POOL PARTY MASSACRE
Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Floating Eye Films and Writer/Director, Drew Marvick for allowing me early access to an online screener of his Horror/Slasher film “Pool Party Massacre”. Blair Winthorpe (played by first timer Kristin Noel McKusick) and her friend, Nancy (played by the lovely Margaux Neme) are planning a pool party at her house while her parents are away for the weekend. She also invites fellow young socialites, Tiffany (the gorgeous Alexis Adams), Jasmine (Destiny Faith Nelson), Brittany (Crystal Stoney) and Kelly (played by Jenifer Marvick). A relaxing summer day by the pool quickly takes a nasty turn when a mysterious killer starts murdering the group one by one. The film also stars Nick Byer, Mark Justice, LeeAnna Vamp and Drew Marvick. I first heard about Pool Party Massacre around six months ago and ever since then I’ve been anticipating the release date. It’s almost here (I believe it’s close to shipping), but I’ve been fortunate enough to network a little bit with Drew and got a screener of the film a little earlier than expected. All I knew about it was that it had a rad poster and people were going to get massacred during a pool party! What more do I need to know? It’s a slasher….
I quite liked the original poster art for Pool Party Massacre but the latest version looks really cool too. Extremely vibrant colors and eye-catching lettering are bound to assist in the marketing of this micro-budget slasher flick. It’s evident in almost every facet of the film that Marvick’s long been a fan of the genre and its subsequent sub genres. This isn’t a guy that thought “Hey, I’ll just try to cash in with an homage to slashers of the 80’s”, he’s put a lot of time and effort into this debut feature-length film and it shows. Drew’s a student of what I call “Horror 101” and that usually means a film of this nature should consist of the three key aspects, Nudity, Sex and Violence (the first two normally follow each other but the third isn’t always done to great effect). Within 5 minutes of the opening frame, there’s a death alluded to followed by an on-screen kill. The intro credits are great, they’re presented like an old-school Sega video game with complementary synth sounds. According to the post credits the film was shot in Marvick’s house, and if that is the case I’m extremely jealous. What a gorgeous house. I think the location is a huge part of what kept me involved with the film, something rarely said by anyone about a slasher film (haha). I believe Pool Party Massacre was made for just an estimated $7,000, but you wouldn’t know it because the production value is perhaps the best I’ve ever seen, taking into account the budget. The film opens with some really nice still shots during a scene between Mrs Stevens (played by Vamp) and the pool boy (Cameron Lee Vamp). With seemingly very little experience, DP Brian Mills shot the sharpest looking film a first time director could hope for. All the shot choices are wonderful and the framing looks crisp. We get the obligatory slow motion shot of the “girls squad” walking in full, which is played for laughs. Early on Marvick sets the bar high from a visual standpoint, utilizing nice focus pulls, some tracking of the unseen killer and then tops it all off with a tight overhead shot of a victim and a close look at the implement used for the kill. There’s also enough POV (point of view) camera work in here for fans of that particular stalking device from the 80’s.
While I’m still on the technical aspects, I thought the audio track and foley were both good. The sounds matched all the impact hits and that’s a tricky thing to get right in low-budget film making. Rob Sholty’s color grading is bright and dynamic and among the best I’ve seen in any slasher film. Scenes internally look just as good as the externals and the crew battled the natural light very well. The score was somewhat of a mixed bag but I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for the 8-bit synth stuff. The music doesn’t ever become overpowering which is good, and I did like the casual quirky synth and bass notes when the killer was due to appear. Let’s get to the meat and bones of it all shall we? (pardon the pun) You want to know about the horror and the comedy. There’s no doubting that the eye candy is on display in Pool Party Massacre. All of the girls have their own style and they’re a good-looking group of women. Vamp is the first one on-screen and she looks as sexy as ever, but my personal favorites were Alexis Adams and Margaux Neme. My intrigue with Adams actually has nothing to do with her previous adult film career (of which I honestly didn’t even know about prior to seeing the film), it’s more about her confidence with acting and how she carries herself. It obviously helps that she’s got a lovely face and a nice body too. As for Neme, whose of an Hispanic background, she’s just delightful and really one of the only mature characters in Marvick’s film. She’s absolutely gorgeous and I liked her character from the moment I saw her. Kristin reminded me a lot of fellow actress, Brittany Snow and I think she gave the best performance in the film (even more important considering she’s the main character). Her comedic timing was spot on and the facial expressions were priceless. It was a stereotypical character she played but she did a rare thing and carried it well and made it work. Nelson and Stoney play two more of Blair’s snobby and dimwitted “friends”, they were decent as well. Stoney’s got a great figure and looks the best in a bikini and Nelson was tested with a shower scene involving some nudity. She’s the only other actress to take her clothes off aside from Adams, her curves are very nice and kudos to Destiny for putting herself out there.
It’s the women that dominate the screen time and that’s a good thing to see. Most of the male characters here are secondary ones (a rarity) and I like that Drew was willing to employ that into his writing. Each of the performances are pretty good if you take into account the limited experience of the cast. Some of the comedic scenes were a lot of fun, the humor in the opening scene comes to mind. It was carried out mostly due to a contrast between metal music and porn music (for lack of a better word) and some clever edits. A clearly clueless pool boy has his headphones in, blasting out metal as the sexy neighbor attempts to entice him by rubbing ice on her body and hinting at him in a suggestive way. Scenes like that are funnier to me than any of the low-brow toilet humor gags that followed. Clay (Byer) was a character I initially thought was a crack up. He arrives at the party with his brother Troy (played by Justice), looking like Larry Wilson from Weekend At Bernies and trying to hit on each of the girls. He looks a lot older than them so Drew threw in a few age related gags that were also pretty funny. Okay, so onto the good stuff. I mean it’s called Pool Party Massacre so I’ll get to the killing hey? The elaborate set pieces you might be used to seeing in bigger budget slasher films aren’t really on display in this indie. Now that’s not to say there isn’t on-screen carnage, it’s just that you can only do so much with limited funding. The most positive thing Marvick did was introduce a killer that uses an array of weapons, because after all, variety is the spice of life. The blood flow is strong and all done practically, also, the body count is sizeable and several of the kills are pretty inventive. I particularly enjoyed the two involving a hammer and the other with what looked like a hedge trimmer. Some prosthetic pieces would have only further added to the entertainment, but I know sometimes there are limitations.
Like all low-budget undertakings, there’s a learning curve and not everything goes swimmingly. Marvick’s film has some patches of obvious ADR (additional dialogue recording) intertwined with the on set audio, which is sort of par for the course on a small independent shoot, but given this takes place in primarily one location with little noise from outside distractions, I wouldn’t have thought it was needed. The only time the score felt a little heavy-handed was during a spate of dialogue between Blair and Danny (I think it was?), I think it could have been pulled back in the mix. In hindsight, I would’ve loved to have seen Drew get “Pool Party” from The Aquabats into the film’s soundtrack as well. There’s a handful of small continuity issues scattered throughout the film, some standing out more than others. The color and consistency of the blood changes a few times, usually looking better in the aftermath and more pink and watery during the kills themselves. Blood is a tough one to get one hundred percent right and it needed some more work. The pool that’s being cleaned in the beginning probably could have had some more debris put in it to make the cleaning of it more believable. During the same scene there’s an establishing shot showing an empty backyard and a clean pool, yet seconds later Mrs Stevens is sunbathing poolside with no actual lead in. Drew could have had her exit a sliding glass door and walk over to the beach chair just to help keep the continuity in order. In a later scene, Nancy runs back into the same room she originally left after an altercation, you’d think she’d remember not to go back in there (although that could be an inside joke poking fun of the horror movie clichés, and there’s every chance it was). Neme can also be seen breaking character and almost laughing during the scene that precedes that one. I thought the dialogue in the second half was grounded more in comedy than horror and it didn’t really work for mine. The writing becomes a bit crude for my taste, going a little far sexually for the overall tone of the movie. The girls are guilty of some unnecessary excessive profanity, particularly Tiffany (although that falls on the writing). A couple of scenes start off funny but become tedious fast. Clay’s “Ferris Bueller” theory takes up what feels like five or six minutes of screen time and the masturbation scene was just awkward (probably the intention though). Clay became too much for me in the end and I wanted to see him swiftly dealt with.
I have no idea how many films I’ve watched or reviewed now with the word “massacre” in them, let’s just say it’s a lot. Drew Marvick’s, Pool Party Massacre was clearly made with a lot of love, and for the most part the appropriate amount of attention to detail. As much as I’m a sucker for the nostalgic aesthetics of the 80’s, I’m very pleased to see Drew release an extremely polished product that drives high production value and makes fellow genre filmmakers raise their game. It feels like a cross between 1982’s ” The Slumber Party Massacre” and Joe Hendrick’s more recent “Ditch Day Massacre”, only better. Marvick knows and understands the need for those three key components that make a successful slasher and he handles them each pretty well. The opening credits are fun, the synth is energetic and the color grading is expertly crafted. My favourite aspect has to be Brian Mills cinematography. I’m making an early call in saying this will be the best shot independent horror movie of 2017. Take note fellow filmmakers, this is how you frame shots properly, this is how you pull focus and transition between them smoothly. That being said, it helps that the house and yard look beautiful as well, location location people. The comedy works best when Kristin and Alexis are on-screen, but the remainder of the girls have their moments and so to does Nick Byer. In fact, the acting all around is fairly consistent. If it’s nudity and violence you’re after, Pool Party Massacre delivers in spades (side note, I think a spade is actually one of the only weapons that doesn’t get used!). The kills are mostly on-screen and the crimson gushes steadily, all while the film plays out on the smallest of budgets. Sure, there’s the odd continuity and technical related issue, as well as a sizeable chunk of dialogue that I didn’t care for. Certain jokes come off as plain awkward and not funny, but this is still a freaking stellar effort by Drew, his cast and crew. Pool Party Massacre has heart and if you enjoy low-budget affairs and you’re a slasher fan, look no further! Below is the official trailer and website where you can pre-order the film so do it and support the little guy!
My rating for “Pool Party Massacre” is 7/10