8/12/13

You Don't Know Shat !?! : Impulse (1974)

Through a lifetime of Shatner fandom and four years of running the You Don't Know Shat !?! feature in honor of The Once and Future Kirk's birthday, I felt like I had seen every wild and wacky thing that William could throw at me. I've seen him fight with Andy Griffith, play paintball, teach kids about sex, and fight invading spiders, but I don't think I've ever seen William Shatner quite so gloriously in the throes of doing that thing, which can only be described as Shatner-ing, all over today's film. Like many stars of the 60s whose fame had waned, Shatner took on a great many TV film roles to provide work, and I've covered a number of those over the years. What I didn't know is that he ever starred in a grindhouse style picture from the director of Stanley, The Hooked Generation, and Mako: The Jaws of Death. So join me as William Shatner gives in to his impulse to be involved in a strange plot, his impulse to overact in an astounding way, and his Impulse to murder. 


When Matt Stone (William Shatner) was but a lad, he used a katana on a man who was attempting to rape his mother. Now all grown up in the swinging Seventies, Matt is a grifter who floats from one rich woman to another. In fact, rich or poor, women fall into Matt's arms, and when his current paramour sees him canoodling with a belly dancer, she decides to call it quits. He doesn't take it kindly and strangles her to death in a car seemingly unaware of his actions until his rage subsides. This doesn't top him from rolling her body into the lake along with the car. Matt moves on with his life and shop girl Ann (Jennifer Bishop) catches his eye. Ann is the mother of Tina (Kim Nicholas), a mischievous  kid in a Holly Hobbie dress, who Matt had nearly ran over earlier that day before giving her ride to the graveyard. As Ann and Matt begin a fling, Tina becomes increasingly suspicious of his motives, but Matt's the kind of guy that just can't control his impulses, to smoke, to drink, to make love, and to kill. 

No synopsis, despite levels of detail and description, metaphors, or even charts and graphs, can really could capture the majesty of William Shatner playing a demented psychopath in Impulse. Having seen well over half of Shatner’s filmography, I really thought I had seen him at his melodramatic, loose best, but, boy, was I ever mistaken. Impulse shows The Shat in rare form attempting to squeeze every bit of emotion out of every scene he does, and in doing so pulls the whole movie out of reality and into Shatner-World (Which is, I think, where all those TekWorld novels were set.) In what has to be one of the most classic Shatner moments ever, after his character Matt kills off his first girlfriend, a hard cut takes us to the exterior of the car where his overreaction can only be described as the perfect example of going so far over the top that it comes back around again. Shatner, whose character shares a moniker with a South Park creator, continues on this trend throughout the entire film. There were several silent character moments with Shatner pacing or thinking that I could not help but think were there simply for The Shat to do his thing. If you love him, he is relentlessly fun to watch in Impulse, but if you're not a fan of his particular brand of acting, then William did not use Impulse to turn you around.  

The Razzies have named Impulse one of the 100 Most Enjoyable Bad Movies to Watch, and I have to agree with them. As far as low grade 70s trash goes, you could certainly do worse. Impulse has a similar feeling to a Charles Pierce or William Girdler feature, but the man in the big chair was William Grefe, director of Stanley and The Hooked Generation among others. I was hoping to find out a little biographical information about Grefe, but, despite having a slick looking website (which omits Impulse from his "Past Films" section) there is no background information to be found. Like Pierce and Girdler, Grefe created a dozen or so additions to the cult film catalog before fading out of the business. While I'm not the biggest fan of Stanley, Impulse made me interested to delve further into his filmography. I would especially like to see The Devil's Sisters, his recently unearthed film which focused on human trafficking and prostitution in Mexico during the late fifties. So it seems that Grefe had some high minded ideas, but what he was trying to get across with Impulse is anyone's guess. 

Kim Nicholas, the child actress who played Tina, scored roles in films such as Black Sunday (1977) and Limbo (1972) before, I assume, hitting an awkward adolescent stage and quitting the business. In Impulse, she brings to mind visions of The Bad Seed, a film that somewhat comes to mind anytime a child and murder is involved, and it's a shame that there wasn't a grind house remake of that film as Nicholas would have been an excellent choice. Unfortunately, apart from Nicholas'  bratty, death obsessed child and Shatner's crazy, barely restrained murderer, the rest of the cast seems to be going through the motions. Jennifer Bishop's mom character comes off as a terrible parent and poor judge of character. For these reasons, and because the performance was lacking, the character doesn't engender any empathy, and I felt more emotion for her busybody best friend Julia. played by Ruth Roman (Strangers on a Train, Go Ask Alice). I almost forgot to mention that Harold "Oddjob" Sakata shows up here as well, and his character's ending is only slightly less glamorous than being electrocuted with one's own hat.

Impulse is not a great film, and despite the Razzie's praise, there are hundreds of enjoyably bad movies that are more enjoyably bad than this. However, for a fan of the acting style that can only be described as Shatner, this is the zenith, the peak, paradise. This is the kind of film that both makes you forgive Shatner for Star Trek V,  but also completely understand why he wanted giant rock creatures on the God planet. I mean reacting to God is one thing, but reacting to God and rock creatures, well, that's two things! For better or worse, there will never be another actor like William Shatner, and around the LBL, he is truly one of the pantheon of legends. If you don't know that, then you really don't know Shat!

Bugg Rating


Sparing no expense, I have embedded the whole film that someone else uploaded for your viewing pleasure. I'd highly recommend watching at least the first 10 minutes until your get to the car scene I mentioned earlier. 

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