[review by J Kerswell]
FATAL PULSE is one of those kind of films that gives bad movies a bad name. Starting off as a riot of 1980s excess (Big hair! Big music! Big stupidity!), it collapses into a near incoherent, sleazy mess that leaves the viewer sucked dry like a desiccated corpse in leg warmers.
In an opening that sets the low benchmark for the cast's acting abilities, slightly camp college student Jeff (Ken Roberts) breaks up with his girlfriend after she can't woo him back with her silk bra and panties set. Jeff strops off in a mood – well, as far as we can tell. Roberts' thespian range veers from oak to cedar. He's as wooden as them come. In fact, you know what it sounds like if you get your computer to read back text? Seriously, this guy's range is even more limited than that. Anyway, with the door slammed she runs upstairs to cry into her spiral perm, but before you can say slasher-movie-opening, someone in black-leather gloves appears and strangles her with one of her stockings. Believe me, she's the lucky one. I was tempted to strangle myself with a snood before the credits rolled.
It seems that Jeff was splitting up with her because he wanted to get back with his ex-girlfriend Lisa (Michelle McCormick), who lives at a nearby sorority house. Trouble is, his ex-best friend Brad (Stephen Henry) has been making moves on her. Now, Brad has a mullet the size of a small barn, and I have never seen as much teeth baring and scenery chewing since that pastor began flaring his nostrils in TROLL 2 (1990). Brad is quite clearly trouble. He and Jeff bump chests in the library as Lisa looks on with what passes for concern briefly flashing across her face. Jeff seeks solace in his college professor (Alex Courtney) and his stoner new best friend Mark (Blair Karsch), who carries around a bong and is accompanied by a “Boooiiing!” sound effect every time he makes an appearance on screen. Classy, eh?
This being a slasher flick – and one that came as the late 80s death rattle for the subgenre was already dying in its throat – it will come as no surprise that the killer moves onto easy pickings over at the sorority house. In fact, this sorority house has its own creepy landlord and handyman, who has Nam flashbacks and might as well have red herring tattooed to his forehead. In the film's perhaps best known scene (if any scene in this film could be described as best known), another girl with unfeasibly large hair has her throat cut by the black-gloved killer with a vinyl LP. Is this even possible? Answers on a postcard please.
As it is clear that a killer is on the loose – and one with a pathological hatred of lycra and hard rock hairspray – Jeff, Lisa and a reluctant Mark team up to try and catch them …
FATAL PULSE is a draining, and for the most part, joyless experience. The good things? Well, actually there are no good things (although the killer's motive is at least novel), but a modicum of enjoyment can be gleaned by painful sub-porno performances put in by most of the cast. It's so bad that, on occasion, it almost reaches the dizzying heights of Lynda Day George's Oscar worthy tirade against “Bastards!” in PIECES (1983). Then there's the score. If there's a better example of guitar wankery akin to scrapping nails down a blackboard for 90 minutes I've yet to hear it. Trust me, I lived through the 80s and I hated that music then. Oh yeah, we're supposed to be talking about the good things. Well, despite my ear drums bleeding, I couldn't help chuckle at the fact that godawful rawk track that plays over the opening credits continues blaring out over the opening scene. I did wonder if the camera would pan around to show some cock rocker in a bandana bent double over an electric guitar. Then there's the pointless romantic scene, where Jeff and Lisa ride around on bicycles for what seems like forever; all the while accompanied by some sub-Whitney Houston style caterwauling like someone whose just taken a near-lethal blast of helium. Then there's the jaw-droppingly stupid moment when a skateboarding girl takes refuge from the killer in a creepy dark building, after running from the relative safety of a busy street.
For the most part FATAL PULSE limps from one disjointed, suspense-free scene to the next. It almost feels that everyone involved in this gave up halfway through. I've seen the film described as misogynistic. That's not a term you throw around lightly if you're a defender of the subgenre, as back in the day it was regularly – and mostly erroneously – attacked as being anti-women. However, there are some films where it becomes difficult to defend and this is one of them. The killer's victims – all sorority girls from the same house (although no one moves out when the bodies start piling up!) – are gloatingly murdered, but not before invariably having their breasts exposed. Of course, t&a is a mainstay of the subgenre, but the lingering death scenes, whilst not gorily explicit, do leave something of a bad taste – and are jarringly at odds with the care-free, would-be comedic nature of the rest of the film. Plus there's some really annoying characters, none more so than the oh-so-wacky Mark, who sits around watching cartoons and making idiotic comments. Sadly the killer's taste doesn't go for annoying frat boys, although my spirits were briefly lifted when a vigilante group beat the shit out him when he's dressed as a superhero.
Surprisingly, FATAL PULSE has halfway decent production values, but that wasn't enough to get it a theatrical booking in the States as far as I know. Bizarrely, it did play screens in Japan where it was pitched as a sequel to THE PROWLER (1981), as ROSEMARY'S KILLER 2. I wonder how many people fell for that?
I watched FATAL PULSE all of two hours ago, and already I'm having trouble remembering it. Perhaps I should be thankful for small mercies.
female:6 / male:0
1) Female strangled with stocking
2) Female has throat cut with LP
3) Female drowned in bath tub
4) Female electrocuted
5) Female thrown through window
6) Female smothered in plaster