Horrific Inquiry: APRIL FOOL’S DAY (1986)

Welcome back to the newest, and at times goriest, column here at Film Inquiry – Horrific Inquiry. Twice a month, I will be tackling all things horror, each month bringing two films back into the spotlight to terrify and frighten once more. And occasionally looking at those that could have pushed the envelope further. Join us as we dive deep into the heart of horror, but warning, there will be spoilers.

It’s a bonus Horrific Inquiry!

It wouldn’t be April Fool’s Day without a few pranks and scares, and Horrific Inquiry is here to bring you the best viewing experience of the day – April Fool’s Day. Released in 1986, it falls comfortably within the slashers of the genre, having a bit of fun along the way. And while it is reminiscent of the slice and dice films it is inspired by, April Fool’s Day has a few surprises up its sleeve as well.

A horror film that just might surprise you too

April Fool’s Day originally starts off as you would expect from a hokey horror film of the late 80s, with long exposition, sexual tension, and young adult antics. I had never truly expected anything much from the film, hoping at most for at least an interesting slasher. I was surprised by not only how much I enjoyed the film but liked it. Yes, it’s no blockbuster horror hit – honestly, I think it could rest comfortably as a C-list entry – but its execution left an impression.

Horrific Inquiry: APRIL FOOL’S DAY (1986)
source: Paramount Pictures

April Fool’s Day kicks off with a recording of Nikki (Deborah Goodrich) claiming to be Mary O’Shay O’Toole, revealing her aspirations of going to the convent and putting out on a first date. In an instant, the film sets the vibe it will continue to follow through its entirety. Instantly, we as viewers begin to question what is real and what is not. From the ferry dock to the island, viewers are next introduced to Muffy (Deborah Foreman) cleaning the basement of her island mansion, final preparations for her party underway. There is a quiet and meek, yet mischievous, nature to her movements, smile, and speech as she exclaims “it’s going to be better than nice, it’s going to be unforgettable.”

As she comes across a Jack-in-the-box, Muffy is lost in the memories it holds, her hand starting to turn the crank. Viewers are brought into her memories as opening credits begin to roll, settling once again on the Jack-in-the-box, this time Muffy is a young girl and it is not Jack that emerges. Again, the film takes the opportunity early on to reestablish and enforce that not everything is as it seems or as you predict it to be.

Returning back to the ferry, the teenagers are all culminating, some friends while others new acquaintances. Sexual tensions are high as each prepares for their spring weekend at Muffy’s, a break from the impending future each has yet to decide. While the trip to the island is dragged out, threatening to lose its audience, it picks up as a fight between Arch (Thomas F. Wilson, aka Biff from Back to the Future) and Skip (Griffin O’Neal) sees Skip with a knife to the gut and the gang jumping into the water to save him. Enter the first true prank of the film. Though while the injury was nothing more than trickery, a boating incident quickly turns tragic as one of the crewmen is seriously injured trying to dock the ship.

Both the ship’s Captain (Lloyd Berry) and the Constable (Tom Heaton), race back to the mainland to get the crewman to the hospital, leaving the gang stranded on the island.

It takes a bit for the action to start

Like many horror films of the 80s, it does take a bit of time to get the action and the horror started. But the film is not unaware of its need to fill its allotted time, giving audiences time to get to know its characters (whose names are unusually difficult to remember) and throw in some April Fool’s themed shenanigans along the way. Oh, and more sexual tension – ie. a seductive slow release of a hot dog from its packaging into a pan.

Horrific Inquiry: APRIL FOOL’S DAY (1986)
source: Paramount Pictures

As the gang sits for their first meal, whoopee cushions, broken chair legs, and dripping glasses are the first of many pranks April Fool’s Day thematically includes. Following the dinner, the film is unrelenting, a montage of individual pranks left for each of the friends to find. Creepy newspaper clippings, exploding cigars, spraying sinks, door handles breaking, eyes moving in picture frames and restraints in the drawer, April Fool’s Day continues to stay on theme while filling time until the horror can begin.

No longer a prank

When the first murder occurs, it is shown only as Skip grabbed in the dark by a shadow hand in the boathouse. There is no gore or horror, only a classic sense of tension and anticipation. It is the absence of the gore that makes this moment stand out. As an over-saturation of slashers was underway, to lack the graphic nature of murder was in itself intriguing. Why leave this out?

It doesn’t take the film long to answer our questions – kind of. As Rob (Ken Olandt) and Kitt (Amy Steel) are making out in the boathouse the next morning, Kitt snags a glimpse of a dead Skip in a boat floating under the house. Yet when they come out to investigate he is gone. As Skip has instigated his own pranks earlier, there is a dampened concern for his safety. As the search for Skip is underway, the gruesome nature of the murders increases as well, also most mirroring the growth of the slasher genre to date.

Horrific Inquiry: APRIL FOOL’S DAY (1986)
source: Paramount Pictures

Also of concern is the now muted and confused Muffy, who the night before had been vivacious and full of excitement for the weekend. She has awoken as a completely different person, distant and fearful. She quickly becomes the target of accusations, yet small glimpses of the killer’s shoes and the nature of some of the murders seem to make it impossible that it is her. April Fool’s Day is clever in its crafting of the overall killer – as well as the eventual reveal of the motive – leaving you almost certain of who is behind the murders, yet constantly questioning all the same.


This is where April Fool’s Day separates itself from the pack, revealing that the entire film itself is an April Fool’s prank. Much like the Jack-in-the-box at the beginning, the actual mystery is different than originally expected and nothing more than a creative “toy”. When the true nature of the film is finally revealed, it takes a moment as a viewer to reshape the perspective you have both assumed and been lead to believe. As a viewer, your attempt to wrap your mind around the “what?!” moment matches that of Kitt, creating a cohesive viewing experiencing and bridging the gap between screen space and audience space.

April Fool’s Day is not the best slasher but is far from the worst. It’s a clever and fresh take on not only an oversaturated genre but also an intriguing take on one of the most fool-hearted days of the year. If you are looking for a good prank this April 1st, make it April Fool’s Day.

Watch April Fool’s Day

Powered by JustWatch


Does content like this matter to you?

Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.

Join now!

Similar Posts