Professional gigolo and part time con artist Matt Stone sets his larcenous sights on a flirtatious dowager and a widowed single mom. But his attempts to con both women are complicated by the widow’s meddling twelve-year-old daughter. To avoid capture Matt is forced to kill everyone who gets in his way.
IMPULSE (1974) could be considered a double bill- it’s directed by Florida indie director Bill Grefe and stars the legendary Bill Shatner. Let me preface this review by making two confessions. First, I’m a big fan of regional filmmakers and I’ve pointed to Florida’s William Grefe as a shining example in past reviews. More importantly I’m a lifelong Shatner-phile. Sure his Star Trek performances could be over the top, but Shatner instinctively knew that Captain Kirk was a modern mythological character, equal parts Odysseus and Horatio Hornblower. Kirk was television’s original heroic narcissist and Shatner nailed him perfectly. I also loved him in Corman’s The Intruder (1962) and admire his willingness to get down and dirty with his arachnid co-stars in 1972’s Kingdom of the Spiders. The guy’s fearless.
Director William Grefe was always a solid low budget filmmaker who even brought a quirky charm to his 1972 Willard rip-off Stanley. But despite directing twenty-plus films he was never what you’d call a strong actor’s director- something that Shatner desperately needs. Nicolas Meyer (Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, 1982) admitted to shooting endless takes of Shatner, ebbing away at his manic energy until he got a more restrained performance. Unfortunately low budget filmmaker’s like Grefe don’t have that luxury and Impulse shows what happens when nobody dials Shatner down. But that’s what also makes Impulse so much fun- every fingernail biting, eye bulging, sweat soaked moment is cinema gold. Get ready fans, because this one’s Shatner-palooza!
Shatner’s at his smarmiest as the womanizing Matt Stone- a gigolo grifter that specializes in swindling and murdering widows. From the moment he steps on screen it’s clear that no Floridian woman is immune to his sweaty charms. Another plus factor is Shatner’s wardrobe, proudly provided by Maas Brothers of Florida. It’s a shining example of seventies “Leisure Suit Larry” styling- the patterns are loud, the collars are huge and the fabric is one hundred percent manmade. He also changes shirts in every scene, which makes me suspect they let him keep his wardrobe. His first sugar momma/victim scornfully reminds him “I even paid for those shirts you wear,” making her an enabler that deserves to die. It’s frightening to think that his ensembles still exist because polyester has the half-life of plutonium.
Shatner isn’t the only familiar face. Veteran actress Ruth Roman (Strangers On a Train, 1951) plays the thrice-widowed and overly moneyed Julia Marstow. It’s the kind of semi-broad character role she specialized in and she lends the film some class. William Grefe was always savvy enough to cast veteran actors like Alex Rocco in Stanley (1972), Richard Jaeckel in Mako: The Jaws of Death (1976) and Mickey Rooney in The Godmothers (1975). Usually it works, but Shatner was probably too much for him to handle on a fifteen day shooting schedule.
Among the less familiar faces we have child actress Kim Nicolas as Tina Moy, our “tween” heroine. Her character has an obsession with her father’s grave, a creepy fixation on Shatner and a tumultuous relationship with her mother. The role’s really too complex for an inexperienced actress but Nicolas gives it her best shot. It’s unintentionally funny that everyone (including her own mother!) hates poor little Tina. You could make a drinking game based on all the times people verbally abuse or slap her around… of course doing that makes you a horrible person, but don’t let it stop you. Ms Nicolas appeared in a smattering of Florida based productions, including 1972’s legendary Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny– a film that was forcibly screened to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay until it was banned by The United Nations. It’s not good bad- it’s evil.
Jennifer Bishop plays Tina’s neglectful, gullible mom. She racked up a prodigious exploitation resume including annual appearances in Al Adamson gems like Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969) Horror of the Blood Monsters (1970) and The Female Bunch (1971). She was had a three year run as a regular on Hee Haw (1969-1971) so if you have pubescent memories of a country gal in skintight Daisy Duke shorts and an off the shoulder polka dot top… that’s Jennifer!
Karate Pete is played by Harold Sakata, best remembered as 007’s silent nemesis Odd Job in Goldfinger (1964). He gives a solid performance, lending a nice seedy tone to his dialogue. In Goldfinger Sakata was stuffed into to a chauffer’s uniform, but in Impulse we see this former weightlifter’s massive set of guns- the guy could bench press a double wide trailer! His battle against a hangman’s noose and an automated car wash is the visual highpoint.
Grefe does all he can with Tony Crechales’ muddled screenplay. As a director he really comes alive during the murder scenes, spicing things up with some inventive camera shots. Between murders he’s just content to let Shatner be… SHATNER. Grefe was profiled in Daniel Griffith’s entertaining documentary They Came From the Swamp: The Films of William Grefe. He’s quite a fascinating character.
To summarize Impulse is really Shatner’s show from frame one through the end credits. With nobody to say stop he goes for it 120% in every scene, treating us to a histrionic roller coaster ride that’s well worth watching.