As the second part of Death Ensemble’s Deborah Foreman Double Shot, Phil reviews APRIL FOOL’S DAY. A solid slasher, it’s got an ending that pisses people off. Is it worth watching anyway? Well, it’s still got Deborah Foreman… Check out Phil’s WAXWORK review for more Foreman Funtime.
When I wrote my review for MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, I mentioned it was a prime example of the bait-and-switch. In writing about APRIL FOOL’S DAY, it’s impossible not to mention another old tactic: the one trick pony. On face value, the flick comes across as another slasher among a heap of 80s slashers; though better done than most, it follows the formula set out almost a decade earlier. But in its final reveal, APRIL FOOL’S DAY makes a move that seals its fate and makes any future viewing unnecessary. Which is a shame—and I say this as one who doesn’t really like slashers—because as far as they go, up to that point, this one is a keeper.
A group of rich, privileged college kids hop on a ferry to congregate at a palatial house for the weekend. They’ve been assembled by Muffy St. John, a co-ed with a penchant for rigging her mansion with pranks. And pranks are the order of the day, as two of the kids stage one on the ferry. But when a deckhand gets his face destroyed by ferry, it foreshadows death for the college kids. As the group of nine is whittled down to just two, it becomes a fight for survival against a cold blooded slasher. Or does it?
I don’t want to get all literary on you, but APRIL FOOL’S DAY’s central theme goes all the way back to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. As its title suggests, the whole film is a case of seeming versus being. Perception shapes reality to the point where perception becomes reality. For instance, when Buffy starts to act weird after the first night, I perceived something was noticeably off: in her dress, her demeanor, her look. Toward the end, the film offers an explanation for this, and changes the reality of the movie. But the worm turns again during that ending I mentioned, and perception takes on a whole new reality. This probably sounds awfully confusing if you’ve never seen the movie, but I don’t want to ruin it for you. Because I recommend you watch APRIL FOOL’S DAY. And then you can judge the ending for yourself.
One reason to watch is that the film genuinely builds tension as it steamrolls toward that ending. Director Fred Walton adeptly mounts suspense, with the kids starting to freak out once it becomes more and more apparent they’re being stalked. The script by Danilo Bach does a great job of isolating the kids from the mainland, and provides some solid kills, a prerequisite for any slasher. Things degenerate from the nice dinner scene with speeches about togetherness, to an air of paranoia where the kids start pointing fingers at each other, and trying to dig up their secrets.
APRIL FOOL’S DAY is also interesting as a curio of the 80s, with a cast that bespeaks of the era. If you’re my age, you’ll identify Arch as Thomas F. Wilson, famously Biff from BACK TO THE FUTURE. To slasher fans, Amy Steel will forever be Ginny Fields of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2. Ken Olandt, who plays her boyfriend Rob, is the narcoleptic kid in SUMMER SCHOOL. Son of Ryan O’Neal, Griffin O’Neal plays Buffy’s cousin Skip. For a fairly large cast, they’re a tight knit group, and all do a solid job of playing the material just as it requires. They’re a likable ensemble that go a bit beyond the cardboard cutouts so many slashers rely upon. Steel is especially worthy of mention, as she has a talent for acting in slashers that could have transcended to better roles. It’s a shame she never became a bigger actress.
Binding all these characters together is perennial 80s movie chick Deborah Foreman as Buffy. Though Foreman tends to mug a lot in her movies (which is not a bad thing necessarily, as she keeps all her roles lively), she’s more restrained here than usual. She’s also required to play a character three different ways by the time all is said and done, and she has the chops to pull it off. If she weren’t up to the challenge, the movie would’ve faltered greatly for it. Foreman’s films aren’t always great, but credit her with being a driving force in them, as it’s always a pleasure to see what her characters will do next.
All these positives make for one of the era’s better slashers… and then there’s that damned ending. I hadn’t seen APRIL FOOL’S DAY in about 20 years until I picked it up on disc a few years back, and that closer was the reason why. It was absolutely unnecessary for two decades to watch it, and had I not watched MY CHAUFFEUR a few weeks back and gone on a Deborah Foreman kick, I wouldn’t have watched it again for a long while. Which, I reiterate, is a damn shame. As with MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, the ending may piss off the uninitiated, and have people feeling cheated. The question I asked myself after I watched it again this week was, Do I want that ending to ruin what amounts to a pretty good romp? The answer, just as it was with the Lugosi film, was a solid “No.”
The one trick pony can add three and four, but beyond that he’s not good for anything else. Sure, APRIL FOOL’S DAY is exemplary of the filmmaking equivalent, but it’s got a decent cast, some good scares and tension, and the always enjoyable muggings of Deborah Foreman. For that last one alone, it’s worth a look more than every 20 years.