Creating a slasher movie in 1986 wasn’t a monumental feat, as the horror genre had seen its fair share of cinematic killers over the years, but it was a culmination of many elements that made April Fool’s Day one of the best of its era. With a focused and experienced director at the helm, a clever script filled with laughs and unexpected thrills, and an affable ensemble of actors who were infectiously likeable and endlessly talented, April Fool’s Day is an underappreciated gem and is truly unlike any other genre film of its, or any, time.
Written by Danilo Bach and directed by Fred Walton, April Fool’s Day follows a group of college students—Kit (Amy Steel), Rob (Ken Olandt), Nikki (Deborah Goodrich), Chaz (Clayton Rohner), Arch (Tom Wilson), Harvey (Jay Baker), Skip (Griffin O’Neal), and Nan (Leah Pinsent)—who head out to their pal Muffy’s (Deborah Foreman) family estate to enjoy a little R&R during spring break. What they don’t know is that their vacation is about to take a sinister turn as people start disappearing, motives are questioned, and no one knows who to trust anymore.
Even though April Fool’s Day was technically considered a slasher movie, Bach’s script was packed with defiant twists on the subgenre, truly putting it in a class of its own. According to Goodrich, she realized the movie’s uniqueness early on during the audition process. “April Fool’s Day was so ahead of its time and in many ways it was a precursor to Scream, which came at least a decade later. A lot of movies owe a lot to how we approached the horror here.”
“It hadn't been done before,” agreed Wilson. “In an age of slasher movies, the slasher movie that's actually something of a comedy and an anti-slasher movie was an interesting take on the whole genre. It was fun and I loved the script the very minute I started reading it.”
“That was the era of the slasher movie,” added Rohner. “That was the equivalent of being in a Marvel movie now. Those were the fun movies to do and this was fun from beginning to end. Fred really allowed us kids to be kids and have fun on-screen, and it shows.”
A huge part of April Fool’s Day’s fun relies on the story’s swerves, and many of those were driven by Foreman’s character Muffy, who spends part of the movie as “Buffy”, her fictional twin.
“The challenge of playing two characters was extremely exciting to me,” discussed Foreman. “The first time I went in to read, though, I was dressed in 1940s garb because I had just come from another audition, a baseball movie, and I didn't have time to change. I felt like I still looked fine. Fred met me and his response after I left was that I looked like his grandmother in a photograph he had in his home. So that definitely wasn't the way they wanted to go, but my gut was telling me that this was something I really, really wanted to do.”
“So then I got the script and I kept asking my agent where they were at with casting and had they hired somebody yet for the role of Muffy? Thankfully, they hadn't yet and my agent got me in the door again. This time, I went in and auditioned wearing preppy clothes, the sweater around the neck and everything. I went in and auditioned that second time, and before I had even gotten home, they had called and offered the part to me. I just knew I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by, so I went for it because I really felt like I wanted to do it and I was so glad it all worked out.”
For Wilson, he had to make a decision between April Fool’s Day and another project that couldn’t have been further away from the horror comedy. “I auditioned once for it, which was right at the time I had just finished Back to the Future. And what’s funny is that, now that I’m remembering everything, I also had a meeting with David Lynch around this time, and he wanted me to be in Blue Velvet. It was for no money whatsoever and April Fool's Day was for decent money. I was getting married at the time and I had no money, and I didn't make any real money on Back to the Future, so I chose April Fool’s Day. Not that it was a bad decision; I liked Fred Walton a lot, and Frank Mancuso Jr., the producer. But yeah, now that I think of it, I ended up doing April Fool's Day instead of Blue Velvet, which is kind of a trip when you think about it [laughs].”
When Olandt auditioned for April Fool’s Day, it was part of his plan to transition from the world of television into film, and he was immediately pleased that the movie would be shooting in territory familiar to him.
“Prior to this, I had joined the cast of Riptide as a second season addition to be the youth draw for the show,” Olandt explained. “I was on for one season and it wasn't really working out for me. Stephen Cannell, bless his heart, said to me, ‘You should be doing feature films,’ so I took his advice on that. When that happened, April Fool's Day came along. It was really fun for me because I grew up in Vancouver, Canada and this was shooting right on the island of Victoria. So it was particularly exciting to be going back home and shooting this feature on location, as up until that point, I had only really ever done one other project on location.”
Both Goodrich and Rohner had previously worked together on the teen comedy Just One of the Guys before collaborating as the onscreen couple Nikki and Chaz for April Fool’s Day. “I loved working with Clayton on Guys and it was even better getting to work so closely with him for this one,” said Goodrich, “especially considering the pop culture climate in the mid-1980s. If you think about what was going on in the movie business at the time, this was the ‘Brat Pack’ period, so there were a lot of young actors working and the idea of ensemble films was very popular.”
“April Fool's Day was definitely an ensemble film, hearkening back to Agatha Christie and Ten Little Indians, but it was also very subtly winking at the audience, too. There was definitely a precedent in literature and in film with this story and Fred took it to the next level. This film, and When A Stranger Calls, made a huge reputation for him. Fred is such a smart guy and was a very clever director, too,” added Goodrich.
Everyone credited Walton’s decision to give his ensemble a chance to rehearse for a few weeks prior to production as one of the major reasons why the actors were all able to deliver such great performances that felt authentic, like a real group of friends coming together for a weekend away from it all.
Foreman said, “That two weeks of rehearsal up in Canada made all the difference. Fred knew we needed it so that those relationships would come through the camera. When we got up there, he told me that he wanted me to make two specifically different characters.. It's tongue in cheek, but in order for this bed and breakfast scary thing to work, I had to make both women very believable and those were my notes when we were rehearsing. Between the notes and the rehearsal, all that made it much easier to create both Muffy and Buffy.”
“A friend of mine, before I left for Canada, said, ‘Make sure the audience sees that you're having fun while you do this,’ because in his mind, if we looked like we were having fun, the audience would enjoy themselves,” explained Wilson. “It really worked, too. It was a good piece of advice. I tried to have fun during the shoot, but through the performance let the audience see that I was having fun in the shoot, even though I took my work very seriously. That was an age when you could go off and do a movie like that, with a bunch of young people and it wouldn’t be crazy to see them actually become friends. And that’s what happened on April Fool’s Day.”
According to Olandt, “This was one of those perfect situations where the movie is written and then when you cast it, the actors bring themselves and their essences to their roles in such a true way that they feel like their characters. Everybody really came together to create something unique and special.”
“The thing that really helped me out was being able to rely so much on Amy,” Olandt continued. “She is just a wonderful person and was definitely more experienced than I was on April Fool’s Day. I felt super comfortable with her, like we'd been dating for years. The thing about Amy is that she's a real human, where she sees people truly for who they are. There’s a very honest approach about her. We were like the quintessential married couple, almost at that point where the romance is not the driver in the relationship. It's being together, understanding and knowing each other and that's what really sells everything in the movie when we're talking with each other in what feels like very realistic terms.”
As previously mentioned, another on-screen relationship that was at the forefront of April Fool’s Day was Nikki and Chaz, the fun-loving duo who open the film with a bit of saucy banter, and their sexually-charged shenanigans add another layer of fun to the overall film. Rohner relished the opportunity to work with Goodrich again, but also loved who Chaz was, especially since he becomes the “voice” of April Fool’s Day several times in the film.
“Deb was and is so cool, so how could I not have fun with her on April Fool’s Day?” Rohner commented. “They are absolutely the ‘fun’ couple, but they’re also good for each other when things get rough. I thought Chaz would be great to play because he’s often commentating on everything going on around him. He has a camera on him all the time, so part of this story comes from Chaz’s voice. He's the observer and maybe he's the pot stirrer too, even though in real life that would probably be Griffin's job [laughs].”
When asked about creating a character that wasn’t just another stock horror movie victim, Goodrich chatted about how she gave Nikki some nuance and edge that allowed her to stand out. “That was the thing Fred really wanted, and allowed to come through, was that nobody was really a stereotype. Muffy was the most opaque and she needed to be opaque because you really weren't supposed to see through to who she was because of what she was doing.”
“The way I always approached Nikki was that she was a very smart girl. She was trying to keep up with the boys in a boys' world with humor and wit and competitiveness. She was an edgy girl and a witty girl and she used that. She wasn't someone you would call promiscuous, as she really was only having a relationship with her boyfriend, plus the sex scene was just supposed to be silly.”
“But Nikki, she was really more about her mouth than her actions, which is why you see her react so much to the horror she faces in the well scene,” Goodrich added. “She was a tough talker, but it was always more about her mouth than her actions.”
Speaking of Nikki and mouths, Foreman recollected how Walton encouraged little personal nuances from the entire cast. “There would be accidental nuances that came out as we’d be shooting,” Foreman recalled, “and Fred would tell us to keep those in there because they made things more interesting. For example, there’s the scene where I was talking to Deborah Goodrich about Tom’s character, something about collar up or collar down.”
“I can't remember exactly how it happened,” Foreman continued, “but during the rehearsal, I'd started stretching my mouth kind of weird-like, because my face felt super tight and I wanted to sort of loosen everything up. Fred comes up to me and tells me that he wants to keep that in the scene so that Muffy feels like she’s full of surprises, almost like Nikki couldn’t tell whether or not I was playing with her during that moment. Little accidents like that would happen a lot during production and Fred would always keep them in because he knew those were the moments that would stick with audiences.”
For Olandt, his approach was a bit more straightforward than his co-stars, and some off-screen hazing helped elevate his performance as the somewhat aloof Rob.
“I received a lot of crap from most of those guys,” explained Olandt. “I got a lot of flack from Clayton and Tom especially. Tom was friendly, but he joked around quite a bit, and so I tended to gravitate more towards Amy or especially Griffin on set, because he and I were just more removed and reserved. From my perspective, Rob was way out of place. He just felt like he didn’t have the direction or the money, so why was he even here? To me, he was always a guy who was down on himself and he ends up becoming one of the heroes in the movie, which is great. He had the greatest arc, and looking back, I don't think anybody had the same level of arc written for them.”
“And speaking of looking back,” added Olandt, “you can see those little relationships that formed during production and how they developed during the shooting of the film. Everyone really played out more true to their own characters in real life than how their characters were originally written. We all became so involved and it’s pretty interesting to look back and see how much that affects the final film.”
Look for more from the cast of April Fool’s Day later this week! If you missed yesterday's interview with director Fred Walton, check it out at: