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Case Number 08065

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Pulse (1988)

Sony // 1988 // 91 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // November 18th, 2005

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All Rise...

Judge Mitchell Hattaway didn't like this movie's plot back when it was called Maximum Overdrive, and it didn't even have Joey Lawrence that time!

The Charge

It traps you in your house…then pulls the plug.

Opening Statement

Blossom star Joey Lawrence attacked by toaster. Film at 11.

Facts of the Case

Young David (the aforementioned Joey Lawrence) goes to stay with his father and stepmother for the summer. David's first night at his dad's house is an eventful one: the television starts acting funny and the clothes dryer tries to kill him. Believing his son's near-death experiences to be nothing more than a series of unfortunate coincidences, Bill (Cliff De Young, The Hunger) doesn't give a second thought to the strange occurrences going on in and around his house. But when his wife Ellen (Roxanne Hart, Highlander) is held captive by a malevolent shower door, Bill realizes some unexplainable force is trying to kill his family.

The Evidence

Pulse is just plain silly. Come on—something (I don't know what, as the movie offers no explanation for the strange events in the story) takes over the household appliances in the split-level home of a nice family and then tries to kill the members of said nice family. That's supposed to be scary? As I mentioned above, the TV goes crazy (it suddenly will only pick up channels broadcasting programming owned by Sony, as is evidenced by the scene in which it frightens David by suddenly switching over to a showing of Starman). The clothes dryer turns its pilot light into a flamethrower. The water heater takes its job way too seriously. The garbage disposal whirs its blades with a vengeance, spitting shards of metal at a woman's forehead. Shower doors refuse to budge (how evil electricity manages to hold shower doors shut is beyond me). Honestly, you can look high and low and you won't find a single good idea here.

The characters in the movie are downright stupid. Bill doesn't find it strange that the clothes dryer tried to toast his kid, nor does he think it odd when the evil electricity (sorry, but I don't know what else to call it) traps David in the garage, cracks open the pipe on a water heater and tries to kill the poor lad by gassing him. Nobody wonders if any of these phenomena are related to the demise of recently deceased neighbor, a man who was strangled by electrical cords and cooked by electrical burns while destroying every appliance in his house with an axe. (Ellen tells David this story the moment he arrives at his dad's house. Some parenting skills, huh?) Stupidity isn't just a trait of the human characters, though. Think about it—whatever is behind all of the weird stuff can control anything containing a circuit. It can heat pipes to the point where they crack. It also has some degree of control over the pilot lights in the clothes dryer and stove. Let's see—gas leak plus flame usually equals explosion. Simple enough. But this stupid whatever-the-hell-it-is tries to boil people in showers, asphyxiate people in garages, drown people in basements, and/or scare people away by killing the grass around the perimeter of their home. If anyone (or anything) had bothered to stop and think for a second, this movie would have been over by the end of the second reel. Either Bill would have packed up and got the hell out of Dodge, or the evil electricity would have blown the house to smithereens. (Rod Serling could have told this story—smarter and better—in half an hour.)

Besides the laughs provided by the stupidity of the characters and situations, there are a few other chuckles to be found in the movie. Robert Romanus (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) shows up as a television repairman, and he apparently cannot get Mike Damone out of his system. He's shown talking to Hart about what is wrong with her set, but I kept expecting him to try to get her to move over to the couch, sell her Cheap Trick tickets, or explain how playing Side One of Led Zeppelin IV is a sure way to get laid. You also get an appearance by Joey's younger brother Matthew Lawrence (Boy Meets World), whose bowl cut and line readings indicate he recently completed classes at the Danny Pintauro School of Acting. (Matthew also repeatedly grabs his crotch during his first scene. Feel free to make of this what you will.) Then there's Lawrence Tyner (Family Plot), who plays the crazy old coot who warns Hart to unplug everything in her house (including herself—whatever that means) and run down to the mall and stock up on kerosene; Tyner's hat and line readings indicate he recently completed classes at the Gabby Hayes School of Acting. Lastly, there is a scene in which Hart is attempting to put Joey's mind at ease, and I swear it looks like at any minute she is suddenly going to jump his bones. (I am in no way attempting to justify her actions or thoughts, but her husband is almost never around.)

The technical presentation isn't stellar, but given the age and pedigree of the flick, the folks at Sony have done as fine a job as was humanly possible. There is some noticeable grain and artifacting in the transfer, as well as a bit of print damage, but otherwise it looks very nice, with good color saturation and shadow detail. The Dolby Surround soundtrack is far more dynamic than I was expecting. Rear channel action is plentiful and extremely well integrated, and there is a nice amount of low-end activity. The only real problem with the track is in the dialogue, a small amount of which is buried in the mix. The only extras are a handful of previews for other Sony horror releases, including—you guessed it!—Frankenfish.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

At least Joey doesn't sing.

Closing Statement

Pulse is like Poltergeist with killer appliances. Wait, Poltergeist is a good movie. Okay, so Pulse is like Poltergeist II with killer appliances.

The Verdict

No doubt about it—guilty. Whoa!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 15
Acting: 60
Story: 40
Judgment: 55

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• English
• French
• Japanese
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Bad
• Horror
• Science Fiction

Distinguishing Marks

• Previews


• IMDb

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