Goon Review: Pulse (1988)

(Submitted by his Goon-y Greatness, Mr. Andrew Peters…Thanks, Ho-rror Ho-mie! 🙂 xoxo)

When Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity, I don’t think he would have imagined that it would give people superpowers or even become sentient and go on a killing spree. As we all know, electricity is basically like radioactivity in comic books; you’re pretty much guaranteed super powers. Electricity grants Horace Pinker god like powers in Shocker and can even transform a serial killer into living electricity that can travel through any current in your home, like in Ghost in the Machine. Hell, it even turned regular earthworms into carnivorous killer creatures in Squirm, but what if electricity itself was the killer? No reason, no logic, no remorse, nothing. There would be no way to stop it! Goddamn you, Ben Franklin!

And that’s the idea behind 1988’s Pulse starring Joey Lawrence, the teenage heartthrob from Blossom who would later make “woah!” a catchphrase. Of course, this is a few years before that and he’s almost unrecognizable, but once you see it, there’s no unseeing it. Although to be fair, he actually gives a good performance as a kid visiting his dad in LA when the evil electricity decides to cause mayhem. That’s basically the premise of this PG-13 horror film and I know from what I just said I am making it seem like it may be bad just because it’s PG-13, but it really isn’t all that bad even if there isn’t much going on beyond the one sentence description I gave it. The film nearly relies solely on Joey Lawrence’s performance as he spends a good majority of the film alone in the house leisurely investigating noises and so on, but you never feel like he’s in any real danger.

Joey plays young David, the child of divorced parents, so you know he already has some turmoil. Rather than bog itself down in it, the film omits any of the messy divorce baggage, but you get the idea David and his father Bill’s (Cliff De Young) relationship has weakened a bit, like friends that are growing apart. David doesn’t act out against his dad or his stepmother, Ellen (Roxanne Hart), like you see in most films about a child of divorce. David is actually calm and understanding, making him much more relatable and you kinda root for the kid. Being in LA away from his home, he has no friends or anyone besides his dad and Ellen to talk to and with his dad being too busy with work for the few scenes they attempt to have them interact. It’s a staple of the divorced-kid-visiting-one-of-his-parents kind of movie. Everyone is adjusting to the best of their abilities and it certainly doesn’t help that the neighbor is mysteriously murdered the night before David’s arrival. At least they’ll all have something to talk about right away. No awkward dinner silence.

Who or what could have done it? Nobody seems to have a clue except the good ol’, typical prophet of doom character who, by the way, is only referred to as “Old Man.” He begins spitting off stories about how the electricity is responsible for the murder, as it once tried to kill him. Understandably, everyone thinks he’s crazy. His character adds no weight to anything, not even as a motivation for David. David’s motivation comes from a neighborhood kid named Steve, played by Joey Lawrence’s real life brother, Matthew and this kid… hoo boy, lemme tell ya, this kid here. With his high pitched, scratchy cartoon voice and over the top enthusiasm, he brings a big eyed, charmingly whimsical cartoon like performance to the role, but like with most of the other characters, he has a very minimal screen time. He’s essentially there to try and give David someone about his own age to connect to and to drop some exposition on what happened in his neighbor’s house. Curious, David decides he should explore the house, but it doesn’t amount to anything.

Apparently already having selected its next victim, the electricity begins to torment David by screwing with all the electronics when he’s alone in the house. Lights flicker, the thermostat goes up and there’s an eerie blue light that darts around on the TV like an ECG and, yeah, that’s about it. There’s not much else it can do, so it screws with David’s comfort. Apparently, this is enough for him to call his mother and cry that he wants to go home, because he doesn’t feel safe. This is solidified once Ellen is nearly burned alive by hot water in the shower, leaving David and his father, who is still skeptical at this point, alone in the house. This is when the movie gets really intense and interesting. The electricity has decided it’s had enough fun and it’s time to kill them. David’s father becomes stuck in the house after nearly everything has tried to kill him. It’s up to David to rescue him, and there were moments where I wasn’t sure whether something bad was going to happen to them.

Pulse is a really simple movie with not much going on and at times it can feel like it’s dragging or perhaps a bit underwhelming, but there are other times when that works to the film’s advantage and creates tension, mostly in the final act… if you’ve managed to make it that far in the movie. It’s really not a bad movie, but I think most horror fans will find it boring and probably will have shut it off before the film’s climax. Giving the idea behind the film is somewhat absurd, I hate saying this, but I feel like this is a film that could have benefited from accidentally being unintentionally cheesy. However, some may find Joey Lawrence’s surprisingly great performance worthy of sticking around.

I think where the film suffers the most from is not having more of a relationship between David and his father, since obviously these two are going to be fighting to survive in the climax, depending on each other to make it through it. They only share a few scenes together, and you do get the idea that they are drifting apart. David is desperately trying to connect with his father who is too busy with work. Surprisingly, David builds a stronger relationship with his stepmother that the film touches on more, but again, it could have used a little more work. Roxanne Hart was fantastic as the compassionate stepmother. It seems like she’s never had to deal with kids, but manages to connect with David and is really sweet to him. Plus, she’s really easy on the eyes which isn’t a bad thing. If I were in David’s shoes, all I would be able to think about is all the pornos about your stepmother coming on to and since dad’s not home… well, maybe not at that age, but you get what I mean, right? Moving on.

There isn’t much else to say about Pulse. It’s not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, there just isn’t all that much going on, like I said earlier. Obviously, the gorehounds won’t be interested in a film that has but a mere few drops of blood and if you’re looking for a body count movie, you should look elsewhere. The single death scene that claims one victim takes place at the beginning and that’s off screen. The most visceral attack to be shown on screen – or should I say at all – is when Ellen is taking a shower and the electricity somehow manages to lock the shower door (which is not electrically locked, so… how?) and turns the heat up, causing some nasty looking blisters and nearly killing her. Cool plan and all, the effects looked great, but if the electricity really wanted to kill her, why wouldn’t it just send a current through the water? As you may be gathering from my nitpicking, the premise is extremely silly and could easily be defeated by simply unplugging stuff, grounding wires or just using common sense. It’s much like having your character do the stupidest thing imaginable in order to move the plot along, only here it’s with electricity.
I found my copy of Pulse for only $6 on Blu-ray from Mill Creek. Yes, the same Mill Creek that puts out all those 50 films on a handful of DVDs released a fairly decent looking copy of this movie and at that price, it’s worth watching. Just don’t expect anything extravagant.

Ho-stess’s PS- Whoa!! 🙂 xoxo

  • Nooo not only is electricity trying to kill up it’s also making it easier to transmit Joey Lawrence music vids from the 90s. NOOOOOO.