Directed by Paul Golding.
Starring Cliff De Young, Roxanne Hart, Joey Lawrence, Matthew Lawrence, Robert Romanus and Dennis Redfield.
A family are terrorised by a rogue surge of electricity.
Contained within the special features of Pulse, the latest addition to the Eureka Classics range of Blu-ray titles, is a video essay narrated by film critic Lee Gambin about the sub-genre of ‘Tech Horror’, which basically means horror movies where everyday pieces of equipment or machinery become sentient and inevitably turn on their human operators. It all sounds rather exciting as Mr. Gambin goes into detail about texts and subtexts of man against machine, servants overcoming their masters and technical nightmares coming to life against a backdrop of movie titles such as The Car, The Lift, Gremlins 2 (the electric gremlin, remember?) and John Carpenter’s Christine.
Sounds like good company to be in, and no doubt Pulse looked like a similarly thrilling prospect on the page as electrical appliances become ‘alive’ and turn on the Rockland family, but somewhere on the journey between script and screen the excitement factor seemed to disappear, resulting in a movie whose narrative potential is very quickly overshadowed by some dubious performances and unnecessary plot details that don’t really make much sense.
Very quickly we learn that young David (Joey Lawrence) has a difficult relationship with his estranged father Bill (Cliff De Young), who lives with his new wife Ellen (Roxanne Hart), a seemingly very nice lady who tries to get on with David but unfortunately David appears to be something of a brat and very unlikeable; he even treats his friendly neighbour Stevie (played by Joey Lawrence’s real-life brother Matthew) with total disregard.
Anyway, something happens at a power station somewhere and the Rockland’s house is the target for some sort of electrical demon/serial killer/entity thing that wants them all dead and plays havoc with the electrical appliances in the house. Why? Who knows? Well, the old man who fixes up the properties in the area knows, or at least he makes out he does by spouting nonsense about ‘unplugging’. Unplugging what we don’t know but speaking silly dialogue in a slow whisper is no doubt supposed to mean something that we never quite get. In any case, David and Bill must go to battle against the electrical menace in order to save the day and to bond as father and son, whichever happens first.
Pulse has the feel of a lesser Stephen King TV movie and although director Paul Golding was no doubt very proud that the finished product came in on time and under budget there is a sense that maybe he should have pushed for a bit more development before switching on the cameras. The cause of the electricity being evil is never really explained – it’s the ‘80s and things are evil just because – and given how loathsome the Rockland family are you will spend most of the movie on the side of the power tools, which is a weird thing to say and even weirder to type. Stepmother Ellen is the only character you have any sympathy for and not only because she gets badly scalded by a rogue shower head but because she has married into the most unlikeable movie family seen onscreen since the last Charles Manson biopic; a dullard for a husband and a stepson who continually cries and screams, quite often for very little reason – it isn’t often you side with the skateboarding bullies rather than the timid new kid on the block but credit to Paul Golding for making it happen.
With questionable acting, flat direction and a bland visual style Pulse isn’t exactly the most electric or shocking (sorry…) horror movie to be granted entry into Eureka’s Classics library, and it is quite difficult to pinpoint who it is exactly aimed at. The movie is rated 18 but features very little gore or expletives and no sex or nudity so anyone looking for those particular stimulants will be left severely disappointed, and audiences looking for a serious tech-horror thriller will likely find the movie quite laughable (for all the wrong reasons). That isn’t to say it is a complete turkey but peaking at being blandly adequate when the (admittedly silly) premise has the potential to be something a whole lot more fun if only the filmmakers could fully commit to its lunacy means you end up spending 91 minutes in the company of mediocre actors playing a very unlikeable family who you want something to happen to just to make things a bit more exciting.
What does make things a bit more exciting, however, is playing the movie with the supplied audio commentary courtesy of the very knowledgeable and insightful Amanda Reyes, whose enthusiasm for this movie adds a little spice to proceedings. The aforementioned video essay by Lee Gambin also makes for interesting viewing and might just add a few titles to your tech-horror watchlist that you may not have thought of. These little nuggets of bonus material provide a bit more context and make Pulse a less tedious experience to sit through than it is on its own but unless you are serious about collecting the whole Eureka Classics catalogue so there are no gaps on your shelf then this one could probably be skipped.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★