Saturday, April 01, 2017

The Horror Of...April Fool's Day (1986), No Joke.

Time to return to reviewing. And what horror awaits us tonight? On a night of fools? What else can we have but a pleasant end to out April Fool's Day. And why not do that with an actually April Fool's experience. A fun murderous night of fools.

April Fool's Day

Now, since it's been remade in recent years we should note that it is the 1986 film.

Oh, April Fool's Day. 31 years ago this movie came out, and became one of the many holiday themed horror movies. And over the last 31 years, it's one of the best things to emerge from April 1st. (Of course, the related Persian holiday were people picnic and joke around is pretty nice.)

The film was produced by Frank Mancuso Jr., who also produced many of the Friday the 13th sequels. (He also produced the Species series, Stigmata, and the Friday the 13th and War of the World TV series...and the remake of April Fool's Day...) The director was Frank Walton, who also directed When A Stranger Calls and When A Stranger Calls Back. The film's writer was Danilo Bach, who came up with the story for Beverly Hills Cops. The film shares some of the good characterization, slow interesting buildup, and creepy shots,

So from this mix we got the Murder at the Country Manor tale. A collection of friends travel to visit one of their family's homes. They're isolated on a little island. It shows some similarities to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. And with the lower level of gore, in comparison to other slasher films of the period, it makes for a horror outing it is easier to share or use as an introduction.

The film relies on a slow build, where even as bodies began to pile up, the weekend fun proceeds. At first they assume people are screwing around, sleeping around, or just sleeping it off. So the tension grows and grows. Just like a Jack in the Box. The toy!

No, Mancuso! Slug Jason Voorhees will never be that scary.
What was with that jack in the box anyway? I clearly am not an aficionado of those as I've never anything but clowns pop out of a box.

Our cast of characters include Muffy, the owner of the summer home they are visiting. She's the rich kid in the group. She comes from wealth, privilege, and proper breeding. But she's been given a chance to get away with her friends for a weekend, and play at being the gracious host. (You know, inviting friends over and trying to be the respectable adult that handles everything.)

But she has a mischievous side. She is a prankster. She has a lifelong love of surprises. And this weekend will open with plenty of tricks both juvenile and off. And you can see how she relishes the experience.

Muffy is played by Deborah Foreman (Waxworks, Destroyer, Grizzly 2, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, and Lobster Man From Mars). She does well with a role that has its twists and turns.

Foreman came in early for the role, but was passed on. It was later in the process that they finally came back to her. It was a wise choice.

At the film's start the gang is on it's way to the island at the film's start. They are waiting at a pier, the only way over. A ferry goes over during the week and then one last time Friday afternoon. Then the island is cut off until Monday... Sure you could take a boat, events leave them without one. All too soon they will be trapped.

As they bide their time they film each other and introduce themselves, though they are actually messing around  with fake personas. April Fool's! (It's an April Fool's Day weekend. Like this year is!)

We have Nikki, who is a bit of a snarky gal. She gets to open the film with her tall tale and stays in the center of things always ready with her opinion. She's played by Deborah Goodrich (Remote Control).

Kit is another friend, and a bit more of a straight laced person. She acts largely as our protagonist as the film drives towards it's conclusion. She's played by Amy Steel, who we should all remember and love from Friday the 13th Part 2.

Arch is the carousing pal. He likes to joke, hit on women, and...that's him. He played by Thomas Wilson (Wing Commander games as Maniac, and Back to the Future as Biff, Batman: The Animated Series as Tony Zucco and John Grayson, Gargoyles, Superman: The Animated Series, Lois and Clark, Duckman, Pinky and the Brain, Batman: The Brave and the Bold as Sportsmaster and Catman, Adventure Time) He's less Biff and more Maniac.

Chaz is the cameraman at the films start and makes a point of talking about being a film student. But his main love is sex. He likes to hit on women, while also being involved with Nikki. He's played by Clayton Rohner (The RelicNightwishSometimes They Come Back...For MoreStar Trek TNGGvEX-FilesCharmedAngelThe Hitchhiker).

Nan is one of the outsiders along. She is known only to Muffy, a fellow dramatist. She is also infatuated with Muffy, while also a bit shy and studious. Seems she is likely in love with Muffy. She's played by Leah Pinset (Psi Factor).

Another outsider is Skip. He's a distant cousin to Muffy, from the poor side of the family. He's a bit of a trickster who colludes with Arch at the film's start. He's played by Griffin O'Neil (The WraithGhoulies Go To College)

Rob is Kit's boyfriend who seems to be from outside the group. He seems an earnest guy, but has some relationship issues with Kit. He's played by Ken Olandt (Leprechaun, Super Force, ST TNG,  Riptide).

Lastly we have Harvey/Hal. He's a classmate of Muffy's from her economics course. He is desperately eager to get in good with Muffy and/or her family, seeking a chance for a high paying job. He's also quite Southern, so is seen as an outsider by the rest of the gang, who are very much Northeasterners He's played by Jay Baker (The Incredible Hulk Returns, DS9).

So that is our main cast, full of potential murderers and victims. But will live to have the last laugh? I'd be a fool to tell you.

Muffy is stressed about how the weekend is going. Troubled as problems pile up. Skip is bitter about his lot in life. And after an accident when they arrived on the island, is someone out to target this group?

And this accident is among the early events that lies beneath the surface of a weekend outing. Along with them are the pranks. Small ones, like whoopie cushions, dribble glasses, and trick faucets, And more intense ones, like a fake knifing and the various items in the bedrooms that hint to dark secrets in all of their lives.

You can laugh at a collapsing chair or an exploding cigar then you have someone being taunted with a babies cry, Is it jokes going too far? Or is something darker at play?

You are cordially invited to come to the island and find out.

Because this movie is worth the experience. Fun, engaging,'s no joke on you.

Now I will talk about the ending, but it is worth checking this movie once without knowing everything that goes down. So stop if you want to go see the film first. Otherwise, more below..



Once Skip goes missing they all get nervous and search some. Then Arch is caught up. But at first it is all unclear.

Are they messing around? Is a crazed ferryman hunting them?

When the plumbing breaks, they need to get some water. So Nikki and Harvey head to a nearby well. But it proves harder than they think, and in the end Nikki is soaking in the well...along with the remains of Skip and Arch.

"This place is getting such a Yelp rating!"

Knowing for sure that they are in trouble, the call for help. But they learn that the ferryman is still at the hospital, and help won't come for several hours.

"No I am not satisfied with the quality of this murder spree."

So now they have a waiting game to play. If they can all stay together they can protect each other.

"Great. Now let's split up."

But Muffy is seeming more and more off. Distant. Confused. Disconnected.

So Muffy heads off. Nikki wants to pack and run. Chaz is trying to calm her. Rob and Kit go up to watch for the help boat in the attic. And Harvey watches the stairs for them.

Up in the attic they see no sign of the help coming. And then they find dolls meant to represent them all. Some in the water (well), and others on a bloody bed (which they soon learn about).

Realizing the danger in the house, they run. Harvey is missing, and they can't find anyone else at first. Then there's the blood. And then there's bodies. One by one the bodies of their friends are found.

They run from the  house and head for the dock. There they do find the rescue boat. But no one is on it. They then realize they need to go back to the house, where Muffy earlier told them about the boat key in the kitchen.

So they sneak into an open basement window.

As they look around they finally put the pieces together to realize that Muffy must have a twin sister, Buffy.

So does this mean that Muffy is also a Slayer?

Up in the kitchen they manically search for the keys. But it is no where to be seen. And then the killer emerges. Buffy.

Outside, she takes a knife and works to force her way into the house.

Struggling for an exit to the nightmare, Rob tries a door to a large pantry, and sees a set of keys. But then he realizes he's trapped in the room.

And Buffy is in the house, and Kit is trying to reach calm her, while staying at a stab-free distance.

Buffy corrals her and drives her through the house. Finally she has her back to a sliding door. After Buffy takes a stab at Kit, Kit opens the door and runs in.

Inside everyone is sitting around casually, talking,, reading, or relaxing.

Kit, running on adrenaline and fear, has no idea what is going on. You have to imagine she is questioning is she's lost her grip reality.

"Buffy" walks up and smiles. She shows that the  knife is a trick knife.

And everyone has a big laugh.

Meanwhile, Rob is still stuck in the pantry, screaming and panicking.

After everyone is let in on the joke, Muffy explains everything and doesn't really apologize.

Muffy will be inheriting the house shortly. The trouble is that her father is going to make her sell it, due to the cost of maintaining it and the taxes due on it. So Muffy came up with a plan. She will open it as a Bed & Breakfast.

But not just a normal one. She wants to make a murder/mystery/horror weekend stay. Come over and a Who Dunnit occurs while you stay. Sounds great...It'll be out of business by Christmas.

She hired an Effects Master to come in and do some gory makeup, and create bodies and body parts to freak people out. He also played one of the ferrymen.

Skip isn't Muffy's cousin. He's her brother. And he was brought in to get Arch to play a prank on the ferry, which started everything.

And then she had her uncle play the local law enforcement. He's a wealthy businessman, but took a break to help his niece get a start on her business venture, and massive prank.

Everyone else was out of the loop. Skip knew about the "small" prank of faking being stabbed in the gut, but everything else was a shock to him. But once he was "killed", he was recruited. And as each other character "died", they were also recruited.

Now it is all over, Muffy is pleased. She set up a maze of clues, tricks, and paths that lead to exactly where she wanted it to go. She feels she was completely successful.

So she wants to celebrate. And her friends decide to shrug and roll with being the lot of April fools.

We don't learn how she discovered their dark secrets for her early pranks. But maybe it's best not to dwell at how far Muffy will go for her surprises and shocks.

That's not celebrating. They are trying to make her more flammable.

That night, drunk and tired, Muffy heads to bed. She finds a gift waiting. A Jack in the Box. As we've seen, she can't resist them. So she gives is a spin.

Then Nan springs up, and slits her throat. In a panic, Muffy screams. Then she realizes that it was a trick knife. Nan gets one  last prank in, at Muffy's expense.

She gives the audience a wink, and even Jack (of the Box) also winks.

Because it's all been for a laugh in the end. Hey, any prank you can walk away from with a lifetime of trauma.

As I have said many time before I don't care for pranks, or screwing with people on April Fool's Day. But somehow this movie doesn't push my buttons.

I think it might be that her tricks aren't all treated as brilliant. Some people laugh at them, others roll their eyes or are annoyed at being goated. And the big trick does tick off Kit. But the relief that all's well at the end let's you have a laugh at it all..

With future watches you get to see all the clues that hint at what is really happening.

Like Muffy prepping the basement window at the beginning that Kit and Rob use towards the end.

Or how Skip, who is largely an outsider seems to know where on the island to score some wild growing weed.

Or how the water mains are broken, then later the water works fine.

Plus we learn from Nan that Muffy is a skilled actor. So Buffy is a nicely crafted role that Muffy prepped. Though she chooses to not change her nails or their painting for the recent asylum escapee.

At lot is there for you to see.

The ending was up for a lot of debate even after the main film was completed. Mancuso had different ideas. After various changes he filmed the Jack in the Box ending in LA with Deborah Foreman and Leah Linset. Mancuso wanted a bit of a punch a t the end.

And it's fine for me. One last trick on the trickster. It's all a trick, playing with the slasher genre, though you don't realize it until the end. When the remake was make they decided to be more literal with the slasher model.


The original ending, and the one you'll find in the film's novelization (Yes, one exists.), has more of punch than what we saw. Everyone, but Muffy, leaves the island the last night. But Nikki, Kit, Chaz, and Rob stay to play a trick on Muffy to balance the scales. But when they do, they learn Skip also stayed. And he is out to murder Muffy, to get his inheritance. Rob ends up killing him.

It's a more intense ending. But having an actual murder attempt and death at the end feels like it goes against everything the film did up to that point.

This ending was actually filmed, and photos of it are around. But it's never been released. We need a blu ray release with a commentary and this scene as a bonus (but not added back into the movie).


This one is the mix of the other two. It has Muffy alone at the end, and Skip jumps out to kill her. But then the whole gang appear and tell her it's just one last prank.

This one might be better than the one we have. It allows everyone to have a laugh at Muffy's expense. But I still enjoy the Nan ending. It's a bit quieter, and allows the movie to end on the personal moment with Nan, who's been troubled and tormented by Muffy the whole time, where she's finally Muffy's equal.

Taste will vary. But I trust it will leave a good taste in your mouth.

If not, April Fools/

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