One of the staples of '70s and '80s slasher flicks is the use of the calendar for easy source material. While most slashers from the '80s using date-based themes were attempting to capitalize on the success of John Carpenter's Halloween (which was blandly titled The Babysitter Murders before the filmmakers wisely turned their attention to our favorite holiday), the tradition dates back even further, to Bob Clark's 1974 chiller Black Christmas. By the mid-'80s, the “holiday horror” formula was mostly played out – not just because the genre was losing steam, but also because there weren't very many horror-friendly dates left on the calendar. But by 1986, there was one day left that still held potential for a body-count whodunit – one traditionally set aside for pranks and other malicious mischief.
Shot in Canada, with Friday the 13th franchise heavyweight Frank Mancuso Jr. producing, April Fool's Day takes the old cabin-in-the-woods concept and lightens it up a bit, with a group of college students (including Friday the 13th Part 2 heroine Amy Steel) celebrating Spring Break – which usually falls in March, but I'll give 'em a pass on that one – at a cozy island villa, hosted by the wealthy débutante Muffy St. John (super-cute Deborah Foreman, of Valley Girl fame). In the trickster spirit of the holiday, Muffy has the place rigged with a variety of spooky surprises... which makes it all the more difficult to tell what's real and what's staged when mangled bodies start piling up.
Director Fred Walton and writer Danilo Balch keep things twisting and turning throughout the story with a thread of malicious humor to keep things lively, and more red herrings than a bait shop. There's very little bloodletting, even by '80s slasher standards, but gore isn't really necessary here... and while today's horror fans will probably see the end coming, there are still a couple of effective shocks to be had along the way. No so for the in-name-only 2008 remake, which wasted the potential of the otherwise talented Butcher Brothers, whose vampire films The Hamiltons and The Thompsons are both solid.
While fairly tame as slashers go, the original April Fool's Day works well as both a twisty whodunit thriller and a dark comedy that taps into the mischievous spirit of the pranksters' holiday. If you're a fan, or never got a chance to check out this little gem, FEARnet will be screening it as a double-feature with the 2008 version, beginning on Monday, April 1 at 6PM ET/3PM PT. Go here for more FEARnet April programming highlights... but watch this fun TV spot first!