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A decade before Scream sent up slasher flicks, another comedy thriller had fun with the genre.
1986’s April Fool’s Day was produced by Frank Mancuso Jr., son of then-Paramount chairman Frank Mancuso Sr. Together, father and son had produced five sequels to 1980’s sleeper hit Friday the 13th. Burned out on Jason, Mancuso Jr. wanted to try something different for his first solo foray. He selected a script by Danilo Bach, who had achieved massive success for Paramount writing 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop. April Fool’s Day‘s story brought a group of college spring breakers to the island home of Muffy St. John (played by Valley Girl star Deborah Foreman) for a weekend of fun and practical joking, only to see them turn up as corpses one by one.
To direct, Mancuso Jr. hired Fred Walton, who’d stood out in the genre with 1981’s When a Stranger Calls. “Our focus from the beginning was to find places where we could put in humor,” says Walton, 71. That led him to cast standup Thomas F. Wilson, who became famous that year for playing Biff Tannen in Back to the Future. He also cast Griffin O’Neal, son of Ryan O’Neal, as Muffy’s little brother. (Just weeks after April Fool’s Day opened, Griffin was involved in a boating accident that killed Gian-Carlo Coppola, son of Francis Ford Coppola — eerily similar to a gory boat scene in April Fool’s.) The film was shot over six weeks on Canada’s Vancouver Island, in the same secluded mansion where the 1970 Jack Nicholson drama Five Easy Pieces was filmed.
In the movie, the body count keeps rising until — spoiler alert! — it’s revealed that all the deaths have been faked, and that hostess Muffy was previewing a murder mystery attraction she planned to open. Walton had shot a third act in which someone is murdered for real by Griffin O’Neal’s character, but Paramount instead opted to end on a high note with all the “victims” sipping champagne in the study. “People love that silly movie and watch it every April 1,” says Clayton Rohner, 63 (who played Chaz). “I’ve done a lot of horror conventions, and people just love it.”
This story first appeared in the March 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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