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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

April Fool's Day Fred Walton 1986

Camp Crystal Light

As far as slashers for grown-ups go, April Fool's Day is sort of the On Golden Pond of the teens-in-peril subgenre. Namely because the events take place on an idyllic body of water, and because the "teens" in question are pushing 60. But this fact aside, April Fool's is a clever, fun, and spooky mystery that plays almost fair in terms of its secret and pulls lots of fun tricks along the way. Boasting a surprisingly adept cast of far-more-realistic-than-average characters dealing with legitimate adult issues (career jitters, abortions, whether or not to go anal), this is a sparkling gem in the late-slasher wasteland, and an interesting precursor to the self-referential wave that Scream would introduce later. It's kind of in the dull gray area between the straight slasher and the wink-wink sendups of the renaissance -- call it Camp Crystal Light.

Aside from boasting interesting characterizations, a great twist, and a fun, well-paced delivery, the film also boasts something almost unheard of in the genre: oodles and oodles of gay-baiting. When was the last time you saw a couple of male characters in a slasher movie roll around in bed together, pretending to be in the throes of ecstasy, when there's no one around to laugh at it? Seriously -- it's not just clowning around if the door's closed, fellas -- take it from a pro. Nearly every male character in the film camps it up at least once (Thomas Wilson, best known as Biff from the Back to the Future films, is a repeat offender as the oft-mincing Arch), and the sassy, lisping flights of fancy last just a bit too long to be dismissed as just innocent play. No, these are the desperate, panicked cries of a group of priveleged young men who are aching to break out of their predetermined societal roles and get down to some good, old-fashioned butt-fucking. And proud we are of all of them.

We meet our genteel little group of thinly-veiled ass pirates on the dock opposite the island owned by their mutual friend, Muffy St. John, where they will be spending a fun-filled weekend of drinking, laughing, and grabbing clumsily at each other's privates in mock horseplay. There's Muffy's hunky, goof-off cousin, Skip (Griffin O'Neal of Assault of the Killer Bimbos and brother of Tatum) and his beefy fuckbuddy Arch (Wilson, who plays gay a little better than you might expect); there's the "over-it" cad Chaz (Clayton Rohner of Just One of the Guys and personal favorite I, Madman); there's resident slut Nikki (Deborah Goodrich, who is great, although by all rights she really should have been played by Juliette Cummins) and her mega-preppie hanger-on Harvey (the curiously attractive Jay Baker); and there's even a wet blanket bookworm, Nan (Leah Pinsent). And of course, we have our Alpha Couple, Kit (the incomparable Amy Steel of Friday 2) and Rob (the hunky Ken Olandt, best known for playing the stripper student in Summer School and battling for dominance against Jennifer Aniston's eyebrows in Leprochaun). The weekend will be hosted by the enigmatic and apparently deeply emotionally scarred Muffy St. John (Deborah Foreman of Waxwork and Valley Girl), whose early childhood humiliation at the hands of a nightmarish jack-in-the-box has apparently left her with a taste for nasty pranks.

Not that she's the only one who likes tricks (and no, I'm not talking about that kind of tricks. Yet.) -- on the ferry ride over, a game of "stretch" involving a switchblade turns bloody when Arch carelessly throws the knife into Skip's stomach, sending him overboard. It's all an April Fool's joke, but the deckhand of the ferry jumps overboard to help him and ends up getting his faces crushed between the hull of the boat and the dock (ewww....). The constable zips away with the screaming deckhand, and the kids make their way up the hill to the Muffster's summer home. A few more practical jokes (trick chairs, dribble cups) and a set of Barbie doll lookalikes later, and we're in full-on Agatha Christie (or Last of Sheila) line-em-up-and-knock-em-down territory here. Each guest stumbles across an evidence of their dark past (car accidents, abortions, the like), but no one is ready to bring up these vicious taunts to the group for fear of exposing themselves. When Skip disappears in the boathouse in the middle of the night, things start to get very interesting.

Meaning, of course, Rob starts parading about in a series of ever-shrinking short-shorts and tank tops. The poor guy is obviously there to add some serious himbo points, and he does a pretty decent job -- it's not every slasher actor who can wander around in tidy-whities for a full five minutes without breaking down into tears from the shame. And considering that none of the ladies really bares too much (Nikki shows the most, and there's not even any nipple to be had), it's very interesting that this stallion is paraded about to such an extent. Check out the boathouse scene, where Kit full-on ball-cups the poor guy. And then check it out again. And again. The other fellas are also all pretty cute in that tanned, monied, preppy sort of way, and considering all the mincing that they do, the film is a closer cousin to Love! Valor! Compassion! than it is to, say, The Burning. But I digress...

So Muffy's acting very strange (she woke up on the wrong side of the Laura Ashley showroom, apparently -- her hair's frizzed and she keeps running around the house like she's dropped something), the friends are disappearing at an accellerating rate (Arch gets caught in a sort of trap in the woods; Harvey and Nikki find Nan in the well), and no one can seem to get a hold of anyone on the mainland to come help. And, of course, night is swiftly falling, leaving our remaining friends to try to last the night in the creepy house, where it seems that one of them is the killer. They naturally separate (despite the urgings of the constable, who tells them to stick together), and the last few sitting ducks soon end up castrated or strung from the ceiling. Soon only Kit and Rob are left -- but where's Muffy? And what's up with the picture of the twin children in the study?

I won't give away any more, but I think that the wrap-up and the subsequent neck-snapping twist are both fantastic. The movie plays mostly fair in terms of supporting the twist (there are a few minor stretches that I can think of, but there's nothing that full-on contradicts it), and the reveal is fantastic -- thanks mostly to the killer performance of Ms. Steel, who sells the moment like few other Final Girls could. Foreman is likewise a delight throughout -- her change from perky socialite hostess to brooding, neurotic chambermaid is hilarious, and she plays it for all it's worth. Rob's reveal is also played for all it's worth, and in the end I find the whole twist very satisfying.

Now, this is where things get REALLY interesting -- you see, April Fool's Day is the stuff of slasher legend. Remember all the hubbub about the missing gore footage from My Bloody Valentine that's been uncovered but never seen? That's got nothing on this. Apparently, there is an entire third act to April Fool's Day that was cut from the film and has never been seen. So really, the big twist finale that we see (around the 80 minute-mark) was really just setup for another big finish. But apparently the studio decided that the movie was better without the last act (which featured more deaths), and decided to tack on a quick wrap-up ending and call it a day. I'm now officially obsessed wtih finding out everything I can about this (I know some, but won't talk about it here as it'll give away the twist), and apparently need to get my grubby little mitts on the novelization of the shooting script, which was put out in 1986 and has been out-of-print since: it apparently has extra chapters that tells what happens following the end of the finished film. How can you not love such a great mystery?! Pictures on the back of the VHS box that show scenes not in the film? Conflicting reports from actors about whether any additional footage exists? Awesome!

But again, even without this added bonus, April Fool's Day is one of the smartest, most fun, and most satisfying late slashers out there, even despite its low gore rating and talky stretches (they know the secret: if the dialogue is actually good, it's not impossible to sit through -- genius!!). And for ample male limbs and some oddly arousing fake faggotry, you can't get any better.

Rating (out of 5):