Fool’s Day is just a tad anachronistic. The holiday horror cycle peaked about three or four years ago. Lately, we’ve seen some class return to horror movies.

But April Fool’s Day finds a new angle: to continually pull the rug out from under you, in the nature of the holiday. And the film has enough humor to suggest that it’s almost parodying the genre. Almost, but not quite. It still relies on the cheap thrills of the degraded slice ‘n’ dice formula.

The setting, as one character notes, is quasi-Agatha Christie. A troop of college-age kids is ferried out to an island hideaway, where they will expire one by one.

Ominous signs crop up the first night. The hostess, Muffy (Deborah Foreman), puts whoopee cushions at the dinner table and sets someone up in a collapsible chair. Is this woman murderously insane, or does she merely think she’s the entertainment director at a Shriners convention?

As it turns out, the whoopee cushions are eerie harbingers of the evil to come (not the first time whoopee cushions have functioned this way). Muffy combs her hair straight back and wears nurse’s shoes, which tips off her friends that something is very, very wrong. Then the kids start disappearing, and then reappearing with parts of their bodies missing, like the heads.

April Fool’s Day contains many familiar scenes, such as the climb down into the dark slimy well, the jaunt out to the end of the pier at midnight, and, of course, the trip to the attic, where two of the kids learn that Muffy has been decapitating Barbie dolls.

It’s all too, too horrible, and continues to play itself out until almost everyone is eliminated. Director Fred Walton springs a few twists toward the end, but early on you can pretty well guess what they might be.

Foreman, who overacted shamelessly in the recent My Chauffeur, has a few creepy moments, although most of her performance exists in her eyebrows. The other cast members are negligible, except for a real looker named Leah King Pinsent as Muffy’s intellectual friend (she reads Milton on the ferry trip, which, like, really bums out the other kids), and Griffin O’Neal, who sounds a lot like his father, Ryan.

It’s better-looking and more good-natured than most films of its ilk. But, ultimately, April Fool’s Day still plays the same dumb game, even if its tongue is in its cheek.

First published in the Herald, March 29, 1986

Fred Walton had directed When a Stranger Calls, but you don’t need me to tell you that. The fact that I can remember nothing about this movie makes me feel absolutely nothing. It was sort of remade in 2008.