Saturday, March 29, 2014

APRIL FOOL'S DAY (1986)

APRIL FOOL'S DAY should have a place in the top tier of slasher fans' hearts, like around an aorta.  Maybe it's because slasher fans just want the same ol' thing, but I've never really seen any evidence of a strong cult following for this film.  I know plenty of people who have seen it and all had warm words for it, but it inexplicably lacks the kind of fan devotion that SLEEPAWAY CAMP, for some reason, commands.  We won't even talk about people who care about later FRIDAY THE 13TH and NIGHTMARE sequels.  Well, you're all wrong and now I'm going to explain why.


A pier appears, full of privileged college kids who are headed to their rich friend Muffy's island retreat.  Usually, in films of this stripe, these introduction scenes are agonizing.  That's not the case with APRIL FOOL'S DAY, as its deft script gives us fun characters and entertaining banter.  It also gives us boating-accident mutilation, throwing down right in SLEEPAWAY CAMP's face.  As the kids journey to the remote island of unworking phones, violence and death show up all over the place.  Bodies in wells!  Creepy dolls!  All good things, leading up to a fine rising climax and fun denouement.


I don't like slashers very much, mostly because most of them feel routine and painted-by-numbers.  APRIL FOOL'S DAY, in these early scenes, is just the opposite: inventive and lively, we get equal time with all of the splendid characters and learn to care about them before they're poked full of holes.  Man, I love the editing here, it's so quick and precise and keeps the movie moving at such an exciting pace.  The cast in general is tremendous, but I would like to recognize special achievers.  First, Jay Baker as Harvey is too much fun.  He's like a mashup of J.R. Ewing and Alex P. Keaton (Google it, people under 35), and his Texas hick/business major character is one of the best things about this movie. 


But I would probably give the gold medal of acting to Deborah Goodrich as Nikki.  Goodrich puts the emphasis on "Good" here, giving us this really assured and confident performance which also incorporates a lot of comedy.  She looks similar to Sarah Michelle Gellar and Nikki is kind of a Buffy-esque character, but I'd maybe opt for Goodrich over Gellar based on what she does here.  If you're not into Deborah Goodrich and her timing and her eighties hair, you are not my friend.


I hate slashers, but I also hate other things, like comedy in horror, since generally it does not work at all.  But APRIL FOOL'S DAY again defies tradition by adding a ton of fun to the mix.  We get pranks, we get witty dialogue, but we also get good physical comedy.  Ken Olandt is clearly excellent at this sort of body work.  I dare you to not lol at the towel scene or be amazed at how natural he looks in failing to punch someone.  


Glasses can be half-empty, too, and the downside of all this excellence in character, editing, and script in the early stages is that they have to be ditched when this becomes a horror film.  To be honest, I'm not that convinced by the initial descent into tension.  There's definitely enough creepy decor, but we start lingering a little too long on survivors moving stealthily around and lose the awesome fast pace of the first half's editing.  It feels a lot less special, more like the kind of white-label generic SLASHER MOVIE that haunted video stores in the eighties.


We have learned not to doubt APRIL FOOL'S DAY, though, and it defies expectations again by pulling off a really rad final stalk and then unleashes a wrap-up that you will either love or hate with all the hate you have.  Personally, I dug the hell out of it.  It's inventive and falls right in line with the rest of the excellent script.  I would put APRIL FOOL'S DAY right up there with ALICE SWEET ALICE as just one step below god-tier genre stuff like HALLOWEEN.  It holds up very well nearly 30 years later and its minor flaws do very little to wreck its overall success.
 

RATING: 8

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