Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pulse (1988)

(Not to be confused with any J-Horror or insanely terrible American remake of said J-Horror)

David (Joey Lawrence, just a few years prior to coining THE monosyllabic catchphrase of the 90s) goes to stay with his father and stepmother in suburban California for the summer. This happens to coincide with the neighbor across the street going "crazy" after his wife's death and tearing apart his house before frying himself on open power lines. Or did he? You see, there's a new electrical current in town and it is people...about something. Maybe it finally just got fed up with all the juicing we've been doing for years; saw too many of its kind reduced to sparks from all the technological wonders of 1988, it's hard to say (namely, because the movie doesn't bother with an explanation). The problem for David and his family is that the power line from their recently departed neighbor runs right into their home and that refrigerator sure seems to be making some funny noises now...

Pulse is one of those movies I had seen bits and pieces of on any number of lazy Sundays throughout my childhood as it seemed to play endlessly on one of the pay movie stations. I would like to once again publicly thank my father for having the insight and questionable moral compass to employ one of those old cable signal descrambler boxes in our living room which allowed my love of horror to grow (not to mention my supreme appreciation for women fostered by countless hours spent with the Spice channel). Many an afternoon and late evening were wiled away in front of the ol' picture box which may have played a part in how spooky I found this film to be when I did catch an airing. I had already acquired a sense of mild dread from the natural creaking of houses and the hiss of appliances that would randomly sound off and Pulse played to those fears effectively.

The story is rather mundane; mixing a struggling family dynamic (as father and son deal with issues that arise when parents are recently separated) and that of a small boy who cannot make anyone believe that there is something sinister at work within the home. We get a purposely creepy home inspector who speaks vaguely about the evils of electricity that he has encountered (and who completely disappears about halfway through the picture). And then there is the shower scene, which remained my most vivid memory of this film from so many years ago. The stepmother, who is slowly coming to the realization that something may be amiss, decides the best course of action in dealing with the situation is to bathe in the middle of the day. Unfortunately for her, the electrical current commandeers the water heater, spraying her with scalding hot water while she screams and writhes in agony. One might question how the current kept her from sliding open the glass doors to get out of the stream or why her husband does not even try to open them from his end before chucking a lamp as hard as he can through the glass, effectively spraying her with dozens of pointy shards. Or how as she is carted off by paramedics, her face is completely exposed and not even a little red, but these are minor trifles. The point is, it used to scare me when I was 10, but failed to hold up all that well over time.

Where Pulse does succeed mostly is in its final act when father and son come together to fight back. It strikes at an interesting conundrum as one's home is, to many, the culmination of a life in order. People, Americans especially, take a great deal of pride in the space that they provide for their families and will defend it when called to do so. Besides that, the basic need for shelter is important to recognize. Where does one go when they cannot go home? Now, I can certainly see how the more discerning horror fan might question the entertainment value of a character checking a dryer's lint trap for strange noises; it is a bit of a tough sell, but there is enough tension built up here accompanied by a supremely eerie score to merit a mild recommendation. Though, again, better suited for any of you that might be still shopping in the Juniors section, or at least capable of going into Pulse with that kind of mindset.

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