"The Ultimate Shocker".
Beneath the opening credits, we see an electrical storm form over a small American town on the outskirts of Los Angeles. A particularly vicious-looking bolt of lightning strikes a power-station and sends local generators surging crazily.
We then centre on Bill (Cliff De Young) and Ellen (Roxanne Hart), asleep in their home in said town. They're woken in the dead of night by disconcerting noises and flashing lights coming from the house opposite them. Ellen calls the police while Bill and his fellow neighbours pour onto the street to see what the source of the commotion can be.
The cops turn up and gain access into the property, finding its contents to be smashed to pieces and taps roaring with water - the place is getting flooded. Moreover, the occupants are found dead. The general verdict appears to be that the guy who lived there went berserk.
Fast-forward a week, and Bill's son David (Joey Lawrence) flies in from Colorado to stay with his dad in his new home for a short time. Stepmom Ellen bends over backwards to make David feel welcome, perhaps establishing that she's relatively new on the scene too.
Considering he's a guest on his holiday, David seems to be left alone in Bill's home quite a bit. While mooching about, he inevitably tinkers with various household electrical appliances (watching TV, listening to the ball game on the radio etc). He starts to notice glitches in each of these items, as well as spying sparks emanating from a power cable outside the home. It doesn't help matters that his mother has raised him to be somewhat suspicious of modern technology: she'd instilled him in the idea that using a microwave oven makes you sterile, for example.
As the evening progresses, David notices more strange buzzing noises and power surges in the appliances dotted around Bill's house. He tries to warn Bill and Ellen that something odd is happening with all their electrical commodities. Of course, they're not too convinced.
But the following day while skateboarding on the street, David notices more suspicious sparks flashing from the local power lines. Upon breaking into the aforementioned ill-fated neighbours' house across the street with newfound pal Stevie (Matthew Lawrence), which incorporates an altercation with a crazy old man (Charles Tyner), David becomes convinced that an intelligent strain of rogue electricity is pulsating from house to house through local wires, intent on wrecking residents' appliances and causing as much devastation as possible. The old guy claims to have witnessed such phenomena in no fewer than twenty houses in the area.
Bill and Ellen are understandably dismissive when David approaches them with this hypothesis ... and yet Ellen is left with an element of doubt after the fact.
Could there be any credence to David's protestations? Is the family really in danger?
Written and directed by Paul Golding, 1988's PULSE plays on the then-timely fear of technology outgrowing mankind in terms of power and intelligence. Or more so, the inherent dangers in our increasing reliance on electronic technology in our day-to-day life, and the paranoia associated to such dependency. This ilk of horror film enjoyed a small trend during the 80s (see more in my review of this disc's extras, below).
Graced with a $6 million dollar budget, an intelligent script and strong performances across the board, PULSE's warm visuals may at times make it look like a handsomely mounted made-for-TV movie from its era but the camerawork and editing do toil towards giving it a more cinematic sheen.
Jay Ferguson's agreeably ominous electronic score is ably implemented to good effect, complementing the occasionally moody Michael Mann-esque visual feel to proceedings. Elsewhere, the early foreboding signs of our lives being dictated by the smooth workings of modern conveniences - microwave ovens; electric windows on cars; digital alarm clocks kept beside the bed, curtain blinds operating by remote control; clap-motivated house lights - still ring wryly true to this day. In fact, this could easily be remade in this day and age, made all the more prescient by the fact that virtually everything we use nowadays is a technological "advance" aimed at increasing our comfort.
PULSE is a tautly paced, well-told little yarn. Any "go green" message it may be promoting is subtle enough so as to not be overwhelming in a way that distracts from viewer enjoyment by becoming patronisingly preachy.
The special effects, overseen by Richard O Helmer, are convincingly crafted - be it appliances springing into life of their own accord or one character getting severely scalded by a piping hot shower when the water overheats. They are also virtually bloodless ... which leads me to my next observation.
PULSE walks very carefully down a path which avoids any profanity, nudity or overtly graphic violence. To level that as a criticism against the film would sound awfully trite, I know, but it has to be said that without any of these traditionally exploitative constituents Golding's film does feel rather sedate. There's no real sense of threat, which results in a curious lack of escalation during the film's final third when - ideally - the tension would be starting to mount. It's in this regard that we go back to PULSE having the aura of a particularly attractive TV film. A very safe one at that.
In closing, PULSE has a lot going for it but I found myself appreciating the film while ultimately knowing it wouldn't stay with me for too long. That's a shame: it's likeable, but not especially memorable.
PULSE comes to UK blu-ray courtesy of our friends at Eureka! Entertainment. We were sent a screener disc for review purposes.
The film is proffered in its original 1.85:1 ratio. A new HD transfer treats viewers to a sterling 1080p HD presentation of the film. Clocking in at precisely 91 minutes in length, PULSE comes to us uncut here. Picture quality is sharp and true, boasting vivid yet natural colours and deep, stable blacks throughout. Mastered from a pristine print, this is a very smooth and impressive HD rendering, the image being at all times clean but authentic-looking (i.e. no ugly DNR or so forth).
We get an English LPCM 2.0 audio track on the film which does its job in unfussy but evenly balanced and robust fashion, perfectly clear for the duration. Optional English subtitles are available for the hard of hearing - these are well-written and easily readable at all times.
An animated main menu page opens proceedings. As is the norm with Eureka! releases, there is no scene selection menu as such. However, you can navigate your way through the film with your remote control if desired, by way of nine chapters.
Extras begin with a new audio commentary by film historian Amanda Reyes. An affable hostess, Reyes opens by setting out her stall, cluing us in on some of the subjects she'll be covering. Then the real fun starts, as she races through a tonne of trivia; cast and crew facts; the tropes of "suburban Gothic", a genre which she argues PULSE falls into; insights into the film's distribution woes; the subtexts lying beneath the surface; similar films also indicative of the era from which PULSE stems; and plenty more. This commentary track requires your undivided attention - Reyes won't pause and wait for slouches. I mean that as a compliment: there's not a dead moment to be heard over the course of an hour-and-a-half.
Next up is "Tuning into Tech-Horror", a new 14-minute video essay narrated by film historian Lee Gambin. This is an intelligent and engaging muse on the surge of tech-influenced genre offerings, predominantly in the 1980s. Gambin covers the timely themes of man's suspicion of increasingly advanced technology, but also delves into more intriguing subtexts such as masculinity, sexuality in general and material possession. PULSE gets plenty of coverage, of course, but a number of other key films also come under the spotlight: ELECTRIC DREAMS, DEMON SEED, MURDER BY PHONE, CHRISTINE, MR WRONG, KILLDOZER!, THE CAR, THE LIFT, NIGHTMARES, VIDEODROME, THE VIDEO DEAD, 976-EVIL, RAGEWAR, THE URGE TO KILL, NIGHTMARE WEEKEND, GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH, THE STEPFORD WIVES and POLTERGEIST. Gambin also gives brief mention to the more recent wave of tech-horror that emerged from Japan during the late 1990s and early 2000s - including Kiyoshi Kurosawa's unrelated 2001 namesake film PULSE.
The film's original theatrical trailer follows. This is unusually brief at just 55 seconds in length, but at least this helps it to be spoiler-free. The trailer is presented in letterboxed standard definition and is in pretty good shape.
A limited first run of 2,000 copies also come with a slipcase, and a 16-page colour collectors' booklet. The booklet contains a new essay by film scholar Craig Ian Mann entitled "Shock Tactics", in which he delves initially into the internal politics behind PULSE's "troubled" beginnings. Mann also muses over the film's themes and contextualises them further within their era, bringing into discussion another man-versus-machine movie from that time that hadn't been mentioned yet: MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE. We also get a reproduction of a 2014 appraisal of the film which originally appeared in "Morbido" magazine. This is eloquently written by Adrian Garcia Bogliano, director of the great films HERE COMES THE DEVIL and LATE PHASES.
Eureka! have done justice to this forgotten slice of 80s horror with this highly credible, well-produced Special Edition.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Eureka! Entertainment|