Falling prey to a hoax or prank on April Fools’ Day often leads to hurt feelings or anger at being duped. In horror, though, it can be downright deadly. Of course, a lot of that has to do with intent. In the 1986 slasher April Fool’s Day, Muffy St. John proves to be an ultimate trickster out for laughs among friends – the body count for this slasher wins the prize for all-time lowest.
But for many other slashers and horror films, pranks often stem from anger or bullying and result in a bloodbath. If you’re thinking of celebrating April Fools’ Day with a prank of your own, then pay attention. These horror movies introduced the most horrific, catastrophic pranks in cinematic history.
The Butterfly Effect
Evan suffers from blackouts. It’s rough, except that it’s also a means of rewriting his past. So as unpleasant as his blackouts probably are, it’s a way of righting horrible childhood decisions. Like getting together with his friends to prank an unsuspecting neighbor by putting dynamite in their mailbox. Horrifically, it causes the death of a mother and her infant daughter when she checks said mailbox. Evan gets a chance to undo his horrible mistake, so it eases the shock a bit. But still. Playing with dynamite is stupid.
In the grand scheme of things, this prank is actually quite funny and not too terrible. Except that it results in the death of the film’s surprise cameo; Bill Murray. When the core group of protagonists arrive at Bill Murray’s mansion to seek refuge, they quickly split up. Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and Wichita (Emma Stone) discover Murray disguised as a zombie, a means of moving about town undetected by other zombies, and devise a prank to sneak up on the easily startled Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg). It works too well, and Columbus shoots Bill Murray dead. This is why you don’t prank people during a zombie apocalypse. Bummer.
For popular teen Liz Purr, her friends come up with complex pranks every year to celebrate her birthday. The latest is a kidnapping scheme in which they bind and gag her before tossing her in the trunk. The only problem is that they used a jawbreaker as the gag, which dissolves just enough to lodge in her throat and choke her to death. That’s only the film’s inciting event. Talk about a brutal birthday.
One Dark Night
Julie just wants to be friends with the popular trio of girls known as the Sisters. She’s unaware that one of them is jealous that she’s dating their ex, so she accepts their initiation task of spending the night in a mausoleum. Julie is shy and skittish, so the Sisters plan a number of gags and pranks to scare her so much she’ll flee in terror. Too bad the mausoleum happens to be the burial place of telekinetic, psychic vampire Raymar, and Raymar doesn’t want to stay dead. The Sisters learn the hard way that ill-intentioned pranks come back around in the worst way, but poor Julie suffers greatly as well.
Shortly after moving into a former orphanage, young Simón learns he’s adopted. He doesn’t react well and fights with his adoptive mother Laura. During an open house, a creepy masked child mischievously taunts and toys with Laura, going so far as to lock her in a bathroom. Once she breaks free, she’s unable to find Simón anywhere and soon becomes inundated with paranormal activity. It’s not until the final act that, spoiler, both she and the viewer learn that the masked child was Simón pranking her out of anger. She unwittingly locked him in a secret room during her search, and in his desperation to break free he fell and broke his neck. In this case, the mischievous prankster lost his life by tragic accident, delivering one of the most devastating reveals in horror.
Trick ‘r Treat
For those that prefer retribution against their mean-spirited prankers, Trick ‘r Treat has you covered. Of the intertwining segments in this Halloween anthology, the most satisfying story arguably belongs to Rhonda, a reputed savant with an insane talent for pumpkin carving. A group of peer trick-or-treaters, Macy, Sara, Chip, and Schrader, lure Rhonda away from her home and to a rock quarry, regaling her with haunted tales on the way. When they get there, they prank her with a fake zombie attack, scaring her to the point of trauma. The joke is on them, though, when the dead children residing at the bottom of the quarry rise. Rhonda leaves them for dead, refusing to fall for their scared act a second time.
“Candy Cane? Hey anybody know a Candy Cane?” Playing a prank via CB radio during a road trip, college kids pretend to be a seductive female truck driver and lure an unsuspecting male truck driver to a motel room and find they’ve chosen the wrong victim to humiliate. That truck driver, Rusty Nail, spends the rest of the film hunting down his pranksters to enact vengeance. Pranking is usually a bad plan in horror movies, but Joyride teaches us that perhaps you should at least know your intended target. Pranking at random might put you in the crosshairs of a psycho.
Often the killer behind the slayings in slasher movies is a victim of humiliation or unforgiveable act that spurns them on to a murderous rampage. In Terror Train, it’s a brutal prank in which awkward college pledge Kenny Hampson is lured into a room with the promise of sex. He doesn’t know that his peers have placed a female corpse in the bed, and the realization sends him to a psychiatric institution. Though the killer remains masked for nearly the entire film, no one is surprised that it’s Kenny. That prank is so messed up that you can’t help but feel his rage is justified.
The House on Sorority Row
For the graduating group of sorority sisters who just want to party, an uptight house mother that puts her foot down causes them to devise a prank that they hope will scare her into relenting. Instead, the house mother winds up dead. When the sisters forge ahead with party plans anyway, well, the body count starts mounting. For these gals, they learn the hard way that the house mother had safety on her mind, and their irresponsible prank leads to certain doom. Same with the 2009 remake, Sorority Row; a brutal, bloody prank gone wrong leads to the destruction of the entire sorority house. You’d think college graduates would be smarter than that.
Like poor Kenny from Terror Train, high school nerd Marty is subjected to sexual humiliation by way of vicious prank. But it doesn’t stop there. After a coach interrupts a bout of bullying, Marty is given a poisoned joint to distract him while other students set up a prank involving an exploding science experiment. Naturally, it goes horribly awry when a fire breaks out and Marty bumps into acid, which disfigures him. Marty seeks out revenge during a school reunion. Pranks are all fun and games until people get maimed and slaughtered, and let’s face it; Slaughter High shows how unpredictably the target can react.
Even the most seemingly harmless of pranks can lead to catastrophe. When a group of campers decide to scare the crap out of Camp Blackfoot caretaker, Cropsy, they giggle as they sit outside his cabin window and wait for the worm and candle-filled skull they’ve set by his bed to elicit the intended scare. It works too well. Startled, he knocks the skull onto his bed, and the candles set the bedding ablaze. Conveniently, the flames reach a nearby gas tank, and Cropsy is irrevocably disfigured. Five years later he’s released from the hospital and sets his sights on the Camp once more for revenge. Too bad the original pranksters weren’t there to get what was coming to them.
Poor Carrie White. All she wanted was some semblance of normalcy and to fit in among her peers. And for one brief glorious moment she has it. She gets to attend the prom with the dreamy Tommy, with whom she shares a kiss before being crowned prom queen. It’s the acceptance she always dreamed of. But her moment of unadulterated elation turns to horror when bully Chris Hargensen conspires with her boyfriend Billy to ruin Carrie’s shining moment by dousing her in a bucket of pig’s blood. Hell hath no fury like a teenage woman scorned, and Carrie sets the entire place ablaze with her telekinesis. The mean pranksters deserved their fate, but the collateral damage was steep.