Wednesday, April 1, 2015

April Fool's Day (1986)

A group of college friends decide to spend the weekend before graduation at a house on a lake owned by Muffy, one of the girls in the group. Muffy's birthday happens to land on April Fool's Day, so the group is naturally ripe with pranks, gags and jokes. However, when innocent pranks turn into a killing spree, the group finds that maybe they weren't so harmless after all.

Right from the opening credits, I knew this one was going to be good. It's rare to find a horror movie that stands on its own and has a theme, but they pull it off beautifully. In what has to be the creepiest, most unnerving title sequence I've ever seen, we see a young woman in her basement looking at a jack-in-the-box and remembering a birthday from when she was a little girl. All the while, a haunting melody plays in the background. The little girl is at a table surrounded by friends and family and is opening a birthday present. She can't be more than six or seven years old. The gift turns out to be the jack-in-the-box, and as the little girl turns the handle, the tune slowly plays until finally the box springs open and a rubber monster pops out. This scene gives us insight into the childhood of this woman and what it was like growing up with her birthday on April Fool's Day.

This movie's ability to build suspense is incredible. I was shocked to learn that the director had only created a handful of theatrical movies, and only a few of those were horror movies. Prior to April Fool's Day, he created the original When a Stranger Calls in 1979, but has since only created direct-to-tv movies. It's really a shame since his talent is obvious in both character direction and his ability to set the mood in any given scene. Even when the group of friends are on the ferry on their way to the house, there is this sense of looming danger, like something is about to happen even though everyone seems so happy. It's difficult to articulate, but at no point in the film did I feel like the director took any scene lightly, and the attention is in the details.

You might guess from the title, and from the numerous pranks the group plays on one another right from the beginning, that this is going to be a "boy who cried wolf" scenario until finally no one believes when things are actually happening - I know that's what I thought. In a sense, that's partially true, but since the audience has just as much information as the characters in the film, you feel just as tense and unsure as they do, and it's awesome. The idea that one of them is the killer, or maybe none of them are the killer, or maybe there is no killer, is brilliantly executed. I mean, the title is April Fool's Day, so is it just a prank? Did he really die? They all seem really into this holiday, so is it possible that this is some elaborate hoax?

Spoilers: Yes, it is an elaborate hoax. In a genius twist at the very end of the film, we discover that all of the murders and disappearances is just one big ruse designed by the house owner and main character, Muffy. Even if they had left that as the ending, it would have been fine, but they go one step further to give us a back story and reasoning behind the prank. Apparently, in an effort to keep her house, Muffy is turning it into a bed and breakfast that also offers a "who dun it" murder mystery party, and she wanted to try out her idea on her friends on April Fool's Day. Brilliant. I love this idea, not only as an ending for the movie but also as something I would sign up for in real life. It's what makes this movie one of the most original horror movies I've seen in a long, long time.

In closing, I would absolutely recommend watching this movie. I can safely say this is going to be an annual tradition for me personally on April Fool's Day. The acting is terrific, the writing is well done, the direction and music are outstanding, and the ending is original. Happy April Fool's Day and keep on pranking!

3 out of 4.

The guy who plays Biff from Back to the Future is in this one, surprisingly in an identical role.

Cheers and goodnight.

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