Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #94
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: March 27, 2006
Sub-Genre: Eighties Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Box-Office: $12,947,763 (USA)
Running Time: 89 minutes
Director: Fred Walton
Producer: Frank Mancuso Jr.
Screenplay: Danilo Bach
Special Effects: Christopher Swift, Martin Becker, Jim Gill, Bettie Kauffman
Cinematography: Charles Minsky
Score: Charles Bernstein
Editing: Bruce Green
Studios: Paramount Pictures, Hometown Films, YCTM
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Stars: Amy Steel, Deborah Foreman, Deborah Goodrich, Ken Olandt, Tom Heaton, Jay Baker, Griffin O’Neal, Leah Pinsent, Clayton Rohner, Thomas F. Wilson, Pat Barlow, Mike Nomad , Lloyd Berry
Suggested Audio Candy:
Jerry Whitman Too Bad You’re Crazy
Of all the calendar days acknowledged as special, none baffle me quite as soundly as April Fool’s Day. Christmas I get as I haven’t forgotten being a kid and it’s great to see turkey receive its annual run-out. Birthdays provide 24-hour immunity from nagging or reprimand and we all deserve that privilege once a year. Valentine’s Day offers an exclusive chance to rekindle fading romance or atone for prior infidelity. Thanksgiving brings sparring families together, albeit often reluctantly. Easter reminds us how much we all love overpriced chocolate. What’s not to love about All Hallow’s Eve? And then there’s April Fool’s Day. Perhaps I’m missing a trick here but, when the sole aim of said festival is to bamboozle the unsuspecting, it just seems a little inane. Granted, jokers may think they have attained the upper hand but, considering nobody actually regards it as a viable holiday, they still likely end up hoisting linen out of their ass cracks. What a crock!
By the mid-eighties, pretty much every public holiday had been used as backdrops for carnage. Halloween, Bloody Birthday, Silent Night Deadly Night, and My Bloody Valentine had already explored the festivities and even the superstitious implications of Friday The 13th had been exploited as a way of getting asses on seats so it seemed only natural that the pranksters’ second birthday be celebrated also. The slasher craze was already faltering by that point and Paramount Pictures were keen to revive its flagging fortunes. Danny Steinmann’s Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning had already attempted to be clever and consequently the brand’s credibility had been tarnished. Desperate to prove that the American public still craved a good slasher, April Fool’s Day represented a bold change of direction and, in director Fred Walton, they appeared to have themselves a safe pair of hands.
Walton had already briefly explored the slasher trend with his superior 1979 suspense flick When a Stranger Calls and seemed to be on to a winner with this project when approached by screenwriter Danilo Bach who had already penned the hugely successful Beverly Hills Cop. Signs were initially encouraging as the film made back Paramount’s $5m investment with relative ease in it opening week theatrically and went on to turn a modest profit. However, it went on to swan-dive from the big screen faster than a sky diving sack of cellulite and eventually disappeared without leaving so much as a puddle of blood to denote its whereabouts, which turned out to be something of a running theme ironically.
The story actually owes a lot to Agatha Christie’s whodunnit Ten Little Indians. College pals Harvey (Jay Baker), Kit (Amy Steel), Nikki (Deborah Goodrich), Rob (Ken Olandt), Skip (Griffin O’Neal), Nan (Leah Pinsent), Chaz (Clayton Rohner), and Arch (Thomas F. Wilson) have been cordially invited by their friend Muffy (Deborah Foreman) to spend their spring break at her folks’ island getaway and we spend the opening act getting to know this gaggle of greebs as they engage in the customary leg-pulling antics en route to their destination. However, no sooner have they set their bags down, than events take a turn for the mystifying and numbers are duly trimmed by an anonymous assailant. One by one our “little Indians” head off to explore Muffy’s idyllic holiday haunt, only to turn up missing. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary so far.
Charles Bernstein April Fool’s Day
That said, April Fool’s Day has an ace up its sleeve in that nothing is quite as it seems and its sole intention is to lead the viewer a merry dance, until its ultimate “aha” revelation arrives at the tail-end and leaves us all feeling well and truly pranked. Tomfoolery is rife throughout and the disposable teens make the most of every last opportunity to exploit one another in the name of hearty one-upmanship, while Walton scatters red herrings about with gay abandon to keep his audience guessing. To his credit, he generates a fair deal of tension as his plot thickens, although it’s reasonably clear who’s for the chop and who will be the ultimate recipient of the final act gotcha moment.
There are two chief reasons why April Fool’s Day still comes up in conversation thirty years later and they’re both very much related. First would be the dearth of on-screen gore as Walton’s film remains relatively bloodless through its entire duration. There’s no shortage of troublesome teenagers primed for the pruning but the murders play out primarily off-screen, which will turn off anybody hoping for a bloodbath. However, there’s method to his madness as decapitation and disembowelment would have been impossible to justify given what he has in store. Time to expose the elephant in the room thus, should you have not yet watched this and have any inclination to do so, then I suggest you stop reading right about now.
The whole affair turns out to be a running joke and the last people let in on it are the final girl and the audience ourselves. April Fool’s Day may appear to be a slasher flick without the slashing and that may leave some feeling soundly thwarted as the final body count amounts to a big fat zero. However, rarely has a twist been so pivotal to the decision to deny anything resembling bloodletting. Walton’s film works better as a whodunnit and makes up for what it lacks in splatter with no shortage of dark humor and the critical sting in its tail. This approach is bound to divide opinion as, while refreshingly different from its stablemates, it’s hard not to feel a little cheated once the inevitable sucker punch arrives.
There isn’t a great deal of venom I can spit in Walton’s direction for having a little fun with the formula but my main grievance would be that it arrived a little too late in the day to make an impact. J. Lee Thompson’s Happy Birthday To Me preceded it by a full five years and adopted a similarly cunning approach, without being hamstrung by its own trickery. Ultimately April Fool’s Day is something of a one-time deal and, after we’ve been suckered once, we’re left with 89 minutes of hide and seek that mysteriously vanishes from our memory vaults akin to one of Muffy’s guests.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Rating: 1/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: While I understand the reasoning behind the almost non-existent splatter, it still neuters Walton’s picture of anything to quench your blood thirst. Indeed, it’s as dry of grue as a mouthful of sand and peanuts. We slasher enthusiasts are a fickle bunch thus, while the lack of gruesome detail is forgivable given the circumstances, the non-existence of harmless T&A is much harder to justify. Twist or no twist, there are a number of optically pleasing co-eds on the platter and they’re far too well-behaved for my liking. Guess the joke is on me.
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Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2014 (Revised Edition 2016)