(Because of the nature of the 1986 pseudo-slasher film, April Fool’s Day, it’s impossible to really talk about the film without talking about the film’s ending. As a result, this review will have spoilers. The ending will be revealed. The entire plot will be spoiled. Do not read on if that’s going to be an issue for you.)
(Did you read the warning above?)
If not for the way that the film ends, April Fool’s Day would probably be a forgotten film. It’s a slasher film that doesn’t feature much blood, sex, or any particularly flamboyant kills (though there’s a good reason for that). Compared to most low-budget slasher films from the mid-80s, April Fool’s Day does have a surprisingly charismatic and likable cast but it’s rare that anyone watches a holiday-themed slasher film for the acting. Up until the final ten minutes or so, April Fool’s Day is professionally done but somewhat generic…
But then you hit that ending and it totally changes the whole film. It’s not a perfect ending. In many ways, it’s probably one the most imperfect endings that I’ve ever seen. It requires a massive suspension of disbelief. It makes no logical sense. But dammit, I love it. Almost despite itself, it’s a great ending and it confirms that April Fool’s Day is meant to be a satire and not a straight horror film.
For the first 80 minutes or so, April Fool’s Day plays out like the 100th variation on And Then There Were None. Heiress Muffy St. John (Deborah Foreman, giving a wonderfully odd performance) invites a group of college friends to her island mansion. They arrives on April Fool’s Day and they spend the first night dealing with Muffy’s strange sense of humor. (Actually, Muffy and I both find the same things funny but I’ve been told that I have a strange sense of humor so, therefore, I assume that Muffy must have one too.) Harvey, who prefers to be called Hal (Jay Baker), smokes an exploding cigar and discovers his bedroom has been decorated with newspaper articles about a car accident that he was involved in. Jock Arch Cummings (Thomas F. Wilson) finds steroids hidden away in a medicine cabinet. Nikki (Deborah Goodrich) comes across handcuffs in a dresser. Nan (Leah Pinset), a serious-minded drama student, hears a baby crying in the distance and is reminded of her abortion, something that she believes that only Muffy knows about.
The next day, Muffy is now wandering around in a daze and her brother, Skip (Griffin O’Neal), has vanished. Kit (Amy Steel, playing a similar role to her character in Friday the 13th Part Two) and Rob (Ken Olandt) think that they see Skip’s decaying body floating under the boathouse. As the day progresses, Arch and Nan vanish and later turn up at the bottom of a well. Harvey is found hanging from a rope. Chaz (Clayton Rohner) is castrated and, while we’re not quite sure what exactly happens to Nikki, we do see that it involves a large puddle of blood. Kit and Rob discover Muffy’s head in the basement and realize that they are being stalked by Muffy’s crazy twin, Buffy.
(Deborah Foreman is great in both of the roles. As Muffy, she delivers all of her lines with just a hint of sarcasm and constantly seems to be silently laughing at a private joke that only she understands. And when she’s Buffy — well, she’s totally batshit crazy.)
Being pursued by a knife-wielding Buffy, Kit runs through the mansion and finds herself in the drawing room. And who is waiting for her but all of Buffy’s victims? No, they’re not dead! Instead, they’re alive and they’re all in a very good mood. And Buffy is not Buffy. She’s Muffy and she’s been Muffy all along.
That’s right, it’s all a huge elaborate joke! Muffy does spend a few minutes explaining how the whole weekend was a dry run for her plan to turn her estate into a resort, one that will offer a weekend of fake horror. But, ultimately, it all comes down to the entire movie being an elaborate joke. I know, just from perusing some of the comments at the imdb, that there are some horror fans who hate the ending of April’s Fool’s Day. But, really, that’s the only “honest” way that a film like April Fool’s Day could end. If the movie was called Thanksgiving, I could understand being upset. But this is an April Fool’s Day movie! It has to be a joke.
Of course, if you think about it too much, the ending makes no sense. Muffy specifically states the no one was in on the joke until the last minute. Whenever one of her friends would wander off on their own, Muffy would grab them, explain the joke, and get them to play along. When you consider the size of the island and where, at various points, the victims are in relation to the other characters, Muffy must be a very fast explainer, as well as being very persuasive. (As well, Harvey brings a gun with him to island. Muffy jokes about nearly getting shot by him but imagine if he had been successful?) Even if you accept that all of the friends — even Arch and Harvey, who are both kinda dumbasses — would be able to play along without screwing things up, you have to wonder why Muffy thought it would be a good idea to use dark secrets from everyone’s past.
If you search far enough online, you can find all sorts of rumors about the film that April Fool’s Day was originally meant to be. In the finished film, Skip is a bit of a cipher but, in the original script, he was a much more complex character. While Muffy was busy playing her elaborate prank, Skip was planning on killing Muffy and claiming their parent’s inheritance for himself. The crying baby, the drugs, the incriminating newspaper articles; all of them were originally meant to be the work of Skip. While Skip’s subplot was dropped, the dark secrets of the past were not. As a result, Muffy comes across as being a lot more cruel than was originally intended.
Originally, the film was also meant to end with Skip killing Muffy but the ending was apparently changed at the last-minute. (Reports differ on whether or not the original ending was ever filmed.) Instead, the film now ends with Muffy stumbling into her bedroom, playing with a jack-in-the-box, and then getting a knife drawn across her throat by Nan. It’s just another elaborate practical joke and, once Muffy realizes that she’s not dying, Nan gives her a quick kiss and smiles enigmatically.
(A lot of imdb commenters — mostly males — have read a lot into that kiss, obsessing on a subtext that really isn’t there. As opposed to being the homage to Blue Is The Warmest Colour that many commenters appear to believe it to be, it’s really just a friendly kiss, a way of saying, “I got you.” Sorry, guys, that’s all there is to it.)
It’s an ending that would never be done today. Today, all horror films have to end with the promise of a sequel. Muffy might still get away with pulling an elaborate prank but Nan would definitely have killed her at the end of the film. Her little smile would have said, “Wait for the sequel.” And the modern version of that ending definitely would not be as effective. In fact, it would be so expected that it would be damn near infuriating. Instead, the ending of April Fool’s Day is good-natured and likable, which is appropriate because April Fool’s Day is a surprisingly good-natured and likable film.
After Nan’s final joke, April Fool’s Day ends with a song. And here it is! Enjoy and I hope everyone had a great April Fool’s Day!