Directed by: Boris von Sychowski
Written by: Lorenz Stassen & Boris von Sychowski
Starring: Kristen Miller, Thorsten Grasshoff, James McAvoy, and Isla Fisher
Reviewed by: Wes R.
So you like slashers, do you? Well, I've got an interesting one that I'm betting you've probably never seen or heard of. As the slasher film was originally wearing out its welcome in the early 80s, foreign countries began cashing in on the trend with lower budget fare. These films practically littered video store shelves for most of the 80s and early 90s. With the rebirth of the slasher sub-genre in 1996, the US-made rip-offs and foreign cash-ins were coming fast and furious (including notables like the Aussie-made Cut, the Chilean entry Angel Negro, and France's High Tension). One small German-made slasher known in the US as The Pool also got quickly lost in the fray of direct-to-video foreign slashers.
The film opens on a lovely girl awaiting the arrival of her significant other so they can share a romantic candlelit dinner. However, a mysterious stranger wearing tight black clothing and a skull-like mask is changing the plans and making her the main course. We're then introduced to a group of students finishing up the school year. After completing their final exams, they are soon downing cans of Heineken and Red Bull in the parking lot and planning for the only thing they have on their mind...the big post-graduation party. The plan consists of breaking and entering in a massive pool/spa resort and having the time of their lives together, maybe for the last time. Being a horror film, it is very likely that it will be their last moments together, because someone else has joined the party and wishes to create a much different evening for the group. Did the killer recently escape from a mental institution or is he/she a member of the group?
Are you wondering why the concept of setting a slasher movie inside of a large swimming resort has never been done before now? So am I. Probably because the concept is a bit dopey. Then again, I guess it's about as dopey as the idea to set a slasher in a coal mine, or even to set one on New Year's Eve. Perhaps the decision had more to do with the location providing the potential of having nude scenes of wet and wild girls in swimsuits. If that was their intention, they only partially succeeded. There is one scene of nudity in the film, but it comes early on, as one of the girls flashes the passengers of a nearby car. The location works, though, and was well shot by the filmmakers. The whole building has a displaced and isolated feel. If you're going to make a slasher film with a single location that can't be escaped for whatever reason, then the location you choose has to be scary. The art direction added an impressive touch, as many of the scenes are bathed in a blue hue. Thanks to the appropriately low-key lighting and cinematography, the pool resort location works out better than you think it would.
Covering for the lousy costume and helping to make the killer fairly intimidating despite it, is the level of brutal violence displayed in the film's death scenes...the most noteworthy of which, being the infamous "waterslide" scene. Sure to make ladies everywhere cringe, here's a formula for a good slasher movie death scene: Seemingly endless waterslide tunnel + a machete + an unsuspecting girl sliding quickly spread eagle. The killer doesn't really stand out at all, except for his/her costume choice. What relevance the skin-tight black outfit and goofy skull mask has to his/her psyche and motivations is never revealed. For all we know, they just thought it'd look "cool" while they were doing their slicing and dicing. The killer was way, way wrong. He/she is actually sporting one of the silliest looking costumes in slasher history. They look more like some sort of comic book supervillain than a serious, deranged psychopath. If you pay attention, and have seen a slasher movie or two, guessing the identity of the killer isn't really all that hard. Truly, though, the killer's identity is a cheat. For most of the movie, the killer is of one body type and when their identity is revealed at the end, it's someone whose frame is not at all like that of the earlier scenes of the killer. Unless the filmmakers changed the killer's identity at the last minute and couldnt' re-shoot all the previous footage, this slasher movie doesn't really play fair in the mystery department. The killer could truly be anyone and there is no fair way for the audience to play along and guess. Overall, the killer was a little disappointing (but hey, I've seen worse). Where the film works best is in its stalking/chase sequences. There is one terrific sequence in which the killer traps a couple of the group members inside an air vent, stabbing away with his/her machete.
The cast is an interesting lot. The film is German, but features actors from varying nationalities, including Scottish and Czech. Though the cast is mostly forgettable, there are two exceptions: Isla Fisher, who would go on to portray Vince Vaughn's crazy, nymphomaniac love interest in the blockbuster comedy Wedding Crashers, and James McAvoy, who has gone on to portray Mr. Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia and has recently received numerous awards and nominations for his role in the Academy Award nominated Atonement. Playing a couple who breaks up, the pair actually shares a couple of scenes together. Astute horror fans may also recognize actor Jan Vlasak, who gave a chilling performance as the Dutch Businessman in Hostel. His talents are pretty much wasted here as a cop hot on the trail of an escaped lunatic, but he still carries an odd , unsettling presence. The musical score is kind of generic, sounding more like something you'd hear at the beginning of a low-budget action film, than a horror movie. There was one interesting song amongst all the bland, late 90s Euro-pop, called "Whatever Happened to the Eighties." Was this a subtle reference to the filmmakers' longing for the time when the slasher sub-genre was king? I couldn't help but think so.
The Pool was originally released direct-to-video by Artisan and has yet to be re-reissued by new rights holder Lionsgate. You can still find it on Amazon and eBay for fairly decent prices (under 10 bucks for an out-of-print DVD is always a good deal, in my book). As is the case with many first-time directors, Boris von Sychowski really didnít go much further with his career than this film. He very much showed promise with this film, and I would have liked to have seen him follow it up with a few more horror flicks. For a German-made horror film, it was quite a pleasant surprise. Not that I donít think Germans can direct horror, itís just that you never, ever hear about them. When you think of foreign horror films, you generally either think of the Italians or most recently, the Japanese. The Pool actually a bit more entertaining than many of the U.S.-made slasher movies that came out in the wake of Wes Cravenís Scream. For its unusually violent death scenes, passably intimidating (though badly outfitted) killer, and the well-utilized location, The Pool is worth tracking down if you want to see a slasher film that is both a little different and quite familiar. Itís definitely one that you should rent if you can, but if you do find it on sale for only ten bucks or less, go for a buy. Rent it!
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