April Fool’s: When Pranks Go Wrong in Horror Movies

Happy April Fool’s Day! Currently, most people are probably not craving any April Fool’s pranks. To date, the entire 2020 year has been kind of one big, cruel joke. Besides, every horror fan knows that practical jokes never work out. After all, it was a practical joke that gave Jason Voorhees his iconic goalie mask. Many slasher movies start with some cruel joke gone horribly awry giving birth to a masked maniac seeking revenge. So rather than planning some elaborate prank that will probably fall flat, check out this list of horror movie pranks that went poorly for everyone involved. Consider it a public service announcement. No, April Fool’s Day isn’t on the list – if you’ve see the movie (which you should), you can figure out why.

Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things

An abusive, bully stage director, Alan, takes his theatre troupe to a deserted island. Aside from a dilapidated cabin, an abandoned cemetery of executed criminals is the only thing residing on the island. To torment his actors, Alan drags them to the cemetery to perform a mock summation of the dead. Too bad for Alan and company, the practical joke actually raises the dead. Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things is the ultimate midnight movie. Totally low-budget with amateur performances, the scenes of the dead emerging from their graves is actually quite affecting. Bob Clark, who would later direct Black Christmas, filmed this early 70’s chiller. Fans of cheesy 70’s B-horror will appreciate this friendly reminder that the occult isn’t something to take lightly.

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)

Somber, sort-of-slasher All the Boys Love Mandy Lane kicks off with the familiar slasher ‘tragic past event’. Summer’s ending and socially awkward Mandy Lane has matured, attracting the attention of her male classmates. When the school’s ‘cool kids’ invite Mandy Lane to a pool party, she insists on bringing her loner friend, Emmet. But Emmet is humiliated by a bully and, in response he later goads his drunk tormented into jumping from the house roof into the pool. Instead, the bully splatters himself on the concrete below. Several months later, a now popular Mandy Lane joins the ‘cool kids’ at a remote ranch. Partying and hook-ups quickly give way to some stalking and slashing. Contrary to some middling reviews, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a surprisingly atmospheric movie with some gorgeous photography and a genuine surprise ending.

Joy Ride (2001)

Two brothers, a love interest, a cross-country road trip, and a CB radio – what could go wrong? When loser brother Fuller plays a cruel prank on a truck driver who goes by the handle, ‘Rusty Nail’ everything goes wrong. Soon thereafter ‘Rusty Nail’ stalks the trio on dark, deserted highways with increasingly nasty results. Though Joy Ride is basically an update of Steven Spielberg’s Duel, this John Dahl-directed thriller is good, high octane fun. You never catch a glimpse of ‘Rusty Nail’, which makes it all the more creepy. But there’s a good chance you’ll recognize that voice – it’s Ted Levine, or ‘Buffalo Bill’ from Silence of the Lambs.

Hell Night (1981)

Hell Night uses the classic movie dare as its set-up – spend a night in a haunted house. As part of a fraternity hazing ritual, four first-year pledges must spend the night in Garth Manor. Not surprisingly, the seniors have a few scares planned for them. But it’s a horror movie and Garth Manor has some very real horrors hidden in its walls. This often forgotten early 80’s slasher mixed Gothic horror with the by-then standard sub-genre formula. Some horror fans consider it to be something of a cult classic. Yet aside from Linda Blair’s presence and one good thrill, Hell Night is mostly forgettable. Still its a good reminder that fraternities generally suck.

Slaughter High (1986)

And here it is. The most ridiculous, convoluted ‘prank gone wrong’ on this list. High school cool kids trick nerd Marty into the girl’s washroom for a sexual rendezvous. But catching Marty naked on camera isn’t enough. No, this prank includes jabbing him with a javelin, electrocuting him, and dunking his head in a toilet. Oh, it doesn’t stop there. Next, his tormentors give Marty some laced marijuana. It all culminates with Marty getting sick from the joint and spilling acid on himself. One year later a killer wearing a jester mask stalks the same middle-aged high school graduates at a rigged reunion. Has the institutionalized, horribly scarred Marty escaped for revenge? Is a jester mask with bells on it a practical disguise for a killer? Who cares. Slaughter High is a ridiculously stupid, ultra low-budget slasher that’s still kind of entertaining.

Terror Train (1980)

Another slasher movie, another fraternity hazing ritual gone wrong. College frat boys lure pledge Kenny Hampson to a dark room with the promise of hot sex with Jamie Lee Curtis. Instead, poor Kenny finds a medical school cadaver in the bed, which drives him made. A year later, a masked killer crashes the same fraternity’s New Year’s train party. Has Kenny Hampson returned for revenge. Probably, yes. Canadian slasher Terror Train has one of the more ridiculous pranks gone wrong. Nevertheless, it’s also a surprisingly effective horror movie with a novel concept for its killer making it one of the better B-slasher movies from the 80’s.

Urban Legend (1998)

Two high school girls cause a fatal car accident while playing the ‘headlight flashing’ game. One year later, a killer stalks college students using ‘urban legends’ as their modus operandi. The twist – the killer was the car accident victim’s fiancée and the ‘Final Girl’ was one of the drivers. Most of the slasher-lite movies that followed Scream were lukewarm horror efforts. In spite of its genuinely clever hook, Urban Legend is pretty run-of-the-mill stuff that never fully exploits the concept. But Rebecca Gayheart’s scene-chewing in the climax almost makes up for the lack of scares.

House on Sorority Row/Sorority Row

Take your pick. Both movies revolve around mean-spirited sorority sisters whose prank goes horribly wrong. In 1982’s The House on Sorority Row, ‘Queen Bee’ Vicki’s prank goes wrong learning stern house mother, Mrs. Slater, dead in the pool. Over 25 years later, remake Sorority Row sees sorority sisters’ prank on an unfaithful boyfriend end in a tragic death. Guess what? In both versions, someone knows what the sorority sisters did and wants to make them pay for it. The 1982 original is a surprisingly underrated slasher entry with a fantastic ending. In contrast, the 2009 remake is a dull, derivative slasher hack that has more cliches than scares. Both movies are a reminder that, like fraternities, sororities kind of suck.

The Burning (1981)

Campers play a prank on mean caretaker Cropsy, placing a candle-lit rotting skull by his bed. Unfortunately, the prank works a little too well and Cropsy catches on fire. One year later, a horribly disfigured Cropsy returns to the same camp for revenge. Of all the Friday the 13th clones produced in the 80’s, The Burning stands out as the best. Much of the credit rightfully goes to Tom Savini’s incredible gore effects. To date, The Burning’s ‘raft scene’ is a slasher classic. But for a low-budget 80’s horror movie, The Burning also has quite a few ‘soon-to-be’ famous supporting actors in its cast.

Carrie (1976)

No other movie was going to top this list. Leave it to horror master Stephen King to craft the horror’s most cruel practical joke. Anyone who’s watched a horror movie knows how this one goes. Loner Carrie White gets her magical night at the prom. But it’s all ruined when her jealous bullies pour a bucket of pig blood over just as she’s crowned Prom Queen. Sometimes they really are all going to laugh at you. Too bad for these mean-spirited high schoolers that Carrie is also a telekinetic. Brian DePalma’s Carrie is a stylish, disturbing horror movie that boasts one of the most bombastic revenge scenes filmed.

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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