Electricity. It's something we use every day without really thinking of it being a danger. Sure, we were told as kids not to stick any objects into outlets and lots of movies have cashed in on the old "toaster in the bathtub" trick but, generally, it's just something we take for granted. We forget about how deadly it can be. This makes it the perfect foil to be the villain in a horror flick.
I first remember spotting Pulse in one of my many video store trips as a kid trying to find the next awesome genre flick. The weekend I took this one home I also grabbed the 1987 giant insect movie, Blue Monkey, and even though I enjoyed both, this one stuck with me more. The idea writer-director Paul Golding brings to the table of malicious currents of electricity is cool enough but he's also tossed in some decently done PG-13 level moments of suspense and coaxes a decent performance from a young Joey Lawrence (who would go on to lame teen sitcom "Blossom" and an ill-advised pop career in the early 90s).
Just after coming to stay with his distant father, David (Lawrence) begins to wonder what kind of neighbourhood he's staying in when one evening the hermit-like older man across the street decides to loudly trash the entire inside of his house, waking up everyone, before dying in a mysterious way. Not too long after that normal everyday items start malfunctioning, David meets a local kid (played by Lawrence's real-life brother, Matthew) who tells him a morbid story about a garbage disposal and he decides to sneak into the house across the way to investigate only to run into an old, conspiracy theory crazy (Charles Tyner) who bugs out his eyes and acts all paranoid while telling our young hero that the electricity is evil and has a mind of its own.
From here David becomes "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" as he tries to convince his workaholic dad Bill (Cliff De Young) and stepmom Ellen (Roxanne Hart) there's something afoot. Golding leisurely builds up the pace in the meantime building up some okay menace by having sinister shots of appliances, showing the insides of various electronics melting and fusing together and even giving Ellen a big freak out moment before scalding her badly in a shower. Then comes a finale where father and son have to team up after the deadly pulse has entered into their house and refuses to let them leave, giving us a finish filled with lots of things wildly sparking, the house catching fire, Bill axing his way between floors and an awesome last scene with De Young laughing maniacally.
As mentioned above Lawrence is pretty good here. Being only eleven during production he's actually given a lot of solo scenes to try and build tension and doesn't embarrass himself. Hart ably handles her role as the responsible parental figure and you have to dig her fate even if it feels pilfered from the previous year's Witchboard. It's always fun to see busy character actor De Young get top billing even if he generally drifts through the first two-thirds before being called on to save the day. It's Tyner who steals the day here, though, as he channels a nutty soothsayer that almost rivals the Crazy Ralph character from the Friday the 13th flicks.
While Pulse doesn't quite hold up to the high praise I gave it as a teenager (really, what does?) it's still a pretty entertaining time. I'd always remembered it being a little faster paced but now find that Golding's more lackadaisical tone does give things a spooky anticipation even though in the end he doesn't bother to even attempt to explain anything. Still, twenty plus years later, this stands as a unique effort thanks to its main villain being something we'd never expect. (Chris Hartley, 1/3/14)
Directed By: Paul Golding.
Written By: Paul Golding.
Starring: Cliff De Young, Roxanne Hart, Joey Lawrence, Matthew LaWrence.