Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Fool's Day and Slaughter High AKA April Fool's Day


Happy April Fool's day y'all! And no, this is not a joke, I am actually updating the blog for the first time in what seems like an aeon. Now I'd hoped to have time to write a more in-depth piece on these two films but alas I got called into work unexpectedly earlier today, so the clock has been against me (note to self: don't leave stuff till the last minute!)... perhaps this is for the best though... as this will be briefer than I'd ideally like you'll hopefully be spared my characteristic waffling. Anyway, enough arm-waving... onto the films!

First up is the movie that's probably the better known of the pair and the one that was actually released under the April Fool's Day title. As with most slashers the set-up is simplicity itself: a bunch of friends head to the secluded island home of one Muffy St. John (Deborah Foreman) for the weekend where they inevitably start falling prey to a crazed killer. And in case anyone reading this hasn't seen the film I won't say more than that. To be honest this is one of those movies that is kind of hard to talk about without giving too much away. All I'll say is that the makers put their cards on the table fairly early on, so I'm sure most will see where this going anyway.

While I'm still not particularly crazy about this one at present (and I should state here I'm planning on re-watching both movies this evening so this could all change very soon), I'll admit it's growing on me quite a lot with repeat viewings. And for slasher fans there's certainly a lot to love and admire. First of all, it's clear there was a fair bit of money behind this, as it looks beautiful, so kudos to director Fred Walton (of When a Stranger Calls, which criminally I still haven't seen) and DoP Charles Minsky for making the most of the budget. And speaking of cast and crew who also have slasher credentials... there's an effective score from Charles Bernstein of A Nightmare on Elm St. fame, and the film also features two lovely ladies who have both done other work in the genre. The unfortunately named Muffy is played by Deborah Foreman who would appear two years later in the supernatural sort-of-slasher Waxwork, and we also have fan favourite final girl Amy Steel from Friday the 13th Part 2. And the rest of the cast are also uniformly likeable and engaging. All I'll say for the benefit of the uninitiated who may be wondering whether to check this out or not is this: if you're after a fun slasher that shouldn't be taken too seriously, yet also does something a bit different with the formula, then this is just the ticket.

Released the same year, and originally sharing the same title until Paramount saw its potential for profit and bought it from the makers, Slaughter High is another slasher that is both arch-typically simple in its set-up but also somewhat unique. And what I mean by the latter is that it has a bit of a different vibe to many American examples of the genre... and that's probably because it was filmed in Britain. Co-directed and co-written by a team of three, and featuring actors from both sides of the Atlantic (though mostly from the UK, if I'm not mistaken) the film attempts to present itself as being set State-side (like another movie from Slaughter High's producers Steve Minasian and Dick Randall funnily enough, which is 1982's gloriously gory and unhinged giallo-slasher Pieces), and this sort of works... but you can certainly sense something is a bit off... which I actually quite like... it gives the film a bizarre, slightly unreal atmosphere... which may actually be more appropriate to it from a story standpoint than is apparent at first glance.

Like April Fool's Day, the film has it's own slasher credentials. As everyone and their dog has observed, scream queen Caroline Munro (from Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, Maniac, Jess Franco's Faceless among many others) is obviously way too old to be playing a high school student... but frankly who cares... for me it's simply one more factor that adds to that delicious undercurrent of unreality the film has. And also the movie has not one, but two connections to the Friday the 13th franchise, in the form of the aforementioned Steve Minasian and composer Harry Manfredini, who contributes a unique, almost annoyingly catchy score, which while something of an acquired taste I'll admit, I enjoy quite a bit... especially the cheese-tastic, rockin' theme song. The rest of the cast are all decent enough, but no one particularly stands out for me... though they all have their share of amusing moments. But while talking about Slaughter High I would be seriously remiss if I didn't briefly mention the contribution of Simon Scuddamore as Marty, the nerd who is humiliated and later scarred in a prank gone awry during the film's first reel. This was the actor's only credit, owing to a severe drug problem that led to an intentional overdose not long after the making of the film. And once you're aware of that tragic fact, it makes it hard to watch without feeling a slightly eerie frisson hanging over the whole thing... which for me makes it all the more effective and affecting. All that aside the guy should be commended not only for being so game about portraying Marty's initial ordeal in the girl's locker room, but also for generally playing the role with a degree of gusto... though the stereotypical nerd shtick may be a little broad for some tastes. Which is all a long-winded way of saying that it's indeed sad that the man didn't get to make any other films than this. 

Despite this admittedly sad subtext haunting the film, it's still a lot of fun and somewhat on the sillier side of the slasher spectrum. Also, it's even a little bit creepy in parts, due mainly to the decaying building it's largely set in (which might even have been an old asylum if memory serves correctly) and the iconic jester mask, which is actually quite unsettling. 

Basically, if you're in the market for a fun but off-beat slasher or two this evening, then I'd highly recommend both of these. Finally, as a slight caveat to all this, I should mention there's another movie from 1986 that was also originally called April Fool's Day and was re-titled as Killer Party (cheers for the heads up Brad!). I've yet to see it but will make it my mission to acquire it in time for next year's April Fool's Day shenanigans!