“Oh great, 3 people are dead and you're telling me to relax?” – Nikki
Our next holiday themed killing spree happens on April Fool’s in this 1986 movie, clearly inspired by the then ongoing Friday the 13th franchise, which is unsurprising as they have the same producer Frank Mancuso Jr. The theme is familiar, involving a group of college kids in a remote location. There are woods… you get the drift.
Okay, so it sounds tediously formulaic, right? No – this one is a bit different. As the plot unfolds, it seems to follow the slasher tropes, but has a twistier twist ending than a lot of these films, as we’ll see.
So, we have a notable day on the calendar, we have a group of nine teens – it looks like we have the makings of a cult classic. The teens are mostly friends of Muffy St John (Deborah Foreman) who has invited them to a mansion that’s part of her inheritance. The house is on a private island presumably near the Kennedy’s, as it’s mentioned the Kennedy place can be seen on a clear day. Muffy has invited this group for spring break – and being as it’s on an island, the place is only accessible by a ferry, captained by a curmudgeon who just wants to dump this lot so he can go home for the weekend – which means they’re going to be cut off for the weekend.
To be fair to the captain, this lot have among them a few people who can be trying. Arch, for example is played by Thomas F. Wilson, “Biff” in the Back to the Future films. He plays a knife throwing game with Muffy’s cousin Skip (Griffin O’Neal) which ends up with the blade thrown into Skip’s stomach, and he falls overboard. Some of the others and the first mate jump in to save him – but it’s all a practical joke. Until the first mate is crushed between the ferry and the dock and is horribly injured, needing urgent hospital care. Luckily, the sheriff is nearby with his power boat and comes to help.
Muffy welcomes them to the house, but the place is rigged with various practical jokes. These range from whoopie cushions to collapsing chairs and exploding cigars to champagne glasses that dribble to doorknobs that come off to trick light switches and water taps that squirt the user with a jet to the face when turned on. But some of the tricks have a nasty and downright sinister twist. A cassette tape plays in one room of a baby crying. Drug paraphernalia is found in another, some damning newspaper clippings about a car accident in another.
Soon, people begin to go missing beginning with Skip, Arch is caught in trap in the woods, suspended upside down from a tree with a snake trying its best to bite his face as he swings back and forth helplessly until we see someone approach, wearing heavy boots and out minds go straight to Friday the 13th Pt 2 which has a broadly similar death scene. (Nobody explains how a snake got on the island, though).
Speaking of Friday the 13th Pt 2, one of the teens, Kit is played by Amy Steel who was the last surviving girl in F13 2 and she sees Skip’s body floating under the floorboards as she’s about to…well, do with her boyfriend what gets you killed in a slasher film. When the water supply is cut off, another of the teens, Nikki (Deborah Goodrich) falls into the old well, trying to get them some water. (Honestly, that water is nothing I’d ever drink it’s not even clear.) She survives the fall, but finds the severed heads of both Skip and Arch floating down there. (Which brings me to an interesting question – would a severed head actually float? I think not.)
Not only that, but Muffy seems a bit different. Vague, dishevelled. Not herself.
Oh boy – it seems that Muffy’s twin sister Buffy (not the vampire slayer but a violent psychopath) has escaped from the asylum – and their day is about to get even worse. The phones are out, they can’t summon help (this was 1986 – we didn’t have mobile phones back then) and their discovery of Muffy’s severed head in the cellar proves their worst fears.
Now down to only two, one of them being alpha survivor Amy Steel – they’re chased by Buffy who’s armed with a large kitchen knife, and it becomes a deadly game of cat and mouse. Kit flees to the living room…where she finds everybody else, sitting calmly, alive and well.
Muffy plans to open a business in the mansion, offering once in a lifetime, immersive, murder/mystery weekends and she wanted to try out her script. Some things didn’t go well, the baby crying noise for instance – she didn’t know that the girl whose room that prop was in had secretly had an abortion or that there was a snake in the woods that would try and bite Arch. Everything from the mate on the ferry’s accident was faked. The first mate is in fact a Hollywood make-up guy who was helping her out, and provided the various prop heads. Buffy doesn’t exist. But Muffy has, instead a twin brother – Skip, who was in on the plan.
As for us, the audience – the clue I guess was that we never saw ANY of the “killings” actually take place. They were all offscreen and that was a clever twist because in the eighties, particularly in the UK, these movies were heavily censored, so not seeing the slaying wasn’t that unusual.
And now we’ve done the prelude - Camp Hack’n’Slash is fully open for business, and we’re off on a summer-long slasherfest.
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