Every Autumn, I find a gem or two in a thrift store or the bargain bin of a major retailer. Last year's treasure on the cheap was retrieved from the bloated corporate bowels of Wally World for ten swiftly devaluing Federal Reserve Notes. It's more than a bit odd to see one of the finest horror features ever shot paired with a tawdry (albeit enjoyable) flick on the same disc. Granted, they have a few things in common: both were created in the same decade and hemisphere by carbon-based life forms, but for anyone other than the kind of ignorant plebeian who actually considers "Asian horror" a legitimate classification, these two films are strange bedfellows. However, that's not a complaint. It's great fun to watch what one loves and then something almost entirely different. Vive la différence!
I'm damning Pulse with faint praise by lauding it as the single greatest horror film of the awful aughts, but I know of no other from that nauseating decade that's better. As derivative slapdash sludge seeped into theaters on one side of the Pacific and watered-down remakes and teenie fare packed those of the other, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's artistic career peaked at this brilliantly reserved, quietly apocalyptic ghost story. Kurosawa's oeuvre is packed with great films amidst a few slightly smelly misfires, but nothing he's done before or since really resonates as Pulse does, or has been so exquisitely realized. The concept of the Internet as a gateway for supernatural phenomena was exploited on film before Kurosawa considered it, but no tale of ghost or grue seeping into meatspace by way of dial-up or DSL was ever so ingeniously crafted - certainly not the many cheap subsequent knock-offs of this picture, or its moronic stateside remake. Kurosawa's usual theme of personal isolation is intelligently - though hardly subtly - expressed in the context of technology as a catalyst for social disintegration. Regardless of whether his perspective is valid or not, this exceptional pairing of metaphysical and sociological dynamics is executed with the skill of a master film stylist. Despite the lingering evidence of Kurosawa's influences - Hitchcock, Ozu and especially Tarkovsky - he's created something quite original from a lot of recycled ideas. This picture is an absolute treasure of the genre, a peer to Nosferatu, Carnival of Souls or Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining. If Kurosawa never makes a better theatrical or televised film, this alone could assure his status as one of the most gifted filmmakers to ever contribute to the genre.
As excessive as Pulse is elegant, Sick Nurses is a slickly produced, shamefully delicious morsel of Thai trash. Aided by seven gorgeous nurses, an amoral doctor working in a rancid, deteriorating hospital sells dead bodies on the black market. When a bout of infighting threatens to expose their enterprise, one of these seven becomes another corpse for sale. Exactly a week after her murder, the undead spirit of the deceased returns to inflict brutal - and frequently inspired - revenge on her former co-workers. This is all very stupid, but the film's gory proceedings are so energetically paced and its characters are depicted with such delightfully hammy acting that it's hard for anyone who hasn't a weak stomach to enjoy it. Loaded with lavish costume and set design, the film's garish interiors and noisy score are faintly reminiscent of those of certain landmark gialli. Gallons of spilt blood, some clever plot twists and the shapely physiques of its hambone cast elevate this just a few inches above the wretched glut of exploitation movies. It's dumb and often painfully obvious, but the surprises and depravity herein are just too much fun to turn away from.
Unfortunately, Pulse was given the short end of the audiovisual stick so that both of these films could be crammed onto a single disc. Its picture is gritty and loaded with minor artifacts that aren't at all obtrusive on an SDTV, but are impossible to ignore when viewed with a projector or HDTV. Magnolia probably assumed that compressing the longer and darker of the two films (the photography of Pulse is notable for its extremely dim luminance) would counterbalance the effects of greater compression and that's true, but they'd be wiser to put the squeeze on the lesser half of this double feature. Sick Nurses looks as good as it probably can in SD, and its bright, eye-popping color alone is worth seeing. Ably translated white English and Spanish subtitles are available for both features. Although its Thai soundtrack is accessible and sounds much better, the default track for Sick Nurses is a hilarious English dub that's sure to generate a few giggles. It should be noted that this disc contains none of the special features of these films' original DVDs. Specifically, the Pulse DVD contains an interview with Kurosawa and a behind-the-scenes featurette much like those found in other DVDs of his pictures. Even better amidst a few other artless trailers are its theatrical teasers, some of the most effective promotional clips for a motion picture release that I've seen. If you must have all that, don't bother with this.
Eight years ago, I purchased a VHS bootleg of Pulse on eBay which was gnawed into oblivion by a surly old VCR after a few viewings. While this isn't an entirely adequate substitute for the aforementioned dedicated DVD, it's certainly worth a bill sporting the image of that old rogue, Hamilton...and it gave me the opportunity to watch something that I might not have considered.
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About the reviewer
Robert Buchanan (rbuchanan)
I'm a bibliophile, ailurophile, inveterate aggregator, dedicated middlebrow and anastrophizing syntax addict. My personality type is that of superlative INTJ.
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Pulse (Kairo) Before The Grudge, before Dark Water, there was Pulse, one of the scariest films ever made from the master of Japanese horror, Kiyoshi Kurosawa. A group of young friends is rocked by the sudden suicide of one of their own. When his ghostly image appears on their computer screens, something far more horrifying is unleashed. The terror mounts as more deaths and disappearances occur. Kurosawa s Pulse is a psychologically unsettling tale, which effects will endure long after the chills have subsided. Inspiration for the American Remake, Pulse.
Sick Nurses In a neglected hospital, seven young nurses and a respected doctor have been selling body parts of dead patients on the black market. When one of the nurses falls in love with the doctor, she urges them all to get out of the scam. Threatening to go to the police, she is viciously murdered and dies uttering a vengeful curse. Seven days later her tormented soul, longing to find its love, returns. Preying on each of the women s obsessions and weaknesses, she exacts her horrifying revenge.