[review by JA Kerswell]
THE POOL (2001) is the Eurovision of early 2000s slasher movies. As international High School students in Prague battle against a skull-masked psycho with a machete after finding themselves locked inside an aqua leisure complex during an end-of-term party. Boasting two Hollywood stars-to-be, this shot-in-English German slasher suffers from some stilted performances but comes into its own with more than a handful of exciting set pieces and one of the most memorable kills of its time. Stylishly shot, Boris von Sychowski's film is certainly knowing but mostly takes itself just seriously enough to work as a pulse-pounding popcorn whodunnit with an infectious sense of fun.
|In or out of THE POOL no one is safe from the machete swinging masked slasher.|
The film opens with a scene that purposefully references the opening of Wes Craven's SCREAM (1996), as a young woman (Anna Geislerová) finds her boyfriend with his throat slashed in his car. Locking herself in her house during a rainstorm, she is stalked and chased by a killer in black leather and a Punisher-style skull mask in a suspenseful sequence which foreshadows what's to come.
Seemingly unaware of the previous night's murders, the International High School of Prague's wealthy clique - reminiscent of the Crawford Top Ten in HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981) - are celebrating the end of term. In an evident tradition, Gregory (Paul T. Grasshoff) teases an extra special location for that night's after-party (the previous year's was a graveyard). Everyone is excited about the night's festivities apart from Kim (Isla Fisher). She is upset as she believes she's flunked her exams and tells her boyfriend Mike (James McAvoy) that she can't be a part of the clique anymore.
Gregory persuades Martin (Jason Liggett), a reformed criminal, to help him break into a sprawling water park leisure complex as a unique location for that night's festivities with the promise of joining the party. Later in the evening, the group arrives at the secret location and - provided with swimming costumes and enjoying a fully stocked bar - begins to enjoy the amusements of the water park. Little do they know that the machete-wielding killer has gatecrashed the party and is intent on spoiling their fun. Finding themselves locked inside with little chance of escape, the group discover the first bodies turning the water red. It is a race to unveil the identity of the masked killer and try to survive until morning …
|In an early role, James McAvoy (left) joins the list of the Hollywood stars-to-be who have served their apprenticeship in a slasher movie.|
Director Boris von Sychowski freely admitted his fandom of the genre and name-checked PROM NIGHT (1980), especially from the Golden Era of the slasher movie. But, unsurprisingly, he said the inspiration came directly from the success of the post-SCREAM movies. Sometimes this is a little on the nose. One character even tells another - with a straight face - “I know what you did last summer ...”
However, the director - unlike some of his low-budget contemporaries from the time - knows what makes a slasher movie tick. In its first half, THE POOL is somewhat hampered by many of the cast speaking English despite it not being their native tongue. This leads to some awkward performances. However, once the action kicks in it just doesn't let up and the language barrier vanishes. The film boasts some fantastic set pieces, such as the survivors trying to escape through an air vent whilst the killer perforates it from below with his machete (admittedly flinched from HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1989)). The film's most notorious sequence involves a water slide and a machete that will make at least half the audience wince.
THE POOL does veer dangerously close to parody once the killer's identity is revealed. It must be the only slasher film where the killer tells one of their would-be victims: “Kiss my ass!” However, it never quite tips over into comedy and, whilst it revels in its absurdities, it still functions well as a slasher thriller.
This was James McAvoy's second-ever movie before he hit the big time. Here using his native Scottish accent. He went on to many roles in big Hollywood movies, including as Charles Xavier in the X-MEN movies and genre fayre such as IT: CHAPTER TWO (2019). Isla Fisher started in Australian soap operas before her cinema career took off with such major films as NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (2016) and GREED (2019). Eagle-eyed viewers may also recognise North American actress Kristen Miller (as Sarah), who appeared in the previous year's slasher CHERRY FALLS.
|THE POOL features one of the most wince-inducing kills in early 2000s slasher flicks.|
Producer Werner Possardt was offered the rights to what would become THE POOL in 1997. He liked the concept of a group of kids being “hermetically sealed” in a location with the killer but also wanted the film to feature humour. Possardt was impressed with von Sychowski's showreel. The director had previously been well-known in Germany for his innovative commercials, and Possardt wanted the same hip aesthetic for his film. THE POOL was shot in and around Prague in the Czech Republic. The central location of the water park was found not too far from the city centre and had recently just opened (it actually also contained a bowling alley, shopping mall and hotel - all good locations for a slasher movie, too!). Naturally, shooting could only take place at night when the complex was closed. Given the success of North American teen slasher movies, the script was rewritten and the decision was made to switch from a German language to an English one to widen the film's commercial appeal (something that significantly delayed production because of recasting). Actor John Hopkins, who plays Frank, recognised the looming shadow of the once again popular subgenre. He said: “They're very post-modern. Today's audience is cinema literate. They know the rules and know the tricks and films like SCREAM respect that. That's why they're so successful.”
THE POOL got a theatrical release in Germany in July 2001 (to predictably sniffy reviews from mainstream critics) and failed to scare up much box office. 2001 was the year that the steam seemed to run out for the slasher movie with VALENTINE all but tanking that year in the US. Had it been made soon after work had started on developing the property it might have tapped into the success of the films that followed SCREAM. It actually did better in Italy and was theatrically released in Latin America, but went straight to DVD in most other territories. Including a particularly woeful UK DVD release in 2002 that cropped the picture to a 4:3 ratio. Thankfully, the US DVD release was at least widescreen. At the time of writing, the film has not been released to Blu-ray or streaming.
There has long been a mystery about the sequel THE POOL 2 (2005), as to whether it actually existed or was a retitling of a completely different film? The truth is that it is a little bit of both. After the success of THE POOL on its theatrical release in Italy, rights to another slasher film - DO YOU WANT TO KNOW A SECRET (2001) - were licensed with a view of re-editing it, dubbing into Italian and adding some newly filmed sequences. The result was released under the title THE POOL 2 to Italian screens before being pulled because of rights issues. It remains underwater until this very day. Read the entry on 'Lost Slashers' for the full story.
Despite a few shortcomings, Boris von Sychowski's THE POOL is a rip-roaringly entertaining slasher movie and deserves to be dredged up from the depths and given a shiny new release in high definition.
female: 5 / male: 5
1) Male found with throat cut
2) Female killed with a machete
3) Female run through with a machete
4) Female body discovered
5) Male slasherd with a machete
6) Female slides onto a machete
7) Female has leg chopped off by machete
8) Male run through with a machete
9) Male run through with a machete
10) Male run through with a machete
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