Title: April Fool’s Day
Based on: April Fool’s Day (1986) Horror film from Paramount
Author: Jeff Rovin
Release Date: April 1, 1986
Publisher: Pocket Books (paperback)
Plot: “Jokes aren’t so funny when they end in murder! — Eight good friends, ready to celebrate spring break, gather at a remote summer home, an isolated island for the very rich. They’re all ready to party, to pull a few pranks, a few April Fool’s jokes. But suddenly the jokes are all too real. And the bodies start turning up… in the bushes, in the bedroom, bobbing in the water. Someone is on the island, someone with an evil thirst for death. As twilight descends, the vacation retreat becomes a deathtrap with no escape from the deadly tricks of… APRIL FOOL’S DAY.”
April Fool’s Day was primed to cash in on one of the few remaining Holiday-themed titles, featuring a lively young cast Deborah Foreman (Valley Girl), Thomas F. Wilson (Back to the future), Amy Steel (Friday the 13th, pt. 2). But its splash was only minimal, taking in $12 million on a nation wide release by Paramount pictures. The waning stage of the ’80s Slasher craze was drastically darkening as higher volumes of schlock cinema polluted the home video market.
The pervasive opinion among Horror fans has usually been a lack of adulation for April Fool’s Day. This displeasure mostly roots from its comical angle and *SPOILER* the blatant gimmick of it being all a prank in the end–Zero kills, Zero betrayal. A Slasher flick erased of gore.
Now in the context of it revolving around a holiday of jocularity, I’ve always been one to embrace this twist. It’s fitting in several aspects, pulling it off with nearly the same amount of thrill. There’s still plenty of grotesque props to sate your need. After all, it was produced by Frank Mancuso, Jr. (Friday the 13th, pt. 2). Beside that clout was director Fred Walton of When a Stranger Calls, a thriller revered as a horror classic.
Though it was still a moderate success at the box office, one could also infer they banked a hefty amount on home video as well. The sinister poster of Muffy toasting to her guests with a noose-knotted pony tail was plastered in every video store at the time. Nowadays, most casual horror fans under 30 haven’t seen or heard of the film.
But was the decision to cut out the murderous deaths really their original intention?
According to Fred Walton in 2016, it was indeed conceived as a parody of the Slasher Genre. He also gave a recount of the rumored extended ending. Decades had piled up without valid evidence to the existence of the film’s alternate ending. The footage either remains confined in Paramount’s repository or has been lost. It’s been gossiped online that only stills of it have emerged to the public.
How much of it was filmed? Walton claims they filmed an additional 20-minute scene– Included in the original script–where the group returns on the ferry the next day to terrify Muffy as retribution. He specified it was another comic prank without any murder. Paramount felt, however, the reveal party was the apt climax and the appendix of pranks would have been overkill. In the end, Mancuso, Jr. and Walton settled for the Nan and Muffy jack-in-the-box gag as a justifiable revenge.
There’s only a vague mention of the Skip murder plot appearing in the novelization on the Wikipedia page. To the extent of my research, no comprehensive description has ever been reviewed online as of spring 2018.
Finally, all the lurid details of the homicidal alternate ending to April Fool’s Day will be showcased!!!
The Jeff Rovin 1986 novelization provides fans with loads of character tid-bits, setting info, introspective, new dialogue, and plot variances. It was Rovin’s first of many mainstream movie tie-ins–Re-animator, Mortal Kombat, Broken Arrow, & the Game. Like the film, I found the book adaptation to be a distinguishable tier below the mega Slasher franchises of the era–Halloween & Friday The 13th. Those two were better films and had better novelizations.
Rovin’s prose is a pleasant rendering, but still too brisk for my taste. In comparison to the film, the terror grasps the reader more than the viewer. In the film, the death scenes were cut-aways because the characters weren’t actually dying. But in the book, the murders were exposed with graphic violence. Brutality is always the most pivotal factor in these horror novelizations. At the pinnacle of his skill, Rovin illustrated the rural island setting to maximum effect throughout. Nature and the break of spring are key elements to the story and he’s able to capture them.
The remainder of the review will be a linear commentary of the novelization in collation to the plot of the film:
Chapter 1: An illusionary opening of a wraith-like figure emerges from the sea, sidling up to Muffy’s room. Our main character is stabbed in the chest by the intruder. Muffy observes the figure to be her doppelganger. The attack jolts her awake from the horrific dream. The eerie jack-in-the-box title sequence from the film is pushed back further along. The dream opening is trite for horror films, but i think it could have been effective at inducing belief in the Buffy theory. Clara, Muffy’s housekeeper, delivers a plate of patronizing platitudes about getting rest. In the film, the housekeeper plays a minimal role before departing for the weekend. In the book, she’s a captious black woman who’s been working for the St. Johns for ages on the island. Muffy brushes off all her excoriation and urges her to take a vacation while her friends visit. As she switches the calendar over to April, Muffy gushes over Chaz and their congenial affection for sex and pranks. Her promiscuous side is explored more in the book.
Rob is introduced hitching a ride with some hot blond that he’d hooked up with at a motel. He muses about how Kit had pushed for them to be monogamous after meeting last summer as camp counselors (of all things). Rob and Kit are clearly the central characters of the novel, because in this version they end up being heroes. In the film, they’re the central victims of the prank. Although still a failing med-student, Rob’s depicted more as a treacherous alpha male. They’re relationship blankets the bulk of the story-line in the book.
Clara’s overbearing temperament heads off to visit her sister in Yonkers or something like that. She runs into Muffy’s group of friends at the dock, and has some contemptuous advice for Skip (Muffy’s cousin) about failing school and smoking–there’s some scornful badinage exchanged before she continues her walk to the bus stop, thinking about how the family is harder on Skip than they’re on Muffy. Why she decided to add to the ridicule isn’t worth pondering. Just glad the shrew is gone.
In an ominous scene back on the island, an unidentified woman figure arranges a horrific diorama of the island. seven males and females are situated like chess pieces on a war board with one of the males knocked over. The woman laughs maniacally. In the film, the dolls are only shown crudely in the attic without a diorama.
Back on the ferry, the group gossips about Muffy– claiming she’s an affable, talented ingenue in drama class. Skip is entitled to half of the estimated $50 million family owned company, Southern Regional Sales.
Chaz hits on Nan, the bookish blond, while she reads Paradise Lost. In the film, he pushes a porn history book on her, but here he shows her a mail-order VHS magazine. He rents them in order to copy the tapes.
Remember Skip and Arch playing a game of stretch that leads to the knife-in-the-gut-prank? Well, in the book Skip tricks Buck into diving in the water for his class ring. Buck ends up getting his head compressed by the boat, and threatens revenge upon him. Constable Potter motors over to the rescue, letting the ferryman Cal drive Buck back to the mainland on his speed boat.
Furious, the Constable interrogates the group. Arch squeals about the prank that led to the accident. The constable shrugs it off, professing he can’t charge them with anything. Muffy gives the Constable their boat, however Skip squabbles with him for a while on this decision. The Constable arrived at the island because he witnessed “unauthorized activity”. The Constable had figured it might have been Skip’s father ‘Uncle Frank’ arriving there. Instead of a reprimand, he gathers up a map, gas, lunch box, binoculars, and commandeers their boat. Although massive in size, the St. John’s own the entire island.
Careening through the snaky road to the 94 year-old house, Skip vehemently disdains the ‘degeneration of his family’ and resents the attention and popularity Muffy gets. Their Grandfather had bought the house with his first million. Since the death of Muffy’s mom, her dad spends most of his time at the yacht club unless he’s off trying to impress a lady.
After the prank-filled dinner scene, Muffy rejects Arch’s flirtation, recalling how he was a lousy lay. The guests all discover the same pranks in their rooms as seen in the film. Alone in her room, Muffy star-gazes about Skip, about how she can’t get through to him, about how she hoped this weekend would strengthen their relationship. She’d once took him skiing in Switzerland to shake the yoke of his vernal angst, to no avail.
Skip roams the the dock at night, searching for his pot garden. Despite it being April 1st, Skip dutifully plucks off the dried leaves from a cannabis plant!!! Now it’s not specified where this film is set but it has been widely stated it was filmed off the coast of British Columbia, Canada. Hardly the harvest season for Marijuana, but i’ve read dumber stuff. Smoking in the boathouse, the killer tightens a rope around him. The shriek of Skip’s apparent demise arouses Rob, who doesn’t know if it’s a dream or not. That same night Rob finds a distraught, confused Muffy wandering around.
The next day, Skip’s mutilated, rotten body is glimpsed drifting away in the water by Rob and Kit. Muffy exudes eccentricities by picking wild mushrooms and flowers. Arch’s death scene has him getting run over by a tractor instead of being snared by a rope at the mercy of a venomous snake. After confronting Muffy about the abortion tape, Nan wanders into the woods at night. Remember, she doesn’t have a proper death scene in the film. Here, she glimpses Arch and Skip in the weeds. Inching closer, she discovers their decapitated heads mounted on pikes and dangling in the wind. Out of the woods, the gloved killer ambushes her with hedge clippers. We don’t get the details of it as it leaves the reader on a cliffhanger.
Back in the kitchen, Muffy flips character back to normal unlike in the film where she stays in the manic state of Buffy throughout. Nikki and Hal discover the heads of Skip, Arch, and Nan in the water well. The remaining characters are in the heat of hysteria that night as Rob phones Constable Potter. Their conversation reveals the crazy letter Potter received about the unstable Muffy. In a minacious scene, Kit notices a picture of an adolescent Muffy and Buffy in her Dad’s study. It’s the same scene where Muffy startles her by walking in and warning her the Constable might take all night to get there with how strong the tides are. The gang’s suspicion elevates as they share stories of the cruel pranks that’ve been happening: Nan’s abortion, Nikki’s BDSM props, Hal’s car accident.
The constable returns to the shore, shooting flares in the sky. By the time Rob and Kit make it to the boat, they find the constable’s bludgeoned body in a fish net. A letter issued by the asylum is discovered about miss St. John’s escape. Hysterical, they race back into the dark house. Muffy, disguised as Buffy, attacks Kit, while Hal informs Rob of the “surprise” joke in another room. Kit then stumbles into the living room to be stunned by the crowd of her formally dead friends. They all shout shout “April Fool’s” as Hal escorts Rob into the revelation and revelry.
Muffy introduces Skip as her “crazy, fun-loving, dope -fiend brother.” Skip lauds her performance, declaring he was only in on the ferry prank in the beginning. Constable Potter, alive also, is introduced as their Uncle Frank, a stock exchange broker. He commends Muffy for the elaborate caper, expressing his intention to give her father an approval report for the deed to the island. Before leaving, he scolds Skip for his misbehavior and poor GPA. C’mon Uncle Frank, it’s spring break. Save the chide, right?
Let’s remember, the film concludes at this revelation party at night, along with one final throat-slashing prank on Muffy by Nan. However. the book rolls over into the following morning. The friends gather in the living room to drink coffee. Absent from coffee time are Nikki and Hal. Yes, she warms up to the haughty hick and has sex with him upstairs! A bit later, Hal confesses the details of his car accident. After altercating with his girlfriend, he chased after her in his car, nudging her off the side of the road. She died from this collision and somehow Hal lives guilt-free from this vehicular manslaughter.
Nan confronts Muffy once again about the baby tapes, which Muffy vehemently denies. Not buying her sympathy, Nan shuns their friendship and boards the ferry among the other guests heading on home. On the sail back to the mainland, the group feels Muffy got away unscathed from all the antics that took place, so they hatch a playful revenge of their own. Skip opts out of the plot because he has a girlfriend awaiting his return on ‘wall street’. Yeah, okay Skip. Hal and Nan both leave the story for good as well. Skip, however, jibes one last gay joke to Arch before he deviates from the group. We follow him to a payphone where he calls Muffy, warning her of the gangs forthcoming reprisal and claims there’s ‘no hard feelings about the recommendation from their uncle Frank.’
Nikki, Chaz, Rob, and Kit happen to find a boat they can take back to the island. They borrow some grotesque props from Buck along with some make-up for morbid effect. It’s now nighttime as they drive a pick-up back to the house. Chaz waits in the truck as a ‘shadowy figure’ plugs the exhaust pipe and hoses it into the cab to poison Chaz. Indeed. things are finally turning evil in the jocular realm of this franchise.
Nikki, caked in bloody make-up, meanders past the water well as the dark figure attacks her with a blade. She figures it’s Muffy, but is too frightened to find out. Racing back to the truck, Rob and Kit are barely able to rescue Chaz from dying. Unconvinced that the perpetrator is Muffy, Rob and Kit rush up to the house to save her.
Inside the house, Muffy is expecting the horror prank to happen. Although aware of it, she’s still spooked when a dangling eyeball bangs against the drainpipe. The narrative cuts back to Rob and Kit. Darkness coats the first floor. They charge into the living room, finding her lifeless body in a pool of blood–throat slashed, her face frozen in a silent scream. The killer, dressed like a tall Buffy clone, holds a meat cleaver in strike position. Rob and Kit bolt upstairs into Muffy’s room, locking the door behind them. Armed with only a tire iron as their weapon, they watch as the intruder unlocks the door with a key. Who could it be? Rob tussles with the intruder, getting sliced in the process. Kit retreats onto the balcony, closing the french doors. With Rob down, the intruder shatters the doors as Kit collapses in terror.
The lights flicker on. It’s Muffy returning from her supposed death. She stabs the intruder in the stomach, saying “Gotcha.” She’d used her retractable blade gag knife, thinking it was a prank by Chaz. The intruder swipes the air, trying to gash Muffy. In shock, Muffy stumbles onto the bed. Kit hurls broken bits of the glass door at the intruder in vain.
Awaking from his wound, Rob thrusts a pair of scissors into the intruder’s back, its wig and mask fall off to reveal Skip! He falls to the floor without uttering a clear motive. Rob and Kit regain their composure in the aftermath. Rob theorizes that Skip urged them to turn the trick on Muffy as a means to cover up his attempted murder on his sister, who he was extremely jealous of. He terrorized Nikki and created an alibi by leaving to throw suspicion onto the them.
Meanwhile, Muffy enters a mental state of sentimental delusion while caressing a dying Skip. Her empathy churns into gratitude for her brother. She praises his transformation, “Daddy will be so proud of you.” Muffy is appreciative of Skip for his brazen endeavor to succeed in the true Machiavellian way of the St. John clan.
Although Skip’s grievance and jealousy is left in the film, they unfortunately abandoned this potential ending. According to unsubstantiated online accounts, a contrasting alternate ending was filmed that features Skip springing out of the closet to fake slash her neck, then later stay on the island to help out with her Agatha Christie style B&B. It’s ambiguous as to which route they would’ve chosen and it perhaps may always remain unknown.
Awestruck, Rob and Kit gape at the insanity. Rob assesses that ‘madness is the best way to deal with tragedy’ as the book ends.
Final thoughts: The film never fails at entertaining every year around April 1st. Jeff Rovin delivers the thrills that the film aimed to achieve. The scenic island, however, isn’t illustrated with much success in the prose. It’s not just the ending that differs. There’s plenty of variances in dialogue and character interactions to add the story’s breadth. Finally having read the novelization, it brought a new life to the clandestine ending fans have craved to see. This is a must read among Slasher movie fans.
Final Grade: A-