April Fool’s Day (2008)

Coming to DVD Tuesday, March 25th


Taylor Cole as Desiree

Scout Taylor-Compton as Torrance

Sabrina Aldridge as Milan

Josh Henderson as Blaine


The tag line to the 1986 slasher pic “April Fool’s Day” was “…A Cut Above The Rest.” But that wasn’t quite an apt description of director Fred Walton’s film. Even the fact that “April Fool’s Day” was produced by Frank Mancuso Jr., who steered the “Friday the 13th” franchise throughout the ’80s, wasn’t enough to give the spoofy slasher credibility among the horror crowd. Coming to theaters at least three years after the commercial heyday of early ’80s slasher films, “April Fool’s Day” was the last gasp of holiday-themed slasher shenanigans. Walton was established as a sure-hand at creating terror thanks to his seminal tale of a besieged babysitter, “When A Stranger Calls” (1979), but “April Fool’s Day” was by design a lighter picture altogether. And a slasher film with that kind of light tone could’ve stood to have arrived even later than it did. Ideally, “April Fool’s Day” would’ve made a killing a decade later as a post-“Scream” slasher picture. But cute, ironic, and bloodless was no way to win over the jaded splatter fans of the ’80s and it wasn’t until a generation of young kids who weren’t put off by the film’s softball “just kidding” premise discovered “April Fool’s Day” through home video and cable that it became more affectionately regarded as a cult item.

Now, the independent filmmaking duo of The Butcher Brothers (Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores, previously responsible for 2006’s well-regarded indie horror film “The Hamiltons”) have mounted an AFD remake (with Mancuso Jr. executive producing) that hopes to establish April 1st a new day for terror. Or cash in on a (barely) recognizable brand name, whichever works better.

Just as in the original, plenty of pampered rich kids take center stage. Here, wealthy Desiree Cartier (Taylor Cole) is hosting the coming-out party for fresh-faced young high society member Torrance Caldwell (Halloween’s Scout Taylor-Compton) at the family mansion that Desiree shares with her brother Blaine (Josh Henderson). Desiree and Blaine are orphans but losing their parents hasn’t given them much empathy for the pain of anyone else. In fact, Desiree isn’t throwing these festivities out of any spirit of goodwill. Instead, it’s all just a means for Desiree to get within pranking distance of an old friend who has the appalling habit of being altruistic. The old friend in question, Milan Hasting (Sabrina Aldridge) has grown up to become everything Desiree and her circle of friends are not – generous, open-hearted and sincerely humanitarian. And that’s something Desiree just can’t abide by.

With the help of Blaine, Desiree conspires to catch Milan in a compromising position. Their plan backfires, of course, and before April 1, 2007 is over, someone is tragically killed. In true slasher movie fashion, the following year’s anniversary is not an occasion for reflection but an occasion for guessing who’s out to kill everyone responsible for the fatal “accident” of the previous year’s April Fools.

Outside of arguably taking too long (about twenty-two minutes out of an ninety-one minute movie) to detail the tragic mishap of 2007 and introduce the film’s crew of self-serving characters, once the film hits the present a mildly diverting story starts to be told.

Michael Wigart’s screenplay (based on a draft by The Butcher Brothers) depicts nearly every character as an opportunistic, agenda-working sleaze. There’s Charles (Joseph McKelheer), a bitchy gossip columnist who uses his connections to fuel his career. There’s Peter (Samuel Child) and his wife Barbie (Jennifer Siebel), with Peter hungrily chasing his political ambitions (as a Republican, natch) and Barbie trading on her past fame as one-time Miss Carolina. There’s also Ryan (Joe Egender), an aspiring filmmaker with stalker-like tendencies. And then there’s Desiree and Blaine, who – one year later – are still feeling the personal and public fall-out of last year’s prank. The courts have taken away Blaine’s control over his late parent’s estate and given it to his sister while Desiree appears to be a changed person, filled with remorse over what happened. But is that just an act? When all the above characters (in addition to Compton’s Torrance) find themselves targeted by someone who says they have proof that one of them committed murder and says that they’ll start killing all of them unless the guilty party comes forward to confess, the truth of what happened last April is due to be revealed.

What follows is a twist-filled narrative (with a few Hitchcockian touches – such as a recurring mystery woman whose blonde hair, wide-brimmed black hat and sunglasses evokes memories of Karen Black in 1976’s Family Plot) that might not have any major surprises up its sleeve but yet doesn’t suffer any lulls in action either (I especially liked one clever sequence where the protagonists call the police, believing they’ve stumbled on the correct identity of their stalker only to see this suspect brutally killed, leaving them looking guilty of the crime just as the police start to show up). What I found myself appreciating about AFD is that it was intended as a suspense thriller rather than a straight horror film. Just as the original didn’t quite fit in with its splatter competition at the time, so to does this remake stick out as a different kind of ride amid the current drive for hardcore horror (even the direct-to-DVD market is now saturated with ersatz torture porn with titles like “Gag” and “Broken”). Set in broad daylight for the most part, and focusing on the mystery of who is stalking Desiree and her friends rather than trying to be a scary slasher film (unexpectedly, Cote is able to make the initially deplorable Desiree into a likeable protagonist – one of the better horror heroines in recent years), AFD triggered some nostalgia with me for the sort of made-for-TV psychological suspensers that used to regularly air on the USA Network back in the late ’80s and early ’90s such as “Murder 101” (1991). There might be an “Unrated” banner on AFD’s DVD sleeve but this glossy effort comes across like a TV movie all the way. For some, that’s no recommendation but for me, it gave AFD a comforting vibe.

Once AFD puts all its cards on the table, it’s clear that the filmmakers didn’t take any extra care to really nail down their reveal. Several gaffes and narrative contradictions are immediately apparent, beyond the already far-fetched nature of the scheme we’re shown. I won’t get into specifics for fear of ruining plot points but let’s just say that logic takes a wicked beating at the close of AFD. But somehow this remake’s ending didn’t annoy me quite as much as the finale of the original. Yes, I can tell you it’s just as much of a cheat but there’s a mean-spiritedness to the new film’s conclusion (rather than the feel-good wrap up of the original) that managed to leave me satisfied. And to be honest, in the post-Saw age of convoluted, preposterous ‘twist’ endings, the end to this film didn’t seem so outrageous. In fact, I thought it was refreshing that the filmmakers didn’t feel obliged to cover their asses with five minutes of flashbacks detailing how everything was supposed to line up.

If you’re looking for a serious horror fix, this won’t be worth your time. But as a lightweight time killer, “April Fool’s Day” manages not to feel like an elaborate prank at the viewer’s expense.


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