GORE IN THE STORE
Directed by Paul Golding.
Starring Cliff De Young, Roxanne Hart, Joey Lawrence.
Horror/Sci-fi, USA, 91 mins, cert 18.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray by Eureka Entertainment on 22nd February 2021. RRP £20.99.
“Do you think something could be wrong with the electricity?” is the pertinent question, and humongous understatement, posed by concerned stepmother Ellen (Roxanne Hart) mid-way through the strange yet enjoyable 1988 B-movie shocker PULSE, now being released on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.
Young David Rockland (Joey Lawrence) is visiting his Dad Bill (Cliff De Young) for what should be the perfect opportunity for bonding after Bill’s recent divorce. However, filial relations are soon overshadowed by the strange goings on at the house across the road. This seemingly normal suburban home was the site of two recent bizarre and violent deaths, one of which involved a gruesome waste disposal unit malfunction.
Not long after David arrives, he too starts experiencing strange happenings including power surges and an encounter with a creepy fedora wearing pensioner, who looks like a desiccated Indiana Jones, who warns David of the ‘voices in the wires’. Is the electricity on the street sentient and out to get him? Fires are started, gas pipes burst, water scolds and, perhaps most insidious of all, VHS rental tapes are ruined meaning you have to buy them from the shop at full price. Will the family survive? After all, how do you fight electricity?
Even though electricity is considerably more likely to kill you in real life than a machete wielding undead being, there is something about sentient electricity being the film’s villain that is intrinsically silly. Yet, the film takes this conceit completely serious. There’s no tongue in cheek winking to the camera and no jokes. Consequentially this serious approach to an odd premise makes the film seem somewhat unique in its tone.
PULSE doesn’t neatly fit in to an existing horror niche. The film’s 18 certificate is surprising (perhaps it’s a remnant from the overly zealous ‘Video Nasty’ age and it hasn’t been recertified) as gore and violence is kept to a minimum, there’s little to no swearing, and most surprisingly for an 80’s horror, there’s no nudity. The horror is overall quite tame and reminds me most of 1982’S POLTERGEIST, with its focus on a suburban 80’s family and its suspicion of what’s hiding inside modern technology.
Strangely, I picked up some unexpected David Lynch vibes from the film’s opening close ups of electric circuits and industrial equipment accompanied by ambient electrical buzzing on the soundtrack. There’s an eery surrealist element to some of the horror, whether intentional or not.
The pace is quite slow, with most of the action only occurring within the last 15 minutes. I was never scared, or particularly tense, but nevertheless I was engaged and intrigued throughout simply because I had no idea what to expect (the film’s poster is very misleading).
In terms of the Blu-ray release, the picture and sound quality are great. If you were already a fan of it on VHS then it’s certainly worth upgrading to Blu-ray in order to see it in such high quality. The film’s sound design is also impressive, such as a sequence where a woman’s screams mix with the screech of boiling water, and this release helps to show off that sound mixing.
Unfortunately, the special features are limited. There’s a low energy, but fairly informative, video essay about tech horror that highlights similar films (many of which I had never heard of and may now check out) and an audio commentary by a film historian. First-hand insight from those actually involved in the film would have been nice but the commentary is a well re-searched alternative.
Overall, PULSE is an intriguing oddity. In spite of its daft premise, it’s not camp enough to work as a funny midnight movie, and it’s not effectively scary enough to work as a truly successful horror. Yet, in spite of this, I did still quite like it. I can’t see myself revisiting it, as there is not much depth to it, but in the moment, it was unusual enough in its tone and content to keep me watching and entertained. I couldn’t quite say this is a hidden gem, and it definitely wouldn’t work for a lot of people, but for big fans of 80’s horror this is perhaps worth checking out.
Reviewed by John Upton