As advertised, "April Fool's Day" is a cut above the usual hack 'em up, and perhaps even a hack above the usual cut 'em up. This is no thanks to the story, which is familiar. One spring break, Muffy (Deborah Foreman) invites a bunch of her friends over to the island where her family has vacationed, presumably since their arrival on the Mayflower. They are full of the irrepressible high spirits we associate with the first of April. At dinner, each finds a doll at his place setting. "It's just like in Agatha Christie!" one says.
And sure enough, it is just like Agatha Christie, only bloodier, as the ten little Indians fall one by one to decapitation, castration, hanging and so forth.
In the hands of director Fred Walton and screen writer Danilo Bach, though, "April Fool's Day" gets a little bit beyond its emergency room esthetics. Despite the gore, "April Fool's Day" feels authentic; Walton keeps the movie loose and messy, and Bach has a good ear for the way kids talk -- their obsession with sex and money, their nearly incomprehensible shallowness. The victims are all quintessential '80s kids (guess who I was rooting for).
The suspense sequences are stylishly managed, and Walton has attractively cast the movie with a number of natural, if unexciting, actors. There is a suburban princess and a jock and a Junior Achievement type and so forth, none of which qualifies Bach for screen writer of the year, but it's remarkable how effective even these elementary efforts at characterization are in the context of the film. (The fastidious princess, for example, plummets to the bottom of a well in her Norma Kamalis and moussed hair, and finds herself floating amidst various hewn limbs.)
"April Fool's Day" is littered with routine flatulence jokes (involving baked beans) and dumb double-entendres (involving hot dogs), but it can be surprisingly waggish. ("Muffy hasn't been in an institution," we're told as the body count climbs. "She's been at Vassar.") The "trick" ending may be experienced by true aficionados of the genre as a cheat. But it's hard to fault a movie that can quote Boswell's "Life of Johnson," go on to murder eight teen-agers and do it poker-faced.
April Fool's Day, at area theaters, is rated R and contains graphic violence, sexual situations and profanity.