A film that has been a longtime favorite of mine ever since I discovered it on VHS as a kid decades (and decades) ago, April Fool’s Day recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. To mark the occasion, I was fortunate enough to round up several cast members, as well as director Fred Walton, to chat about the horror comedy that dared to turn the slasher subgenre on its head back in 1986.
April Fool’s Day brought together a talented crew of young actors, including Deborah Foreman, Amy Steel, Tom Wilson, Deborah Goodrich, Ken Olandt, Clayton Rohner, Leah Pinsent, Jay Baker, and Griffin O’Neal, who all gathered on Victoria Island in British Columbia to create a mystery-fueled horror comedy that’s hugely underrated and was certainly ahead of its time.
For many of the cast, the twists and turns of April Fool’s Day were part of the film’s charms and huge draws when first coming on board the project in the mid-1980s, but they all agreed it was a combination of a skilled crew, a brilliant director, and a script that respected both the characters and the audience that made April Fool’s Day something they really wanted to be a part of.
“I knew immediately that I wanted to do this film,” expressed Rohner, who played the camera-toting jokester Chaz. “This wasn’t a horror movie where all the kids show up and then one by one they drop dead. There was some kind of relationship established between all the people and that made you care about them. We had a very interesting group of people for our cast. I've worked with a lot of different people and I have to say that there is something very bright about that group in particular. We all fit together well, but had our own personalities and that’s reflected in the final product. We were lucky to have this cast and we were very lucky to have a director like Fred, who let us improvise. Not many directors encourage that.”
“When you’re working with Fred, you're working with a renowned talent,” agreed Olandt, who played straight-laced Rob. “He did When a Stranger Calls, which is an all-time classic piece of filmmaking. This is a guy who directed some beautiful actor pieces that are strong stories. He was the artist, and he was setting the canvas for us to become the colors on top. Taking direction from Fred was easy; you completely trusted him just from talking with him once. He utilized the best in all of us to establish the most resonance we could with our characters.”
Wilson, who had recently wrapped up on Back to the Future, saw April Fool’s Day as his opportunity to continue working with some of the finest minds in Hollywood. “Fred Walton was a tremendous director and Chuck Minsky, who I worked with again, was the cinematographer on the film. We had this beautiful house, surrounded by this beautiful natural setting which was tremendous, and Chuck did a magnificent job of capturing all those things. Between the direction and the cinematography alone, we had two of the sharpest minds guiding us, and that was exciting to me.”
“Fred struck me as a relaxed and intelligent person,” Wilson continued, “which is what a director should be, because a lot of stuff is going to happen on the set. There will be a lot of unforeseen challenges, so the person should be calm and intelligent enough to figure out ways to get this movie made. After a couple of days, you really sense the level of confidence that a director has in their own ability, and whether that confidence is borne out of their work, and pretty soon everyone could see that Fred knew precisely what he was doing. He had a great approach to filming this movie, so then you just put yourself into his hands and listened to what he had to say and did your best. I enjoyed working with Fred very much.”
Prior to April Fool’s Day, Foreman had been a part of several successful features, including Valley Girl, Real Genius, and My Chauffeur. Despite having a great deal of on-set experience, the actress worked extensively with Walton throughout production just to ensure she perfectly captured his vision for the film and both of her characters.
According to Foreman, “When you’re very passionate about your art, you have a way of rolling with your creativity. But when you add your creativity in with other people who are also extremely passionate and also have a vision, you have to be willing to compromise and learn from them. I found this out right away when I came on the set. At the time, when I wore sweaters, I would wear them a little bit bigger and they would cover my hips. So I came on set and my sweater was loose and Fred came over to me and he started pushing it up to my waist, trying to make it stay. When he realized it wasn't going to stay, he said, “Go back to wardrobe and get the other one and don't stretch it out.” I didn't say anything, I just went back to wardrobe, got the sweater on, and we shot the scene. I realized at that moment that Fred was going to be very specific, and I hadn't worked with a director that specific before.”
“So, before every single scene I would go to him and I would say, ‘Do you want me to hold the candle this way or this way, do you want me to hold the basket this way?’ And I would give him two or three options. It would just be props, or something to do with my wardrobe, but whatever it was, I wanted him to tell me what to do. Did I really need that? No, because I'm very confident as an artist. But Fred was extremely specific and I respected his vision, so before every single scene I went up to him and asked him about stuff, or I would tell him I was going to do something so he wouldn't get shocked.”
“That was huge for me as an actress because I hadn't really experienced that before,” Foreman continued. “At the wrap party, I was upstairs sitting by myself by the fireplace and Fred sat next to me, and we sat there together the whole night just shooting the shit. That was the moment when I realized as an artist that it pays to have compromise. You're not selling yourself out, you're being inclusive and it's a beautiful thing when it comes to the collaboration of creative minds. I've been able to use that in all jobs I've had, and I've had a lot since acting. Fred taught me a lot.”
One topic that came up repeatedly during my April Fool’s Day discussions was the deleted scenes, many of which have most likely been lost over time, according to Walton. Olandt discussed a few that he remembered, including the alternate ending that ended up on the cutting room floor. “There are a few scenes that never made it into the movie. One particular scene is a continuation from when Amy and I are in the boathouse. We’re lying on the ground and Griffin O'Neal's body floats underneath us, and you can see it through the floorboards. So we reverse and come running outside, with me pulling up my pants (Fred said he liked that touch, too), and as we run out, I’m supposed to jump in the lake to try and find Skip, Griffin’s character.”
“This was September, so the water was very cold and all I had on was a Speedo. Then we found out that jellyfish were in the water, so that was something lurking in the back of my mind as I tried to yell my lines, all while freezing to death in that bathing suit. I don’t think we ended up with anything useable, so I’m guessing that’s why that scene didn’t make it into the film.”
“There are other scenes we shot that also never made it in,” added Olandt, “but the ones I remember the most are the different endings. There were three endings, in fact. One involved the character of Nikki, where we went back to mess with Muffy. Then we had one where we all were at a bonfire together, which we shot up here [in Los Angeles], and the third one, which was the one that made it into the film, was Leah’s character Nan getting back at Muffy. That was a better ending—a much, much better ending.”
“The ending where we go back and play a hoax on Muffy got a bit too complicated,” agreed Goodrich. “I never really did see the footage, but I will tell you that one of the scarier moments I had on set was part of that cut-out scene. I had to run through the woods at night, top speed, and then dive into the water. That's not in the movie now, but between worrying about running and then going into that frigid water filled with jellyfish, it was a really tough night on set that day.”
The one scene that seemed like it should have been harder than it actually was for Goodrich was when her character, Nikki, descends into a well to retrieve some water, only to discover a floating body and a head. “More than anything, it was more gross than it was scary. That came toward the end of the shooting schedule and it was shot in a large warehouse setting. The well was sliced in half, so I was climbing down the rungs and we were in a big pool of water, but honest to God, it was so dirty. The crew was in the water with me, and the entire time they were smoking, so there were cigarette butts in the water. I loved shooting something like that, but it was so gross. I ended up with a killer ear infection because of that shoot.”
Wilson also got a bit more than he bargained for when it came time to shoot the scene when his character, Arch, gets trapped upside down and a nearby snake strikes at his dangling body. “So here’s the thing: I show up for the scene thinking there's going to be a stunt person and that everything is going to be highly controlled. And when I get there, they tell me, ‘Here's our plan. The scene is you're hanging upside down and a snake comes out and is trying to bite you. The way we thought we'd do it is to hang you upside down from this tree and have a snake actually try and come bite you.’ That was it—they were going to leave me in the hands of the snake wrangler who assured me about the whole scenario by saying, ‘Well, he probably won't bite you. He'll be angry and everything, but you just wave your arms and he'll bite at you, and then you can dodge him.’ So, of course, I immediately asked what Plan B entailed [laughs].”
“Fast forward: they get the stuntman and he does the sweep where he's hanging upside down from the tree and he does the whole thing of waving his arms as the snake is trying to bite him. Then the stuntman comes down and they string me upside down and put a pane of glass between me and the snake, and that’s how we got that shot to work.”
“The best part about all of this is that the snake wrangler at one point has the snake in a burlap sack and is trying to convince me that the snake is tame. And as he's saying the snake is tame, he's opening the burlap sack, and the snake literally comes out and bites him right in the hand and is not letting go of his hand just as he’s saying, ‘Here, let me show you.’ So that was all the convincing I needed that I wasn’t going to be doing anything with that snake [laughs].”
Snakes, jellyfish, frigid temperatures, and ear infections aside, if there was one thing evident from all my interviewees, it’s that everyone had a wonderful time working on April Fool’s Day and that the film had a much bigger impact on all of them beyond just adding another credit to their résumés.
“We were immediately a pack,” reflected Rohner. “We had an amazing time on and off the set. It was a bunch of kids who got to go to a faraway land and be together and we were fortunate that we all got paid well and treated well, too. Because it was produced by Frank Mancuso Jr., it felt like we were always on some adventure because there was always something going on, even while we were filming.”
“When we weren't working, we would all hang out; one time we rented a boat and took a cruise around the island together, which was a lot of fun. While we were there, I bought a 1955 DeSoto and Griffin bought an old Packard and we all drove back to Los Angeles together as a caravan. But we were always up to something, and one thing I just want to mention about Griffin is that as much discord that he brought, he brought equally as much fun and excitement. He was very entertaining and he entertained all of us in one way or another.”
“It meant a lot to my career, making April Fool’s Day,” said Wilson. “It was a very positive, professional experience and I got to meet and work with really terrific people.
I haven't spoken with a number of cast members since we wrapped, but we all had a good time and I’m very fortunate to have been able to keep up with a few people over the years, like Deborah and Fred. It was a fun movie. It was both in and outside the genre, which was interesting, and over the years it's been great to see so many people who really enjoy the movie.”
Olandt added, “April Fool's Day has become a cult film in many ways, even to the point where there is this woman named Lisa Perada-Everetts who runs a bed and breakfast that is themed after the movie. That’s incredible. And it just shows you how a well-told story that's acted well, directed well, shot well, cut well, and written beautifully came together and stood the test of time because the people who really embraced it have not forgotten about it. Not many movies get a bed and breakfast modeled after them.”
For Goodrich, the biggest thing she took away from the entire experience was the friendships that began while on set. “I’ve made some really lasting and lifelong friendships. I'm still in touch with Deborah Foreman, I'm in touch with Leah Pinsent, and I've seen Amy Steel often over the years. We've even traveled together with our children. I'm somewhat in touch with some of the other actors, too. We all came together in one way or another on this. It’ll always be important to us regardless of how long it’s been.”
“I do feel particularly good about that film, those characters, and the work that we did and what we created,” Goodrich continued. “Personally, I took away a sense of satisfaction and the pleasure of being given the opportunity to work on something like that with that group of people. Fred Walton is a very special director and he was pretty terrific to work for.”
“That was a high bar for me,” added Rohner. “That was a successful time in my life and I'm proud of that era in my life. I'm proud of that movie. I'm proud of that performance. I'm proud of those people and being able to call them my friends is just a gift.”
To Foreman, April Fool’s Day was the perfect creative storm, a meeting of great energies that came together to create something that has endured over the last 30 years. The actress discussed her gratefulness, saying, “Just the idea of creating, acting itself, when you're creating something and you're working with people who have equal creativity skills and want to play with you and your environment, it's just exciting as all heck. All that was in place on April Fool’s Day, so you just get to come in and work your ass off, and then they say cut and it's over.”
“It all went so fast and I loved working on that show. I loved working on those characters, I loved acting with the people I was acting with. It was awesome for me. I wasn't at home, I was in another country, and I loved everything about it. The fact that I fought for it and got it was so special to me. I will always be grateful for the opportunities I was given on April Fool’s Day.”
If you missed out on the earlier April Fool's Day special features, check them out now: