It’s an awkward summer in the suburbs of California for eleven year-old David Rockland, staying with his father Bill and his new wife Ellen; it’s not that she’s a wicked stepmom or anything, it’s just not home in the way that Colorado is, and the bars on the windows and the stories of the man across the street who went crazy and trashed his house before being taken away by the police isn’t making him feel any more at ease.
The older neighbourhood cool kids not interested in being friends, it’s seven year old Stevie who persuades David to break into the ruined Jordan house, the carpets soaked and every electrical appliance smashed, where he is confronted by an old man who asks “Did it talk to you? The voice in the wires?” Alone in his father’s house with the company of the television and video recorder, the microwave and the telephone and the automated central heating, David fearfully begins to listen for the crackle of electricity…
Originally given minor release in 1988, Pulse is the only feature film directed by Paul Golding, his only other work a non-narrative short entitled Herbie released over two decades before, and it is in these abstract moments which Pulse is most interesting, the end titles paralleling the pathways of circuit boards and illuminated city streets, the macro photography of solder melting and reforming connections like synapses recalling the alien behaviour of the ant colonies of Phase IV.
The difference is, Saul Bass set his experimental tale in an equally alien landscape rather than a suburban housing development which lacks the necessary otherworldliness to convey any sense of the eerie, essential when the sole threat of Pulse is a surge of electricity initially generated by a strike of lightning near a power plant at dusk in the desert, a presence ubiquitous in the modern home but the transformation from benign force to entity of malign and murderous purpose unconvincing.
Leading the film as David is the confident performance of a pre-Blossom Joey Lawrence, effectively carrying the narrative as it largely unfolds from his point of view, but as such Pulse feels too much like a children’s film, Golding’s script never more than a series of random discharges which never coalesce into a something deeper, Shock Treatment’s Cliff De Young and Highlander’s Roxanne Hart do their best with underwritten stock parental roles.
Presented on Blu-ray as part of the Eureka Classics range, the new edition of Pulse also features a video essay by Lee Gambin exploring the history of tech horror touching on Demon Seed and Electric Dreams and other less well known titles, and a commentary by film academic Amanda Reyes who discusses Pulse’s place within the “suburban Gothic,” an environment constructed without history where the supernatural fills the void.