In many ways, Fred Walton's 'April Fool's Day' could be seen as the death nail in the coffin of the slasher movie which had previously been so popular at the beginning of the 1980's. Despite boasting one of the more impressive casts in the sub-genres history and the talents of a director who had had horror success earlier in his career, 'April Fool's Day' is widely regarded as the poster child of why the entire craze had become so stagnant. In my opinion however, 'April Fool's Day' is one of the more ambitious and funnier slashers of this time period and if hadn't arrived so late on the scene, it would be regarded as one of the better entries in the sub-genre. Fairly restrained in terms of both terror and gore, 'April Fool's Day' bears much more resemblance to a traditional horror comedy than a straight-up screamer and because of this, the film seems lighter and less aggressive in tone than some of the more nihilistic slashers such as 'My Bloody Valentine', 'The Prowler' or 'Silent Night, Deadly Night'.
The movie tells the story of a group of teenagers who visit their friends island mansion for the April Fool's weekend where they fall victim to a number of light pranks. However amongst the frivolity and laughter, not all is at it seems and over the course of their stay, they are individually picked off by an unknown killer and the final few adolescents have to solve the mystery before they too are killed.
While this narrative may seem entirely conventional for a slasher, 'April Fool's Day' does contain a very clever and funny twist which while seeming convoluted, works well with the jovial nature of the film. By the end of the slasher boom of the early 1980's, horror audiences were becoming bored with the same, tired conventions that were being recycled by filmmakers across the world and and as result, the films were not performing well at the box office. Earlier films such as 'Black Christmas', 'Halloween', 'Prom Night' and 'Friday The 13th' had laid down the basic template for the contemporary slasher which was very to easy to replicate and by the end of 1981, nearly every major production studio in America had at least one horror movie success. Unfortunately, producers saw the huge box office potential of slashers and soon an endless stream of sequels were churned out with ruthless regularity. Every Summer, a new 'Halloween', 'Friday The 13th' or 'Nightmare On Elm Street' film would would be released and consequently, audiences were soon becoming numb to both the conventions and the gore displayed on screen.
It was at the end of this glut of slashers that Fred Walton (who had directed the highly astmospheric 1979 movie 'When A Stranger Calls') unleashed 'April Fool's Day' on the world. Starring such talents as 'Valley Girls' Deborah Foreman, 'Back To The Future' villain Thomas Wilson and 'Friday The 13th : Part 2's Amy Steel, the movie boasts one of the best casts in the sub-genres history and as a result, the acting quality is a lot higher than that of many other slashers. As a group, the characters are witty, likable and are completely believable unlike many teenagers in horror movies of this period. The direction from Walton is also very impressive, creating a palpable air of suspense and dread with comparatively little. Unlike many horror film makers of this time, Walton knew that little is more and with the use of close ups, tracking shots and well chosen music, he was able to create much more terror than with the overuse of gore that directors were using to death in other films. Those wanting a blood-strewn good time were going to somewhat disappointed with 'April Fool's Day'.
The score is written by Charles Bernstein, who is most famous for doing the creepy, brooding soundtrack for Wes Craven's 'A Nightmare On Elm Street'. Unlike 'Nightmare' however, the music for 'April Fool's Day' is much more melodious and classically infused than the synthesised, electric score that made Craven's film so tense. Because of this, the score for 'April Fool's Day' is less reminiscent of 'A Nightmare On Elm St.' and more comparable to Bernstein's own soundtrack for Lewis Teague's terrifying Stephen King adaptation 'Cujo' (1983).
While 'April Fool's Day' is a solidly made and moderately scary film, the special effects and a lagging pace really do let the film down. While the slashers predating were getting more and more conventional, the artistry going into the gore was going up and audiences were being wowed by realistic looking decapitations, impalings and eviscerations thanks to the work of such geniuses as Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero. The effects in 'April Fool's Day' are nothing like the quality of Savini's work and as a result make the movie look a lot older than it is. As for the gore itself, there is a surprisingly small amount of blood - a rather laughable eye gouging is the most graphic moment on offer and even this lacks the crunchiness of some of the lighter films in the genre.
A distinct lack of gore and a prevalance towards comedy certainly didnt do much for 'April Fool's Day's reputation. However, it was the twist that is revealed at the end of the film which continues to divide horror audiences to this day. While some see it as a humorous postmodern slant on the slasher movie, predating 1996's much more successful 'Scream', others view it as a self - indulgent, over-thought middle finger to the audience. As a result, the movie suffered heavily at the box office, only barely breaking even. Many slashers before had fared badly but none so much as 'April Fool's Day' and horror filmmakers saw this as a sign that the sub-genre was finally done for. The slasher movie lay dormant for nearly a decade and it wouldn't be until 1996 when Wes Craven would unveil 'Scream' that a new life would be once again breathed into the slasher film.
Rating : ***1/2