April Fool's Day Album Review

Written by Richie Corelli

Released by Varèse Sarabande / Craft Recordings

Composed by Charles Bernstein
Released on April 26th, 2024


In 1901, when Jacob Marley first confronted Ebenezer Scrooge during Walter R. Booth’s 6-minute trick film, Scrooge, or Marley's Ghost, horror movies were forever changed. Just as Marley was bound to the earth as a restless spirit, so too were the holidays linked inexorably to the realm of horror. The following decades saw an increasing number of holiday horror films, but it wasn’t until 1978, when John Carpenter’s Halloween hit theaters, that things really changed.

The blockbuster success of Halloween spawned countless copycats. Screenwriters explored every square on the calendar, looking for the next October 31st. Christmas saw a lot of bloodshed with movies like Christmas Evil (1980) Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), and the kid-friendly phenomenon of Gremlins (1984). New Year’s Eve became New Year’s Evil (1980). My Bloody Valentine (1981) swapped-out the traditional February 14th bouquet of roses in favor of a pickaxe. And Blood Rage (1987) set the Thanksgiving table with the hilariously snarky line, “That is not cranberry sauce.”

In 1986, riding that wave of holiday-themed horror movies, director Fred Walton took a stab at April Fool’s Day. Cheeky and self-aware, the movie plays to genre tropes, taking the clichéd themes of slasher films, and injecting them with satire and black comedy. The film is daring but polarizing, with some audience members frustrated by the humor and others in on the gag.

April Fool’s Day was cast with a full roster of recognizable ‘80s actors. Amy Steel from Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), Deborah Freeman from Valley Girl (1983) and Real Genius (1985), Deborah Goodrich and Clayton Rohner from Just One of the Guys (1985), and Thomas Wilson from Back to the Future (1985) all play major roles. But it’s not just the faces that are familiar. The music for April Fool’s Day is composed by Charles Bernstein, who horror fans would recognize from The Entity (1982), Cujo (1983), and his magnum opus, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).

Launching the score to April Fool’s Day, "Main Theme" begins with three echoing notes. They’re soft and mixed to the back, leaving room for sweeping, elegant strings and spacious bursts of light tones. Childlike vocals fa-la-la and swim through the mix. They sound as if they are produced by a synthesizer, which gives them an extra pop of playfulness. But the whimsical feeling is cut short when “Main Theme” segues into “Muffy’s Present” and a jarring jump-scare of flashing noise overtakes the speakers. This abrupt contrast of sound perfectly sets the stage for April Fool’s Day, mirroring the thematic juxtapositions within the film itself.

The three ethereal notes in the opened track also introduce listeners to one of the score’s most effective reprisals. And soon after “Muffy’s Present,” a second repeating melody is introduced. Short and simple like the first, this melody is heavier and menacing, giving it a more sinister feel. Throughout the score, these two motifs interweave and contrast, with the airy essence of the first gradually overshadowed by the ominous undertones of the second.

They give April Fool’s Day an intentionally unanchored feel while acting as a through-line that allows Bernstein to play with different tempos and styles. “Night,” for example, is a cold, dark song that makes great use of icy keys. “Stab in the Dark” is built on an earsplitting tone, heavy, patient pumps of synthesized cello, and clattering noise. “Hanging Around” features spine-tingling scares with violent spikes of sound that hit with warped, frantic energy. Throughout the score, the music slinks and soars. It rests and explodes. Some portions are gentle and elegant, while others are defined by moments of quick stabs and unnerving tension.

april fools day album 02 april fools day album 03

And then there are the bonus cuts. When the score for April Fool’s Day first came out on vinyl in 1986, it did not have any of the music from the movie, substituting synthesizer renditions instead. With this new reissue by Varèse Sarabande / Craft Recordings, that 20-track synth program is included as an extra, along with three alternate takes and five songs from Charles Bernstein’s personal vaults.

Usually, bonus tracks are superfluous. They don’t add much outside of the extra bullet-points for the hype sticker on the packaging. But here, that’s not the case. Yes, some of the melodies start to feel a bit repetitive by the time the listener reaches side three. But this redundancy is hardly a problem because the additional music elevates the overall experience.

Comparing the orchestral songs from the film to the synth recreations from 1986 is especially fascinating. The orchestral versions exude rich, full-bodied sounds, weaving texture through the instrumentation, while the synth rendition swaps that depth for a light, nostalgic vibe that harkens back to the DIY aesthetic of the 1980s. Both iterations are fantastic but for completely different reasons.

The record itself has a clean sound and is housed in heavy gatefold packaging. The cover art, sourced from the original promotional materials, features the film's characters assembled around a dinner table in a tableau, each showcasing their different personalities. At the center stands a solitary figure, facing the table with her back to the viewer, clutching a knife hidden from the others. Her hair, draped over her long pink dress, is cleverly braided into a hangman’s noose. It’s great.

The rest of the artwork isn’t quite as inspired. The gatefold and back cover are decorated with black-and-white stills from the movie. They’re fine, but they seem arbitrary. (Also, one image on the back depicts a moment from the movie's climax, potentially spoiling a surprise for viewers who have not seen the film.) But if the photographs are a shortcoming, the liner notes more than make up for them.

Most of the space in the gatefold is taken up by the writings of Brian Satterwhite, a composer best known in horror circles for his work on Krampus (2016). Shatterwhite gives a detailed history of the movie and score, sharing his unique insight and offering an engaging narrative.

Satterwhite leans into the April Fool’s theme hard, frequently veering off-topic to map out his favorite practical jokes. While it feels jarring to have a writer switch gears from a music and film analysis in an attempt to make the reader laugh, that sort of unexpected digression fits the theme and feels right at home when discussing a movie and soundtrack about this particular holiday.

Satterwhite’s notes reminded me of the time my brother Mark left a glass of Coca-Cola on the counter while he went to use the restroom. I dumped about half of the soda down the drain and refilled it with Worcestershire sauce. I felt bad when Mark almost vomited. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t laugh hysterically as he gasped for air.

It was the same kind of laughter people showed nearly 40 years ago, when April Fool’s Day first premiered. The movie received mixed reviews from critics and audiences. But those who embraced it did so wholeheartedly. As the decades went on, the movie became a cult favorite. Fans of the film will find much to love with this excellent release by Varèse Sarabande / Craft Recordings. It probably won't win over the haters, but with over 50 tracks of music, good sound quality, nice packaging, and engaging liner notes, the joke’s on them.

april fools day album 04 april fools day album 05


Music: Cover
Physical Quality:
Overall: 3.5 Star Rating

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Richie Corelli
Staff Reviewer
Richie isn’t ignoring you. He just can’t hear you over the music. He’s been plugged in to his headphones for decades, diving into the zine culture of the 90s, blogging relentlessly through the 00s and beyond. He knows more about certain bands than he knows about himself. His love of music is rivaled only by his love of horror. If it’s creepy and spooky, he’s into it. Horror DNA sutures his two passions together, giving him a platform to analyze and express his feelings on horror scores, soundtracks and live performances. It’s a celebration of all that goes bump in the night.
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