Drown and Out: 10 of Horror’s Scariest Pools
The horror genre is no stranger to rendering the ordinary extraordinarily deadly. It’s why moviegoers everywhere are still afraid to drive behind log trucks or take showers in motels. It’s why there’s anxiety innate in answering the phone or going on blind dates. Pools are no different. Throughout the genre’s storied history, the pool has been home to some of the bloodiest, gnarliest beats of carnage around. Nothing is sacred, and here, we’ll be looking at ten of the greatest pool scenes in the horror genre.
Ping Lumpraploeng’s The Pool is one of the newest entries on this list while also being one of the cruelest. Theeradej Wongpuapan’s Day inexplicably decides to nap on a float while an industrial-sized outdoor pool is being drained. When he awakens, the water is too low for him to exit. Add in a hungry crocodile and Day’s predicament goes from bad to worse. Exploiting the kind of cruel irony the subgenre often shies away from, this is an animal attack feature with plenty of bite.
Speaking of toothy reptiles, Alligator has haunted young B-movie fans for generations. Lewis Teague’s 1980s schlock-fest features a mid-movie beat where a young boy at a party, forced to walk the proverbial, diving board plank, is thrown into a pool where the titular gator just so happens to be resting. The pool lights turn on as the boy plummets into the gator’s gaping maw and hordes of kids swore to never dive into a dark pool again.
This pool doesn’t have crocodiles. Instead, it’s a masked maniac with an axe (or several) to grind against their wealthy boarding school friends. A bunch of privileged dolts in Prague opt to celebrate their impending graduation with an all-night stint at an indoor water park, unaware that one among them intends to use the night for some classic slaughter. Scream riffs in the early aughts were rarely this fun, and while The Pool feels at times familiar, it does feature a gnarly, underrated death. As two kids flirt their way down the water slide, the killer waits at the bottom, stabbing their machete through the bottom for a gruesome bisection.
The Strangers: Prey at Night
While not everyone was keen on Johannes Roberts’s sequel to Bryan Bertino’s horror classic, I thought it was as heartfelt a slasher homage as any. Roberts expertly apes the tropes, needle drops, and carnage of the 1980s, and while at times its mimicry tilts into excess, it remains one of the last decade’s most effective slasher movies. Case in point, the unequivocal best scene of the movie that sees Lewis Pullman’s Luke fending off Damian Maffei’s Man in the Mask in a swimming pool while Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” echoes through the speakers. It’s an inspired bit that immediately elevates the movie.
Let the Right One In
Both Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In and Matt Reeve’s Let Me In (both remarkably good, by the way) are patient movies. Before the advent of ostensible “elevated horror,” these were movies whose genre trappings informed deep thematic playgrounds. Alfredson’s original especially lets the tension simmer until it’s almost painful, culminating in the release audiences had been waiting for since the start. Kåre Hedebrant’s Oskar is savagely bullied throughout, and as his bullies threaten him at the local indoor pool, Lina Leandersson’s Eli arrives to slaughter the bullies. With Oskar’s head dunked underwater, the audience sees the peripheral carnage as teens are flung through the air and decapitated.
The Rage: Carrie 2
Katt Shea’s The Rage: Carrie 2 might seem like the kind of late-90s cash-grab better suited for bargain bins than serious consideration, but in truth, it’s an emo odyssey that exceptionally targets the decades’ rage-filled zeitgeist. Rachel Lang (Emily Bergl) grapples with burgeoning telekinetic abilities much like Carrie White. This Carrie has twists aplenty, though it arrives at the same climactic stage— party-time slaughter. As the chaos unfurls, several jocks corner Rachel near the pool, armed with harpoon guns. Rachel makes quick work of them, including one unfortunate soul trapped in the pool as Rachel uses her power to close the cover.
The Prowler is one of the greatest slasher movies ever made. Joseph Zito’s masterpiece is elevated by sensational effects work from one Tom Savini, a strong central mystery, and several nail-biting moments of tension. One such beat occurs midway through when Lisa (Cindy Weintraub) abandons the graduation party for a dip in the pool. All alone where no one can hear her scream, Lisa’s death is punctuated by a sensational jump scare as the titular Prowler appears by the ladder before diving in to finish the deed. This horror pool runs red.
Poltergeist does a lot right (it’s a classic for a reason), though its secret weapon might be the tactility of its scares. I’ve written about it before, though in essence, the spectral forces of Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece are physically engaged with its players in a way most haunted house movies aren’t. The principle is conceptualized as JoBeth Williams’ Diane falls into the family’s unfinished pool in the finale. As she tries to escape, constrained by the heaps of mud and blinding rain, she is assailed by skeletons and coffins erecting from the dirt. It’s a gritty, physical scene bolstered by Williams’ fierce performance and Hooper’s penchant for ghosts that hurt. Horror pools have rarely been better.
Dan Curtis’ Burnt Offerings remains a favorite among horror aficionados for good reason—it’s a sterling example of southern gothic horror done right. The Rolf family opts to rent a massive mansion for the summer with an odd caveat—the property owner’s mother will remain upstairs for the duration of their stay. Ghostly shenanigans abound as the family slowly loses their mind at the behest of some unseen force. An early warning of their descent comes as father Ben (Oliver Reed) gets carried away while playing with son, Davey (Lee H. Montgomery) in the property’s pool. Their roughhousing spirals to the point where Ben actively tries drowning his own son, remarking soon after that he has no recollection of the event.
Phenomena might be mid-tier Argento (though that depends on who you ask), though I’ve always been partial to its bonkers mix of Giallo violence and supernatural tomfoolery. A young Jennifer Connelly stars as Jennifer Corvino, an American student at a Swiss boarding school with a curious, telepathic link to insects. Bodies drop, of course, and in the blood-soaked finale, one of the nastiest horror pool scenes ever takes place. Jennifer is dropped into a pool filled with dead bodies and maggots, desperately scrambling for her life while the audience has no choice but to look away.
What do you think? What’s your favorite horror scene set by the pool? I left several noteworthy entries off, including The Final Destination’s disembowelment, though if there’s a pool, I’m almost assuredly there. Let me know over on Twitter @Chadiscollins, and please, stay safe this summer.
Categorized: Editorials Lists