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

Goon Review: The Initiation (1984)

(Submitted by Mr. Andrew Peters…Thanks, Mr. Goon-y Goon! 🙂 xoxo)

There’s an old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” which I would use to describe the slasher boom of the ‘80s. Halloween may not have started it, but it opened the doors and after Friday the 13th, these things were coming out by the dozens. They were cheap, quick and easy to make and movie goers were eating it up so much, studios were guaranteed a profit. It was like printing money. However, like too much of a good thing, people grew tired of it and the slasher genre more or less died, at least in the way it was. Slasher films were still made after the crash, of course, but tried to sprinkle in little unique twists and turns or really developing a more psychological idea. Nothing wrong with adding your own ingredients to a pre-existing recipe. After all, it could still be really good. Maybe.

The Initiation comes to mind as an example. It was sold as a slasher film, but having come out near the end of the boom in 1984, it had more going on for it when filmmakers tried to add a little more spice to their films. It attempted to be very psychological, and wanted to add three dimensional characters you could care about with a twist ending that would shock everyone…Unfortunately, it was bogged down by the slasher formula so much that it couldn’t figure out how to pace those ideas and just dumps them all in at the end and expects it to work. It seems there are a handful of movies from that era that suffered from the same fate, as if the writer and director wanted to do something different to avoid becoming another rip off, or something that would become stale.

The film starts in familiar territory; at a campus with some sexy coeds being initiated into a sorority. Well, looks like they are quite serious with that title. One of the pledges, Kelly Fairchild (Spaceballs’ Princess Vespa herself, Daphne Zuniga), has been having a reoccurring nightmare that she is trying to kill her father while he’s going at it with her mom (Vera Miles) when suddenly another man enters the room and is set on fire. As if that isn’t stressful enough, the sorority decides as part of the initiation, they need to break into a department store that Kelly’s father happens to own. Well, what a happy little coincidence. I guess that kinda defeats the purpose of breaking and entering, but rest assured that there will be plenty of shenanigans from the stock characters and trust me, these are some stock characters. The girls get at least get somewhat of a variety with the virgin, the bitch and the best friend, but all of the dudes… they are just dudes. The kind of dudes that make dick and fart jokes and try to fuck everything. Ya know, dudes.

For some originality and depth to the plot, the film has Kelly exploring her nightmares with the help of her psychology class graduating assistant, Peter Adams (James Read). Dreams just so happen to be Peter’s area of expertise and the two explore Kelly’s nightmare and amnesia, which happened because of convenient plot device. I don’t believe it’s ever explained, but really, does it need to be? Kelly’s mother forbids her grown ass adult college student daughter from talking with Peter anymore about the nightmare or the amnesia, but do you think she’s gonna listen? Hell no! In fact, the two explore it even more resulting in an odd outcome where Kelly responds to a different last name… wonder if that could mean that her father isn’t her father? Kelly even shacks up with Peter, but this was in the ‘80s when it was okay for faculty to hook up with students. I don’t think it could hurt her grades.

The movie movie actually spends a good amount of time with Kelly and Peter as they explore the depths of what this dream could mean, but elsewhere there is a generic slasher film waiting to rear its head. At a nearby asylum, a burned up caretaker may be responsible for the escape of several inmates and the murder of a nurse. The framing of the scene sure makes it seem that way, but that would be too obvious. Kelly’s parents are contacted and informed about the escape and murder, so what could their connection be? I’m sure things are starting to become obvious, but before a light is further shed on any of this information, we have a smorgasbord of teens to kill!

Kelly and some of the other pledges along with one of the sorority sisters finally get around to breaking into her dad’s department store and this is where the movie becomes a paint by numbers slasher. One thing very notable about these victims is that this is an early example of all of the characters being annoying and stupid, so it’s hard to care what happens to them. It’s almost as if the film is self aware of this and dispatches them quickly and some what unimpressively. A couple of them are shot with a bow or spear gun, maybe a stabbed a few times. The best death happens early on in the film when Kelly’s father (who I forgot to mention was Clu Gulager) who’s stabbed in the throat and decapitated with a machete, although the latter happens off screen. The number of teens dwindles down until Kelly is all alone with only the killer. Meanwhile, Peter is trying to locate Kelly, stopping by to get information from her mother who seems a little off her rocker. It’s the classic race for survival as the identity of the killer is revealed and not to spoil anything here, but it’s quite underwhelming mixed with a questionable, “huh?” It feels like it’s coming from nowhere, as if it were added at the last moment to try and shock the audience even though nothing has built up to it and nothing indicated it prior. It’s what you would call an “ass pull” or described as “assumingly out of left field.”

The Initiation may be overly ambitious with all the ideas it has and trying to connect them all together with the twists and turns, but ultimately the interesting and creative parts take a seat about halfway through the film so it can get to the slasher tropes. Honestly, I think this film would have worked better if it were one or the other, but as it is I don’t think it’s great. I don’t think it’s bad either. In fact, I think it’s better than okay, just not great. Not to take away anything from the actors’ performances, mind you. They all do a pretty decent job, but Daphne Zuniga feels like she’s not quite there yet, with her performance feeling slightly dialed back. (Maybe slightly elevated since her bit part a few years prior in The Dorm That Dripped Blood.) You would have to assume the bar would be raised with Clu Gulager and Vera Miles on the cast, but both seem to be phoning it in and Clu Gulager is barely in the movie before he’s dispatched with. Everyone else plays their stereotyped role pretty decently, but nothing stands out to make it unique or different. Not for lack of trying, though.

At the time, a film about students spending the night in a department store was relatively original, but once Chopping Mall came along a few years later and did the same thing, you kinda forgot about this film. That’s a shame, too. Even though it may not seem like I enjoyed The Initiation, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s not the best slasher, nor is it the most original or boast some great practical effects and gory kills, it doesn’t really need to be. I think it’s fine just the way it is. Everything that could have been improved with it is still pretty good enough to enjoy on its own.

Arrow Video’s release of The Initiation might be one for the collection if you’re looking for an odd, out of the ordinary slasher. The new 2K transfer makes it look really great. Not perfect, but great enough to where it looks new, but still like an ‘80s slasher flick. There are a few extras, maybe somewhat lackluster, like with the audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues Podcast people that sounds as if it were recorded via Skype. There’s also a theatrical trailer along with a deleted scene and some new interviews with writer Charles Pratt Jr. and actors Christopher Bradley and Joy Jones, but no Daphne Zuniga for you fans out there. Not the greatest features for a movie coming Arrow’s library, but I can imagine finding features or people willing to do features for a movie like this may be a little tricky, especially seeing as it’s not nearly as remembered as most of the other slashers. However, that doesn’t mean you should pass this one up. It may not be as gory or crazy as something like Chopping Mall that does a similar premise, but it’s interesting enough to keep you watching and keep you guessing.