April Fool's Day (1986)
By the time April Fool's Day made its appearance the slasher genre was pretty much played out. Jason and Freddy still had some life in them, but the genre had long deteriorated into cheaper and cheaper productions with the same repetitive plots. There had already been one parody early on, Student Bodies, that also made fun of giallo films along the way, but the genre was long do for a proper send-up.
Muffy St. James (Deborah Foreman) has invited all her college friends to her family's summer house for the weekend. This includes her cousin Skip (Griffin O'Neal), recent new acquaintances Nan (Leah Pinsent) and Harvey (Jay Baker), as well as couples Rob (Ken Olandt) and Kit (Amy Steel) and Chaz (Clayton Rohner) and Nikki (Deborah Goodrich), along with Muffy's former boyfriend Arch (Tom Wilson). It's April Fool's Day, so everyone is having fun playing pranks on each other until it results in Buck (Mike Nomad), the son of the ferry owner (Lloyd Berry), getting seriously injured.
Although that starts things on a downer everyone tries to enjoy themselves despite the fact Muffy has apparently rigged the house with childish pranks, from collapsing chairs to dribble glasses and exploding cigars. However, things take a turn for the sinister when Skip is murdered. Nan and Arch soon go missing as well, and the group suddenly finds themselves cut off from the mainland. When they are finally able to get in touch with someone, Rob finds out that Muffy might not be who she says she is.
April Fool's Day packs its cast with examples of characters from pretty much every slasher: the promiscuous girl, the virgin, the sexually obsessed jock, the prankster, etc., right down to a final guy and girl. It is relatively bloodless, with many of the kills happening off-screen, and instead works on building up tension rather than going for the usual slasher standard of concentrating on the violence. This is helped immensely by Deborah Foreman's off-kilter performance as Muffy as well as solid performances from the two that filter out as the leads, Ken Olandt and Amy Steel, the latter having had slasher experience with Friday the 13th Part II.
The elephant in the room, of course, is the ending. April Fool's Day has a rather unique finale that, due to the build-up, works wonderfully, especially since there are sly swipes at previous slashers throughout. I was surprised it originally had a different version of the ending, adding a twist to the twist, but I'm glad director Fred Walton went for the one he did. That said, the final sequence after the true ending is silly and unnecessary, when the point has already been made.
After April Fool's Day there wasn't much reason to do satires or parodies of slashers, as they had pretty much become parodies of themselves. I do give it to Danilo Bach, the screenwriter, and director Walton for not making a movie like this heavily self-referential, but instead treating it as if it was the very thing they were making fun of. It may drag here and there, but largely this remains an enjoyable movie, even if one knows the ending is coming.
April Fool's Day (1986)
Time: 89 minutes
Starring: Deborah Foreman, Griffin O'Neal, Clayton Rohner, Jay Baker, Deborah Goodrich, Leah Pinsent, Ken Olandt, Amy Steel, Tom Wilson
Director: Fred Walton