Tuesday, May 4, 2010

April Fool's Day (1986)

by Jimmy "The Joke's On Me" Callaway

The best thing to ever happen to planet Earth was Mystery Science Theater 3000. Those wacky Midwesterners took horrible movie after horrible movie and made them a hilarious and life-affirming experience. I could go on for days as to how important this show is to me, but I'll spare you. But even given all of that, some episodes are simply unwatchable because the movie is just so bad, a point the writers themselves make at the end of episode #423, The Castle of Fu Manchu. Then there's Mighty Jack, Space Travellers, the Russo-Finnish movies--there are more of these god-awful episodes than I care to admit. And April Fool's Day is my episode 423. No matter how witty I think I am, no matter how many salient points I try to come up with for this essay, it's no use. Deep 13 has won.

The worst part about April Fool's Day is not, for a change, the plot, dialogue, acting, clothes or hairstyles. Those certainly don't help matters, but the absolute worst part is that this may be the one that finally breaks me. I am Apollo Creed, and this movie is Ivan Drago. If Dr. Forrester were monitoring my mind right now, he'd be ecstatically doing his swing-choir victory dance because he'd finally found a movie he could wield like a blunt instrument and use to finally take over the world.

This little slasher-movie criticism project has been gathering steam over the past year or so, and now I think I can finally crystallize my reasons for writing this much about and generally putting forth this much effort into a genre of movies I never really cared all that much for, when you get right down to it. What really got the ball rolling was science-fiction author and over-all curmudgeon Harlan Ellison and his essay, "The Thick Red Moment," wherein he derides the slasher film as merely a hateful exercise in misanthropy and, worse yet, misogyny. He considers the rise in popularity of these types of movies to be a low watermark in this culture.

And maybe he's right. But as much as I love the guy and his work, Ellison can be a real opinionated blowhard who will let his emotions cloud his thinking. Not that I'm immune from such behavior, but that doesn't mean I can't still recognize it and call bullshit. Even if he is right, that's no reason to dismiss out of hand an entire art form, however low-brow it may be. So I suppose in my own high opinion of myself and my abilities, I sought out to write not just a rejoinder to Ellison's diatribe, but to write about every slasher movie ever made in an effort to inject each and every one with some sort of relevance. Even if that relevance was as minor as providing to me an insight into my own personal life, or even just a couple of laughs, I was gonna stick to it. If Ellison wanted to generalize an entire genre from a few examples, I was gonna go the opposite direction and narrow things down by watching every example, and show that the genre was worthwhile as a whole.

Clearly, I had no idea what I was doing. I mean, things were going pretty good, but then I watch this flick and, all of the sudden, the rules start to change. Maybe Harlan's right, after all. Not with all his high moral outrage and deep personal offense at the anti-humanism he finds in these movies, but with the seeming fact that the makers of these films hold their audience in the lowest possible regard. The argument one often hears for movies this stupid is that it's all in good fun, just some harmless thrills. And really, that's fine. But what happens when the harmless thrills are also totally lame? How do you defend that most cardinal of sins, lazy fuckin' writing? You can't, not as far as I'm concerned.

Not unlike Sleepaway Camp II or III, April Fool's Day front-loads a bunch of two-dimensional knife-fodder characters within the first ten minutes. They're all college kids spending the weekend at their friend's island villa. So we've got the guaranteed sex scenes and isolated setting, check. They all talk about how great it is to be young, so we've got the irony that they're not gonna get any older, check. Yeah, I know, every slasher movie has all this garbage, but (and again, maybe I'm just burnt out) even the filler in this movie feels like filler for the filler.

But the underlying theme, as should be clear from the title, is pranks and hilarity and it demands not to be taken seriously (hence, my difficulty in taking it seriously enough to write about it, I would guess). So for every plot point, every twist, every iota of implied suspense, the filmmakers have the escape hatch that it's all a big gag anyways (an escape they use over and over again). It's just for fun, right? A harmless thrill?

Man, fuck you.

I really can't discuss this any further without blowing the ending, and that's still something I'm unwilling to do. Suffice it to say, it's clear that everybody involved with this movie hates me and you and anybody else who watches this flick, not to mention joy and love. After already including not a single redemptive quality to the entire enterprise, the filmmakers come right out in the last ten or fifteen minutes and say, "Hey, thanks for your hard-earned money and precious time, assholes. You're even dumber than you look." And after voluntarily sitting through this movie twice, I'm hard-pressed to disagree with that assessment.

If there's anything salvageable from this movie-going experience, perhaps it's that now that I've scraped the bottom of the barrel, there's nowhere to go but up. Since this writing, I've begun soliciting submissions from my other writer friends, and so not only have they taken some of the weight off my shoulders, but now I'm guaranteed new material by writers I was already a fan of. It still breaks my heart that Thomas F. Wilson was in this stinkburger, but I think I can pick up the pieces and move on. I can't control where the movies begin or end. But I'll try to keep my sanity by watching #1007 Track of the Moon Beast again.