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THE POOL: German Slasher is a Sensational Bloodbath

For his latest retrospective, Chad Collins dives into Germany's THE POOL

By Chad Collins

For his latest retrospective, Chad Collins dives into Germany’s THE POOL. The decade after Scream’s release was a strange one. While J-horror the next decade or the deluge of Saw imitators several years after that at least endeavored to distinguish themselves from their genre progenitors. The Scream copycats, so to speak, were brazen in their pantomiming of Wes Craven and Kevin William’s seminal slasher.

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I Know What You Did Last Summer (also written by Williamson) and Urban Legend, for instance, abstracted Scream’s meta self-awareness. They elevated slasher violence with a veneer of gloss and technical merit the subgenre hadn’t seen in decades. While they absconded with Williamson’s wit, they often failed to replicate Craven’s propensity for balancing the waggish and the terrifying. Scream was not only funny but frightening. A scary movie that incited laughs and screams in equal measure. 

In fairness, few of those late nineties Scream impressions are outright bad. And several of them, in their own way, are a great deal of fun. But for every Urban Legend, there’s a Valentine. A polished yet tepid millennial slasher, not even Denise Richards’s zeitgeist allure can save. Among the crop of mimics, though, is Boris von Sychowski’s Swimming Pool (or The Poolin the U.S.). Released in 2001, The Pool is too often ignored in conversations. Both present and past, regarding Scream’s influence on the slasher subgenre and horror writ large. The script is dumb, that final twist is something to behold, and the acting is passable. At best. But there’s an unmitigated charm to the proceedings. Motivated by nostalgia and a sense of unabashed fun.

Kristen Miller is a quasi-scream queen who never quite got the recognition she deserves. In fact, in some marketing material, she’s third-billed despite playing the lead. She stars as one of Prague prep school students who sneak into an indoor waterpark to celebrate their forthcoming graduation. Unbeknownst to them, a skull-masked killer has been stalking them. This party is posed to be their last.

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The Pool, unlike some of Scream’s other imitators, at least tries something different. The cast is noteworthy, including early turns from James McAvoy and Isla Fisher. And the setting in particular is stellar. With a distinctly Eastern-European feel, the indoor pool is a combination of Renaissance marble and Argento angles. Even better, Director Boris von Sychowski and writer Lorenz Stassen take full advantage of the pool’s scope and unique architecture. The killer pursues the coeds through vents and over railings into the water below. In the movie’s most sensational kill, Svenja (Linda Rybová) descends the complex’s waterslide. Unaware the killer plunged his machete through the bottom of the slide. Svenja descends and the blade slices her in half.

The tension is suitably high throughout. But the killer’s motivation is lackluster (it amounts to little more than jealousy and spurned advances). However, the preceding material has that rousing new millennium slasher charm. There is, too, at least an attempt at some socio-cultural relevancy. Sarah and her friends– if it wasn’t evident from their European prep school– are born of privilege. They head straight to the party from final exams. And few, if any, of them show concern about how they performed. Pass or fail, their wealth is immortal. School is an obligation, not a necessity. The poor outcast of the group (Isla Fisher) makes it explicit. She accosts her boyfriend (James McAvoy) for his blasé attitude toward elite birthrights. Granted, the killer offs her shortly thereafter. But that attitude permeates the material.

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It’s a compelling angle, one few– if any– new age slasher movies take the time to really interrogate. Even Scream in parts plays less like a horror movie and more like Wine Country real estate porn. Even contemporary teen scream horror fare is ambivalent or disinterested in interrogating or acknowledging, the privilege of its cast. They always live in giant McMansions. And if the current horror output were any guide, it would seem that ghosts and maniacs only target elevated income brackets.

It’s a small note, and it certainly doesn’t compensate for the more familiar stretches. But it’s at least consistently interesting. And that, more than anything, perfectly describes The Pool– consistently interesting. The pop-punk soundtrack and VHS notoriety has rendered it something of a millennial touchstone. It’s an early slasher gateway, one for video store regulars and the dial-up chat board crowd. It holds a special place in most slasher lovers’ hearts. If you haven’t yet, it’s definitely worth seeking out. And seek it out, you will. As of this writing, The Pool is unavailable on any streaming services. And the handful of online listings are for VHS copies or region-specific DVDs. But that’s part of the charm. It’s an elusive, almost mythical slasher. And when you finally get the chance, you’ll be glad to have dived into The Pool.

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