Two Cents is a Cinapse original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team curates the series and contribute their “two cents” using a maximum of 200-400 words. Guest contributors and comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future picks. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion. Would you like to be a guest contributor or programmer for an upcoming Two Cents entry? Simply watch along with us and/or send your pitches or 200-400 word reviews to [email protected].
The Pick: April Fool’s Day (Lesser known holiday slashers theme)
Cinapse staff Justin Harlan wanted to go to bat for lesser known holiday-themed slasher film Valentine this fine February, so we carved out a whole month to celebrate and discover some of the best lesser-known holiday themed slashers! Everyone’s heard of Halloween, last year Thanksgiving played wide across the nation. What about some of those titles that cashed in on the theme but never broke as wide? We’re excited to discover some of these titles together thanks to the Two Cents movie club format.
Before watching April Fools’ Day, I had heard from many who said it was a solid movie, but for whatever reason had been reluctant to watch it myself. Going in cold, it was film I knew almost nothing about, except that it was a horror movie. Now that I have seen it for myself, I would definitely say it was a pleasant surprise.
The film centers around a group of college friends all gathering to meet at the lake house of their mutual friend Muffy played with disarming charm by Deborah Foreman. Muffy is set to inherit the property as part of the first installment of her inheritance. She is already on the island preparing for the arrival of her friends. We meet them as they wait for the ferry to usher them across the lake from the mainland. The first friends we meet are Nikki, Kit, Rob, Chas and Arch. Nikki is being filmed introducing herself by Chas, before Rob and Arch get their turn introducing themselves. The group is joined first by Nan, followed closed by Harv and Skip who are the last to arrive.
The film relies pretty heavily on the secluded atmosphere afforded by the fact that they are set to be alone on the island, with no real help should anything go awry until the ferry begins its weekly run the following Monday. The mansion is enormous with plenty of room for everyone to be able to luxuriate in their surroundings.
Of course as the title would suggest plenty of practical jokes among the characters ensue. While on the ferry to the island Skip and Arch getting into a fight that involves Arch stabbing Skip when he grows frustrated with the game they are playing, and keels over the back of the ferry. Rob and one of the deck hands Buck dive into the water to try and save Skip but he is nowhere to be found. He rises from the murky depths waving the knife and a fake blood pack he used to fool his friends as the ferry nears the shore. It is the first of many elaborate pranks that continue until the murders of the guests begin.
All in all, this first time watch was a pleasant experience. I like when I know little about a film going in and the older I get the more I appreciate going into things mostly blind. A winning cast with an interesting conceit is always a good thing as far as I am concerned.(@BradMilne79 on X)
I was born in 1980, so the slasher genre was born around the same time I was, but I didn’t enter into fandom until the Scream era renaissance. I caught up on a lot of the earlier greats in the genre once I was old enough, but 1986’s April Fool’s Day is one of those VHS cover art titles that always tempted me at the video store growing up, but which I never did get around to seeing. So I programmed this title as a “new to me” pick for the “lesser known holiday themed slasher movies” theme for this month’s Two Cents column. And if I’m being honest, I had a really great time with this one and I’m surprised it isn’t more beloved among slasher film enthusiasts. You’ve got Amy Steel in the main cast (From Friday the 13th Part 2), you’ve got Tom Wilson (aka Biff from Back To The Future), and this somewhat ahead of its time high concept where the whole movie is this kind of proto-The Game where you’re guessing whether or not all of these murders are “real” within the context of the film or if they’re all part of the April Fool’s Day joke. Between the ridiculously horny script, the tongue in cheek comedic tone, the classic cast of ridiculous characters, the copious red herrings, and even the lake house setting, this all clicked for me in pretty glorious fashion and I’m now going to be singing the praises of April Fool’s Day among the lesser known holiday themed slashers out there.(@Ed_Travis on X)
My experience with slashers has been limited to those who’ve had long, extensive franchises–the Michaels, Freddys, and Jasons of cinema. It wasn’t really until Black Christmas a few years ago that my interest was piqued in exploring more of these standalone frightfests, which is why I was stoked that we were dedicating February to these holiday-themed entries in the 80s slasher canon. Much like how Black Christmas built up its own vibe of isolated, pulse-pounding dread, I really got into how April Fool’s Day leaned deep into the pace of a wayward John Hughes or National Lampoon entry (plus Biff Tannen!) that somehow stumbled its way into being a slasher flick. The characters are loud and obnoxious, but all distinct from one another–all with their own raunchy and lighthearted goings-on before they’re forced to run for their lives in a Ten Little Indians-style mystery.
Each kill sequence is quite fun–while it’s easy to predict the types of kills in something more franchise-based, there was a kind of perverse freedom in solely being rooted in the idea of “April Fool’s Day” as a jumping-off point. There’s an unpredictability to just how someone in the cast will meet their demise, whether it’s a boat crashing into a dock, being strung up by a noose, or one’s severed head turning up at the bottom of a well. Much like with Black Christmas, it was also surprising how restrained the gore was for something like this–a fact I later learned led to its ability to be shown repeatedly on cable long after the film’s theatrical run, leading to its widespread following among horror fans.
The ending is also a delight, presaging the rug-pulls of things like Cabin in the Woods and Scream while wholly honoring the goofball tone of the previous 80 minutes. Going into this I was wholly expecting a gory slasher that used its holiday as convenient window dressing–I’m more than thrilled I got the slasher equivalent of fellow 80s classic Clue.(@gambit1138 on X)
This was a first time watch for me and for the first half, April Fools Day was a hoot and a half. It was funny and clever, taking every chance to pull the rug out from under the audience and also toy with genre tropes. Maybe my favorite aspect of the script was the way it deployed sexuality. The characters come of as sex-obsessed as we’ve all come to expect from 80s slashers, but the movie pointedly denies the audience the romps and nudity that surely many expected to see. And the only sex scene in the movie has the characters positioned in a way that almost defies regular flexibility. I laughed out loud. There’s a whoopee cushion and multiple people falling in rigged chairs to pair with bloody sight gags. What’s not to love here?
The only time the movie started to lose me is when it nears the climax and plays the horror angle a little too straight-faced. I get that the film probably put on its serious hat for a little bit in order to sell the film’s big punchline, but I just wish there could’ve been a different approach to get there. Alas, April Fools Day does end on a solid note. I’d definitely sign up for a weekend getaway at Muffy’s murder-mystery resort. The film’s conclusion reminded me of the immaculate “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design” episode of Community, which features enough fake-outs and reversals to make the April Fools Day team proud.
What I’m trying to say is April Fools Day was much more entertaining than I anticipated and I’m glad I watched it, but also disappointed in myself for making it nearly 40 years into life without having seen it. But that’s the great gift of film: no matter how many movies you’ve seen, there’s always something right up your alley sitting out there in the ether just waiting to cross paths with you.(@eddie_strait on X)
Conceptually stronger than the vast majority of 80s slashers… but the execution does so little for me. I see lots of folks praising this one – including folks here – but it just has never clicked for me. That said, so many rote 80s slashers and horror films film absurdly unoriginal, whereas I find the conceit here to be quite interesting.
Others here have far more interesting this to say and I’m not one to waste a ton of breath trashing something unless I have extremely strong opinions. In the case of this film, I simply don’t have any strong opinions. It’s not awful, but it’s not for me.(@thepaintedman on X)
Upcoming Picks: Lesser Known Holiday Slashers! (Click for streaming/digital options)
And We’re Out.