Starring Deborah Foreman, Deborah Goodrich, Jay Baker, Clayton Rohner, Amy Steel
Directed by Fred Walton
Distributed by Scream Factory
Striking the right balance between horror and comedy is a tricky prospect few films can achieve successfully. More often than not it seems the best approach is having the filmmakers write and direct with a focus on horror while the actors to grease up funny bones. Situational humor can be easy to find in horror without making it contrived. One of the best examples of making it work is April Fool’s Day (1986), which comes from Frank Mancuso, Jr., a man who had already made his name in the horror business by producing every Friday the 13th sequel, from Part 2 (1981) to A New Beginning (1985). Mancuso, Jr. could no doubt see the writing on the walls by 1986: the slasher era was over… but it was ripe for parody – and after staking claim to one infamous calendar date, why not go for another?
Muffy St. John (Deborah Foreman) has invited her cousin, Skip (Griffin O’Neal) and a bunch of friends to her family’s island mansion for a weekend of guffaws and gags leading up to the upcoming April Fools’ Day. Everyone is super pumped and having a blast on the ferry ride over… until a mishap causes a deckhand to lose an eye. Shaken but determined to have a killer weekend everyone files into the mansion and begins to settle in when Muffy’s various pre-staged pranks are gradually revealed. This was largely expected. What isn’t expected, though, is someone killing off members of the group one by one.
Truthfully, there isn’t a lot to the story here. A bunch of wacky friends show up for a weekend of getting loaded and laid and then people begin to die; not much to it. There are a few third act reveals that inject a little exposition into the mystery but the real enjoyment here comes from watching what feels like a lost Friday the 13th sequel with the comedy dialed up but not out of control. Most of Muffy’s guests are already predisposed to yucking it up but she, being the host, manages to one-up just about everyone with her own odd brand of humor. And since we are told most of these friends haven’t ever met before the relaxed vibes they all bring to the party-heavy weekend feel legit, even though everyone doesn’t truly know each other. I found everyone in the cast to be on equal footing in terms of ability but seeing Thomas F. Wilson doing comedic relief a year after playing Biff Tannen is pretty great, and Amy Steel, who made one helluva Final Girl in Friday the 13th Part 2, brings that same intensity and physicality to her role here. Oh, and Deborah Foreman is just beyond charming.
Much of the flack the film received upon release was focused on the ending. Without spoiling anything I think it’s fair to say viewers are going to be split into love it/hate it camps with few falling somewhere in the middle. I’d like to think most people are in the “love it” group because it’s audacious and clever and one of my favorite reveals in horror; another bonus is that it makes repeat viewings worthwhile because it bolsters a search for hidden clues. One unfortunate exclusion, though, on this Blu-ray release is the lack of any features of deleted material related to the film’s two original endings. A few mentions of them are made in the extras but the infamy regarding the re-tooled third act is the kind of history that should’ve been given a dedicated featurette. Knowing Paramount and their policies at the time, that footage is long gone unless someone has a workprint VHS that is yet to be uncovered.
Finally making its HD debut from Scream Factory, no provenance is given for the film’s 2.35:1 1080p image (it was likely an existing master supplied by Paramount) but who cares when the picture looks THIS good? Cinematographer Charles Minsky’s lensing looks razor-sharp. Once the picture moves past the opening optical credits (which are expectedly a bit dirty and grainy) the image proper unfolds and, man, this thing is just a beaut. Film grain is active and organic – never noisy or problematic even in the darkest shots. Colors are dense in saturation, with most primaries popping amidst the range of earthy tones provided by the island. Fine detail and overall definition are superb. Even nighttime scenes feature strong contrast, allowing the picture to retain detail when lighting is minimal.
Audio options are slightly unique here; there are English DTS-HD MA tracks in either 5.1 surround sound remix or 2.0 dual mono. I tend to favor multi-channel and that sounded like the clear winner to my ears. Much of the film is dialogue-heavy, with composer Charles Bernstein providing scant scoring – the official soundtrack release runs around 30 minutes – and much of his work sounds like Harry Manfredini’s cues from the Friday the 13th series. Deliberate, sure, and a bit deflating but because those sounds are so inextricably connected to Jason’s brand of mayhem it does help to heighten tension a bit. Subtitles are available in English.
- NEW Horror with A Twist – an interview with director Fred Walton
- NEW Well of Lies – an interview with actress Deborah Goodrich Royce
- NEW Looking Forward to Dessert – an interview with actor Clayton Rohner
- NEW Bloody Unforgettable – an interview with composer Charles Bernstein
- NEW The Eye of Deception – an interview with cinematographer Charles Minsky
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spots
- Optional English subtitles for the main feature
It had been a good 15 years or more since I last watched this film and it was great to see it not only holds up well but cleans up just as nicely, too. Scream Factory nailed this release across the board (mostly), making this a must-have for fans.