On Second Thought: “April Fool’s Day”

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Slasher films from the 1980’s have a bad reputation and with good reason. They’re typically terrible. Just more of the same, but none of the later films showing they learned anything from what had been done previously. While they may be awful films through and through, it doesn’t stop them from being fun in some way, shape or form. It really just depends on the viewer. I guess that’s better than just being a terrible film.

The Paramount Pictures film “April Fool’s Day” is surprisingly better, in so many ways, than most of the other slasher’s that came out during this time. It’s why I’m now thinking this may be my favorite slasher from the ’80s, and am so glad it wasn’t at all possible to make a sequel. That definitely would’ve ruined it. While I’m certain that this film has always been as predictable as it is, it doesn’t keep it from being a must watch, especially on one of the most annoying holidays of the year. I will be so glad when this day is over. For now, I’m just going to be thankful that this film exists, which allowed for me to do another horror holiday themed piece, and begin working on tracking down a copy of this film. I must include it in my ever growing collection.

It’s All Fun And Games Until Somebody Ends Up “Dead”

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One of the great things that this film did, which apparently I forgot about, was develop suspense. It started off slowly, but after some successful moments, led by several smaller mysteries and “Where did so and so go?”, the suspense was able to fully take over and send you through to the end. I wasn’t aware a film that I remember so well could be effective in this way. I found myself buying into it all which allowed for some anxious feelings to creep in, and had me wondering what the hell would happen next. Would they survive a crazy person? Who was the crazy person?

If you’ve seen this film then you already know the answer. Now, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I got too involved in this film, which sounds a little weird as you’d hope that the film could drag you in, or risk being a bore. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised by this element. I think I was more surprised by this than the overall fact that this is a film with some amazing cinematography and a beautiful set! With older horror films, especially ones as memorable as this one, it’s hard to go back and become hooked in the same way you were the first time, if at all. Typically, this type of film just becomes background noise.

I guess some of this has to be because this film wasn’t at all trying to be like all the other slasher films before it or after. This one wasn’t tame by comparison, it was just setting out to be better and different than the rest. Now, you can basically debate all day long the level of good this film achieved, but because this wasn’t about blood and gore or even the individual “kills”, it puts it pretty high up.

Another strong reason why this film seems to work and be as enjoyable as it is, is because of the story itself. Not only is it different, but it seems to borrows from another well known narrative and does something different with it. I’m just guessing that writer Danilo Bach borrowed from this other story, but there are too many elements in this film that suggest otherwise. When I saw this film last, which I’m thinking was awhile ago, I didn’t know about the other well known story, so I couldn’t possibly note similarities. Now that I know of it and have seen a film adaptation, it’s easier to spot. The story I’m talking about, for those who haven’t figured it out, is called “And Then There Were None” and it’s written by Agatha Christie. In this film, the tinier mysteries I spoke of, echo that of Christie’s characters. In each, the characters are confronted with some secret that they thought only they knew of. Not only does it create drama here, but again, mystery which then fuels the suspense. Another bit I noticed, other than this film taking place in a big beautiful house on an island, is that on the table during the dinner scene, there are little dolls used for seating. In Christie’s novel, there are 10 figurines on the table. Oh! And this next one I love even more. One of the character’s in this film directly references Christie. She says, “It’s just like in Agatha Christie.” When I heard that line, I just knew. This wasn’t coincidence, if it ever was thought to be.

That being said, I don’t find that this is a drawback. Again, Bach used these elements, more just the basic structure of Christie’s novel, and tailored it for a horror film. Other horror elements and clichés were able to be woven in and out and, once more, suspense could come through. In the end, the film watchable and is certainly one worth watching every so often.

Better Characters, Same Formula

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While kind of its own drawback, the fact that Bach even tried to give more life to the characters, is a huge plus. It also helps that because of his approach to the story, and some expected use of a well known horror formula, he had time to do this. Most other horror films would’ve just gone straight to the deaths and multiple attempts at trying to survive. But not here.

This film had tons of moments. The first 20 minutes, like with other films in general, was spent largely on getting to know the characters. I may not have cared too much about their names, but I enjoyed what was being given to me. I could see why they were friends or could easily just get along. This then simply allow for me to find them likable. What also helped was what I consider a genuine want to provide insight into who they are. Like with the beginning of the film, there were plenty of moments where the characters are just hanging out and doing what friends do in a situation like this. They are on some sort of outing after all. For instance, one character’s talking about what he’ll do after graduation. It’s not as easy as a decision as it should be, and so dramatic moments can exist. Then there’s another character who’s revealed to have had an abortion, and mysterious information hinting at this makes her uneasy. I’ll admit that none of these moments are terribly moving or would really give you a deep reason to care that a character “died”, but there was something that felt different about it all. Something that most other horror films never come even close to exploring.

After this, it’s business as usual. Fortunately, as I’ve stated before, this film’s story made it okay for the rest of the film to unspool in a typical fashion. The slow build up and happier moments with characters are had, followed by a slow but inevitable descent into complete chaos and terror. We get there by way of “dead” characters and bad decision making. Apparently these college kids don’t all know you shouldn’t wander off by yourself. Fortunately, which is something you don’t really see in this preemptive way, the characters took steps to try and protect themselves until help could arrive. Completely and utterly refreshing. I’m also thinking now of a line that Amy Steel’s Kit says. She says to Ken Olandt, “Rob, don’t go in there.” She’s one of the smartest characters in a slasher, even if for only a moment and really only once. I’ll take that over most other characters just running around and getting lucky.

Originally Released: March 28, 1986

Director: Fred Walton

Writer: Danilo Bach

Starring: Jay Baker, Deborah Foreman, Deborah Goodrich, Ken Olandt, Griffin O’Neil, Leah King Pinsent, Clayton Rohner, Amy Steel and Thomas F. Wilson

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