Paul Golding (director)
22 February 2021 (released)
Quite why this 1988 Sci-fi horror ever made it to the top of the ‘VHS-favourite’ list is anyone’s guess as it plods along rather disjointedly before a sizzling climax reminds us that paranormal activities are indeed responsible for multiple deaths caused by apparently faulty electricity – but why?
Somewhere in the LA suburbs an entire house falls, quite literally, to pieces after a combination of expanding gas pipes, faulty electric cables and bursting water pipes creates utter havoc, explosions and the untimely death of a man who, minutes earlier, seems to have gone mad.
Enter young David Rockland (Joey Lawrence) who has come to stay with dad Bill (Cliff De Young) and his new wife Ellen Rockland (Roxanne Hart) – much to his chagrin seeing how David would rather spend time with his biological mother back in Colorado. While watching TV, scoffing popcorn and guzzling down Nesquik chocolate milkshake the young lad soon encounters strange occurrences when the TV-set begins to have a mind of its own with channels switching, disappearing and other strange goings-on within the periphery. When Dad Bill and Ellen return after a night out the TV-set seems to be working again and they put David’s anxiety down to the new surroundings and his disgruntlement over not being able to play with his mates back home. Still though, the following day Ellen calls the TV-repair man who isn’t much help at all, instead he’s mentioning pulses without actually knowing himself what’s up before finally advising Ellen to “read and follow the TV-guide instructions”.
Meanwhile, David befriends skateboarding neighbourhood kid Stevie (Matthew Lawrence) who reveals horror stories about the grisly demise of his neighbour when the house down the street ‘blew up’. This revelation does precious little to calm David’s hyper-sensitive nerves and over the ensuing days tensions in the small household keep on rising… only Ellen begins to sense that her stepson might be on to something. Sure enough when he attempts to sneak into the boarded-up ‘house of horrors’ to investigate what might have happened, a strange old man named Holger (Charles Tyner) appears out of nowhere – frightening the living daylights out of the teenage boy before rambling on about how electricity controls our house… our lives… “but ultimately it traps you in your house and then the only option is to pull the plug”. When David tells Ellen about the encounter she tries to calm his nerves and dismisses the tale as the fantasies of an eccentric old man while Bill laughs it off altogether – resulting in the lad running out of the house screaming while dad grabs him and carries him back – with strangely unanimated neighbours looking on.
When the pair step out again David decides that enough is enough! He doesn’t want to stay in the house any longer though his attempt to drive to the airport with dad’s car spectacularly backfires when all hell breaks loose inside the garage. Yep, pipes are tearing and deadly toxins get released while David seems trapped inside the car which – for some odd reason – won’t open its doors while the windows won’t close, even the garage door is jammed. The lad survives by the skin of his teeth and finally Ellen begins to believe David though dad Bill still shakes it off as a freak accident. When Ellen takes a hot shower the next disaster happens what with the water overheating, the shower off/on button jammed and the sliding door too. She’s rescued at the last minute by Bill who is forced to break the shower door with a lamp but too late - the young woman is badly scalded and needs hospitalisation. Now Bill finally begins to see sense even though there isn’t any, leading up to the film’s climax during which father and son almost lose their lives.
Admittedly the concept of Paul Golding’s techno-horror (he also wrote the script) is rather clever, not least because we rely far too much on electricity and all the other trappings of modern civilisation. Thing is, there’s never really any plausible explanation as to why this paranormal intelligence exists, where it came from and why it seems to create havoc only in LA’s electrical grid system (or perhaps that’s just where it was filmed). If there are malevolent powers at work then as sure as hell we don’t find out – thus PULSE, despite impressive visuals depicting expanding pipes, melting wires and what have you, doesn’t really offer any satisfactory conclusion: Is this paranormal intelligence alien? Does it have a deeper meaning and purpose? Or is it because they all share the same telegraph pole in the neighbourhood? A lot remains unanswered, just as too much screen time is wasted with domestic bickering and paranoia prompting the actors to walk about the house in an irritated manner inspecting appliances that suddenly have gown awry.
PULSE is released on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK and the first print run (2000 copies) will feature Limited-Edition O-card Slipcase and Collector’s booklet. Bonus material includes audio commentary plus video essay.