Spoilt airhead Blair throws a poolside get-together for her and her equally shallow friends while her parents are away. Someone with access to a variety of tools but no invite is intent on ruining the girls’ good time however, and sets about hacking, bludgeoning, chopping and drilling their way through the bikini-clad clique.
As the post-Scream wave of neo-slashers quickly ran out of steam and struggled to bring new ideas to the table, it seemed as though the stalk-and-slash formula was one perhaps best consigned to horror’s past. The reaction to the increasing reliance on CGI and clumsily-handled postmodernism was not to abandon the format entirely however, but to embrace it wholeheartedly, in its true, irony-free form. While the likes of Hatchet, The Orphan Killer and, more recently, Pitchfork established their own mythologies and aimed (to varying degrees of success) to create new, iconic villains, others stripped the slasher film down to its barest essentials with arbitrary plots, frequent, bloody kills and plenty of teenage meat for the slaughter. Falling very much into the latter camp, Drew Marvick’s Pool Party Massacre has no pretensions towards high (or even low-to-middling) art, existing purely for its kills, jokes and an enjoyably silly third act.
The opening scene is a corker, and establishes a comedic tone that unfortunately doesn’t hold up quite as well throughout. A typical resident of the rich suburban neighbourhood in which the film takes place suns herself by her pool, flirting with her metalhead pool boy in wincingly unsubtle ways, assuming he’ll take the bait (‘cause, in her head, why wouldn’t he?). He does not however and, lost in the music blasting through his headphones, could not be less interested, or even aware of her come-ons. It is in such moments, when the self-assurance brought about by social and financial privilege is shown being halted by more grounded characters that the character interactions shine. Once the core group of snobbish socialites are assembled around Blair’s pool however, the bulk of the film’s runtime sees them trading insults and meaningless opinions in spectacularly irritating fashion and, while we are certainly not encouraged to sympathise with them in any way, there is only so much we can be expected to endure. And while this is likely Marvick’s intent (it does make their respective demise’s all the more welcome, after all), it too often makes for a grating and tiresome viewing experience. The issue boils down to the fact that the group of characters seem to quite openly hate each other, and we as viewers are dragged along into the middle of their social Hell. Having said that, they may just beat you into submission; while the deaths of Tiffany, her boyfriend Troy and supermodel wannabe Jasmine can’t come soon enough, Britney – the most empty-headed of the lot – actually ends up becoming strangely likeable, and even Blair threatens to get you on her side come the film’s closing moments.
The comedy ranges from crude and silly that hits the mark to crude and silly that misses it completely. The best jokes bookend the film; that hilarious opening is followed by the wearisome second act, but the third act brings with it a fun reveal, and with the introduction of the film’s best character (played by…well, I won’t spoil it), the humour suddenly begins to work really well again. It’s a case of too little, too late but it does mean the film bows out on a high.
It would be denying the film its raison d’être to overlook the kills, which employ bargain-bin SFX, but are suitably bloody and pleasingly frequent, and get better and more ambitious as the film trundles along. Each murder is different to the last, thanks to a recurring motif of the killer returning every bloodied tool to the wall-mounted rack and selecting another for each successive victim. The repeated action acts somewhat as a series of chapter headings, heralding another build up to the next slaying. And there is more to enjoy; shots are nicely put together (the killer silhouetted against a red pool table sticks in the memory) and the 8-bit opening credits are a joy.
A micro budget love letter to both ‘80s slashers and the VHS tapes on which they often found their lasting home (a look at the film’s poster art and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled across an overlooked genre entry), Marvick’s feature debut pays tribute to the films he clearly loves while avoiding stepping into self-referential or spoof territory. Set in the present day and playing out in real time, the film is also no exercise in mere imitation, and does not rely on cynically referencing the films it harks back to (although the opening shot does include a nice little nod to Wes Craven’s often overlooked Shocker). Singularly dedicated to delivering a slasher flick in the form of its base elements, Pool Party Massacre is admirable in its commitment to its own simplicity, even if that means it has to bulk up its run-time with excruciatingly tedious characters spewing excruciatingly tedious dialogue.
Words: Kevan Farrow (@KevanX)