Monday, April 1, 2019

Film Appreciation - Too Bad You're Crazy

Cody and Priscilla throw a Film Appreciation party for April Fool's Day.

After patiently waiting its turn while filmmakers made horror movies based around holidays like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Mother's Day, April Fool's Day finally had its time to shine in 1986, and it did in a big way - there were three April Fool's Day slashers released that year. We have previously written about two of the films here on Life Between Frames, Slaughter High and Killer Party. Now it's time to take a look at the third and most popular of 1986's April Fool's Day genre movies, the one that shares its title with the special date.

I remember when I first heard about this coming out. I was only around 5 years old, and the news - like every other horror-related news - was brought to me by my brother, who's older than me, and used to read every magazine he could get his hands on, being in Brazil, looking for any bit of horror news he could. And Ginny from Friday the 13th Part 2 was going to be in it! The excitement was real.

And then when the movie finally hit the video stores, that super awesome cover made me want to just run home and watch it. One of the most memorable VHS covers to me to this day.

A remake of April Fool's Day was released in 2008, so this could have been a candidate for the Remake Comparison treatment, but Priscilla and I were not fans of that remake and would rather not give it as much attention as a Remake Comparison article would require. So we're keeping our focus on the original film here.

I think deep down Cody had been keeping a bit of hope alive, that I'd eventually come around and decide to give the remake another chance, since I don't think he hates it as much as me. I find it funny that most people bash the Prom Night remake, because in my opinion it's a thousand times better than the April Fool's Day remake, which I simply can't stand, and can't justify in my head having to sit through one more time.

April Fool's Day 1986 was released by Paramount Pictures, the 1980s home of the Friday the 13th franchise, and a major contributor to the F13 series, Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI writer/director Tom McLoughlin, was in the running to direct it at one time. McLoughlin didn't end up behind the camera on this one, April Fool's Day was brought to the screen by When a Stranger Calls director Fred Walton instead, but McLoughlin got the Jason Lives job as something of a consolation prize.

That's a great consolation prize to get, and the situation worked out perfectly. McLoughlin made Jason Lives one of the best movies in the Friday the 13th series. I could see him doing a great job with April Fool's Day as well, it has a good sense of humor like Jason Lives does, but it allowed Fred Walton to prove he could make something that has a very different tone than When a Stranger Calls.

Very different, and it worked. Job well done. I don't think I knew about April Fool's Day almost being directed by McLoughlin until Cody told me, would have been cool news to know about back then as well.

Written by Danilo Bach, who provided the story for Paramount's Beverly Hills Cop a couple years earlier, April Fool's Day centers on a group of college students who are all connected to a wealthy girl named Muffy St. John (Deborah Foreman) in some way, although they don't all know each other. It's spring break and they have been invited to spend the April 1st weekend at a mansion on a private island off the coast of Maine that Muffy will soon be inheriting when she turns 21. She and her family used to spend every summer there throughout her childhood, so it's a special place to her.

Muffy, Kit, Chaz, Nan...what odd names these people have!

As the help leaves, Muffy gets the mansion ready for a get-together that she intends to be "bloody unforgettable" - taking a brief break to play with a jack-in-the-box that scared her when she received it at a childhood birthday party.

When we first see Muffy and her flashbacks with the jack-in-the-box it's just so creepy. Does pave the road to pranks and scares very well.

We're introduced to her friends while they're waiting for the ferry that will take them out to the island, the last ferry that will be running before its captain takes the weekend off. There's Amy Steel as Kit Graham, who is obviously the heroine because she's the reserved but still fun one; goofball Chaz Vyshinksy (Clayton Rohner), who is a big fan of pornography and has a very active sex life with his girlfriend Nikki Brashears (Deborah Goodrich); Nan Youngblood (Leah Pinsent), who just recently met Muffy in drama society and is the serious and awkward one - she's even going to be doing schoolwork while on vacation; Thomas F. Wilson as Arch Cummings, who is hoping to bed as many of the girls as possible; ambitious southern guy Harvey "Hal" Edison Jr. (Jay Baker), who is hoping to get a job at the company Muffy's rich father owns; Kit's boyfriend Rob Ferris (Ken Olandt), who has just been rejected from med school because he has a "lack of seriousness"; and Muffy's distant cousin Skip (Griffin O'Neal), who only got the invite because of the "distant" part. They say people from money don't usually mix friends and family.

This is one of my favorite groups of characters to ever be in a "slasher" movie like this. They're fun people to spend time watching. Their banter was written well by Bach, they're always playing around and cracking jokes, and the casting was incredible. You get the heroine from Friday the 13th Part 2, the lead actress from Valley Girl, two cast members from Just One of the Guys, (mix some of these together and you also get two cast members from Destroyer), Biff from Back to the Future, and the sleepy stripper dude from Summer School (or the painter dude from Leprechaun, if you prefer), all bouncing dialogue off each other. Everyone did a great job in their roles, one of them even getting something of a dual role.

The cast is a treat, and they all work so well together. It almost seems like they were allowed to just freely interact with each other, because it does flow and feel natural.

One aspect of their interactions that I enjoy are the fake interviews Chaz conducts with some of his friends. It only happens a couple times, but both times are amusing. For his interview outside Muffy's mansion, Arch welcomes viewers to "Lifestyles of the Rich and Undeserving", a line I've always liked.

There should've been a bonus feature on the DVD consisting mainly of his interviews. I'd watch it.

It's clear from the moment we meet these characters that they're out to have a good time - except maybe for the sullen Rob, who is upset that his future plans are falling apart. They're also fully in the April 1st mood, pulling pranks on each other at every turn. Unfortunately, one prank goes terribly wrong when the ferry is arriving at the St. John island.

The others have only just met Skip and Nan, but Arch and Skip seem to have bonded very quickly. During the ferry ride they play a game of "stretch", where they throw a switchblade into the wood floor and then see which is better at stretching to reach for it without falling over. They pretend to have an argument that ends with Skip getting the knife thrown into his stomach and falling overboard. Deckhand Buck (stuntman Mike Nomad, who also worked on and gets killed in Jason Lives) jumps into the water to rescue Skip... but it was all a prank. Skip is fine. As the ferry nears the dock on the island, Buck decides to just stay in the water while doing his job of roping the ferry to the dock. A bad idea, as he ends up getting smashed between those two things, his face taking the worst of his injuries.

As the local constable rushes Buck off to the mainland hospital, the screaming Buck blames the college kids for his injury / disfiguring. "They did it!"

That's a classic slasher set-up. Obviously Buck or someone close to him is going to return to St. John island to get bloody revenge... At least, I'm sure that's what a lot of viewers were thinking the first time they watched April Fool's Day.

I probably wasn't. I was too young to think that far ahead. I might have wondered how they were still going to carry on with the trip basically as if nothing happened though.

One thing that always amuses me is how fast Nikki, who was sunbathing on the ferry, puts her clothes back on when she first sees the abandoned part of the island. Huge turn-off for her.

Skip is really rattled by what happened to Buck, blaming himself for it. While he drowns his sorrows in alcohol, the rest of the group move on from the tragic event quite well, immediately jumping bank into the pranking and joking as soon as they reach Muffy's mansion. Muffy has pranks of her own waiting for them, including door knobs that fall off, sinks that spray people with water, and a dinner table set up with whoopee cushions, collapsing chairs, and glasses that pour their drinks down their fronts.

I adore how Muffy had Barbie-like dolls representing everybody. That was one of my favorite things watching it as a kid, since I've always been a major Barbie lover, especially back then. The Chaz doll looks exactly like Charles Bronson!

But as night falls, things start to seem very weird around this place. Some pranks are harmless, like Kit and Rob being unable to get all the lights in their room to go off at once, but some have a darker edge to them. Hal finds newspaper clippings about fatal car accidents in his room. Arch finds hardcore drug paraphernalia in the bathroom. Chaz and Nikki find bondage gear... well, they might use that. Nan finds a tape recorder playing the sound of a baby crying in her room - which upsets her because she has apparently had an abortion in the past.

The movie has an off-kilter strangeness to it during this sequence that I enjoy. It's not exactly creepy, but you're not sure what's going on or what these discoveries around the house mean.

A drunken Skip wanders down to the boathouse alone... and someone grabs him, pulling him into the shadows. It appears this slasher has its first kill.

Things get even weirder the next morning, including Muffy's behavior. She doesn't seem like herself at all - disheveled, dressed down, a bit erratic and skittish. She even mispronounces the name of one of her friends and doesn't seem to realize it. Then Kit and Rob try to get some alone time in the boathouse, but it's interrupted when Kit looks through the floorboards and sees an obviously dead Skip floating by in a boat beneath the structure. She loses sight of Skip after that, and all that's found during a search is his switchblade, bloody and broken.

At first I had trouble recognizing Muffy. From when we see her at dinner to when we see her in the morning it's like she's a completely different person. Took me a little while to see it was her, or some weird version of her.

More people start disappearing, and a trip to an old well to get some water just results in a harrowing sequence in which dead bodies and severed heads are found floating in there. Someone is knocking off these kids one by one, and they're trapped on this island. There's no way to get back to the mainland - unless they swim, which no one does - and they find it hard to get a call out to the constable or anyone else. The group knows early on that something is happening to their friends, but they keep finding reasons to go off on their own... and then they're taken out of the equation.

The "slashing" scenes in this film are lacking (for good reason). We never actually see a character getting killed, we'll just see their dead body later. Or part of their body. The most we see is in a scene where a character goes off into the woods and gets their foot caught in a snare trap that results in them swinging upside down from a rope... right above an angry snake that keeps striking at them. Then someone wearing boots steps up and kicks the snake out of the way. That's no relief for the trapped person, who whimpers in fear while looking up at the snake kicker. This feels very much like a moment that could have been in one of the early Friday the 13th movies.

Even with the lack of bloody moments and death scenes, the movie manages to keep this mysterious, cool vibe, that keeps you interested and entertained,

With help coming too slowly, Kit and Rob take it upon themselves to figure out what exactly is happening on the island, unearthing St. John family secrets along the way... Building up to the moment when the blade-wielding killer is revealed. And gives chase.

What happens when that killer catches Kit in a room is not what you usually expect to see happen in a slasher, and a viewer's reaction to this specific moment seems to be the deciding factor in whether or not someone likes this movie.

April Fool's Day has been available to watch for over thirty years and I think most viewers who have seen it post-'80s already knew the twist before watching it, so I think we can discuss climax spoilers a little bit... Personally, I love the ending of this movie, when we find out that all of this has been a scripted event that the college kids were unwittingly put through. The ending is what makes this movie truly unique among the slashers of its decade, and makes the movie more satisfying than it would have been otherwise. You do have to accept a couple leaps in logic for it to completely work for you, and I've always been fine with that.

I didn't know about the twist when I first watched it, and it felt a bit disappointing to me back then, because judging from the VHS cover, and from all the other slashers movies I had already seen by then, this is not what is supposed to happen. Plus, it just seemed like everything worked out too well, like Kit going into the study and finding the "twins" picture, like Nan holding her breath for a crazy long time in the well. Everything just seemed too perfectly planned out, when it's a bunch of people doing random stuff at all times. But yes, I got over it, and April Fool's Day became one of my favorites.

If this had been a regular slasher, all the off screen deaths would have made it a very underwhelming one. The ending redeems those "death scenes". Now it makes sense that the movie was always cutting away before the bloodshed.

The final scenes have a very fun energy to them. I enjoy seeing the characters put their terror behind them, get past any hurt feelings, and party to some Three Dog Night. I like these people so much, I'm glad they made it through.

I share that sentiment, it was a bummer thinking these people had all been killed. Glad that wasn't the case.

There were two alternative endings that would have added real murder and death into the film, but those would have ruined it. I'm glad we got the ending as it is. It's perfectly fitting for something that has the title April Fool's Day. There is a slightly odd moment right before the end credits roll that was tacked on months after production wrapped just to add in a scare through the addition of a prank pulled by an assassin-looking Nan, but it's not too disruptive.

I was so confused by that ending! Did not realize that it was Nan at all. I was like "who's that?", "what's going on?". I guess she just looked too different from the way we see her at the reveal party, and little girl me couldn't see it was the same person. Plus, they were all there partying together, how could Nan have time to come up with this elaborate prank herself in such short notice?? But yes, it goes with the movie, the right ending was chosen.

Then it all wraps up with composer Charles Bernstein's goofy-ass song "Too Bad You're Crazy". Perfect. The first time I saw this movie, I was blown away by the way the ending was handled and then capped off with that song. That's when I realized April Fool's Day had officially become one of my favorites.

Took me a little while longer, but it definitely has earned a place among my all time favorites. No doubt about it.

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