One of the more, for lack of a better word, troubled J-horror adaptations to reach the screen is PULSE, based on Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s highly regarded chiller (a.k.a. KAIRO). And now that the film is locked in for an August 25 release (yes, kids, that marks yet another bump, from the previous Aug. 11 berth), director Jim Sonzero is opening up about his introduction to the project, its history of reshoots and ultimate PG-13 rating.
PULSE lists Wes Craven as a contributing screenwriter, even though the horror veteran was dismissed from the project and assigned to the ill-fated CURSED, and the script was deemed outdated and subsequently reworked by other writers and its new helmer. “He has a credit on it because of the appeal of his name, I guess,” Sonzero says. “At the time Craven was developing it, I was working on a few projects with the Weinsteins, including SHADOW MAN [based on the Dark Horse Comic] and DEADER [a script by Neal Marshall Stevens that was later turned into a HELLRAISER sequel]. Those didn’t happen, so Bob [Weinstein] was really into getting me on a project. PULSE came up because Wes was pulled off it to work on CURSED. They asked me if I was interested and I said yes, so I watched the original. I thought the pace of it was…off for American audiences. It’s a little slow. I mean, I loved it and I was patient, but I thought it could be goosed and made a little more energetic.”
Starring VERONICA MARS stunner Kristen Bell, Ian (LOST) Somerhalder and singer Christina Milian, PULSE homes in on society’s current overreliance on wi-fi technology and a malevolent force that decides to take advantage of its convenience. Earlier this year, Sonzero went back behind the camera during postproduction to lens a number of new scenes, including one that called for the wild-eyed, paranoid assistance of genre fave Brad Dourif, whose character didn’t previously exist in the film. “What happened was that because of the schedule, and the fact that Bob fast-tracked the movie, we went into production with a script that wasn’t quite together,” Sonzero explains. “My strategy was to shoot what was on the page as well as several additions to the storyline we could follow through on later. When you approach a film like this, a director has to have enough foresight to create as many options for himself as possible, so I created several things that weren’t in the script that we could just choose to expand on regarding the characters and plot. When we got done with the first screening, it needed some support. So we shot some additional scenes, tested it again—and it tested better, so we dialed in a couple more new scenes and got the numbers where we wanted them.”
“The testing process is always helpful, because it’s a disaster check and brings you around to seeing things you might not have seen before,” he continues. “What needs to be guarded in the process is how the studio chooses to interpret the incoming data from these screenings, because everyone has an agenda and people can be vague and push it in the direction they want it.”
As for PULSE’s PG-13 rating, Sonzero says that was always in the cards, although he “always pushed for an R; I don’t think horror films should be PG-13. The studio mandate was that we get it down to that, and the MPAA censored us in their own way.” Lost to the cutting room floor, and to be seen on a forthcoming “uncut” DVD edition, is a recreation of the Kurosawa film’s “tower fall” shot—at this writing, you can still see a snippet of it (pre-impact) in the TV spots. “Seriously, the MPAA should get an editing credit,” Sonzero continues. “The biggest problem was [the studio] wanted to get the VERONICA MARS audience into theaters; that was the bottom line. It was definitely hard to watch my film get its balls cut off, but the essence of the scenes are still there, and I was able to make it even scarier through the sound design.”
With PULSE behind him, Sonzero aims to reconnect with commercials directing (where he got his start) and decompress. In addition, he’s going to develop a big-screen adaptation of the John Shirley novel DEMONS, once again for the Weinstein Co.