Beyond the early 60’s one two punch of Sting of Death and Death Curse of Tartu, my favorite Bill Grefe films have always been his mid 70’s diptych of Mako, Jaws of Death and the amazing William Shatner tour de force Impulse.
Hailing from if not inaugurating what is hands down the most entertaining idyll in the career of the once and future James Tiberius Kirk, Impulse marked the kickoff point for Canada’s favorite son’s true entree into cult history, a period wherein he’d appear in quirky walk on roles in such fare as the Six Million Dollar Man, Kung Fu and Police Woman while jumping headfirst into drive in horror oddities such as Kingdom of the Spiders, Horror at 37,000 Feet, The Devil’s Rain, the Kidnapping of the President and Visiting Hours.
While he’d previously made inroads into the independent cult film arena with two amazing early 60’s efforts (namely the Roger Corman produced Shame (aka I Hate Your Guts!) and the all-Esperanto occult oddity Incubus) and would return to a more mainstream eye with the resurgent Star Trek film series and 80’s television cheesefest T.J. Hooker, this is without a doubt the era the man will be remembered for by those not sporting a Federation badge or Starfleet Insignia on their lapel, and similarly my longstanding personal favorite time in the man’s long running career.
In addition to Shatner and Al Adamson regular Jennifer Bishop (Horror of the Blood Monsters, Blood of Dracula’s Castle and The Female Bunch as well as Grefe’s own Mako Jaws of Death) Grefe pulls in a cast of exploitation-worthy notables, inclusive of Herschell Gordon Lewis/Harry Kerwin regular Bill Kerwin, Harold “Oddjob” Sakata (who is even billed as such in the credits here!) and fading Hollywood starlet Ruth Roman, who’d gone from Strangers on a Train to such fare as The Baby and Day of the Animals over the 20 years intervening. Their collective presence alone would have made the film, script be damned. But in Grefe’s ever capable hands? Pure cheesetastic drive in entertainment awaits…
Shatner is Matthew Stone, a slick 1970’s style gigolo who makes his way through life living off rich widows and sporting one painfully hilarious (but at the time quite slick and stylish!) ensemble after another. Unfortunately, Stone is also a serial killer, scarred by a childhood trauma wherein he was forced to kill an amorously drunken suitor with (of all things) a samurai sword in a fairly over the top Oedipal scene.
Ignoring all semblance of modern law, Stone allows himself to be coerced into giving a ride to a particularly obnoxious child (Kim Nicholas, whose entire career appears to consist of this film and playing a hostage in the boring 70’s political/terrorist thriller Black Sunday – one can only hope she was killed off early!) who then proceeds to berate him for smoking and distract him into hitting a stray dog (which she subsequently badgers him about vociferously!). Rather coincidentally, and despite hitting on her wacky older friend (Ruth Roman), the next rich widow he manages to hook up with is this absurd little brat’s mother (Jennifer Bishop), and then the fun really begins.
Apparently Stone and the hilariously named “Karate Pete” (Harold Sakata) are somehow “business partners”, though the exact nature of their relationship is never spelled out. My best guess is that they did some time in stir together, as Sakata references his recent spell in the pokey and Stone seems comfortable enough with him to relate the details of his murder of his last widow/keeper, apropos of nothing…
Anyway, Sakata needs money – he’s getting old and too worn out to compete anymore, and he expects Stone to be his meal ticket. Well, he sure did just unload enough blackmail material on the guy, so why the hell not? He tells Stone to meet him at another rendezvous point with the money later that evening, so Stone (and an inexplicably hiding in the back seat Nicholas) head down to the Eldorado Car Wash, where Sakata exits his huge Winnebago (prominently displaying a dropcloth with his nomme du guerre hanging off its side) to wait in front of the car wash entrance for no apparent reason…allowing Stone to drop a noose over his head, Roadrunner cartoon style and box the man while he hangs there. Sakata cuts himself loose and runs through the still operating car wash (guess they leave ’em running 24/7 down in Florida) until ol’ Matt runs him down and stuffs his corpse in the trunk. Of course, the stupid kid sneaks out of the car in full line of sight, leading to an inept chase wherein Shatner somehow manages to lose her.
Naturally, things go right back to normal after this, with Stone still putting the moves on mom and our favorite spy going on pleasant Sunday drives with them in the back seat like any other suburban family, before the kid finally starts hinting rather broadly at what she saw. In true Hitchcockian style, no one will believe her…probably because she’s so frigging obnoxious! Stone drives along stalking the kid on her way to school and trying to coerce her into the car like those perverts who put kids on the back of milk cartons, but hey, it’s just another day in the life of this ersatz family, so no harm, no foul. But we’re only a few scenes away from the denouement, where the widow realizes her demon offspring may have actually been telling the truth…
Let’s take a leaf from Richard Nixon and make one thing perfectly clear: if you get a kick out of Shatner, if you enjoy the films of “Wild” Bill Grefe, or if you’re an aficionado of cult film, you really can’t go wrong with Impulse. Filled with loud fashions, exploitation cinema standbys, ridiculous lines and intense over- (and under-) acting, this is something of a holy grail among party films: you know, the kind where you bring a few likeminded friends over, crack out the booze and get prepared to get loud and silly.
Previously available in a blurry, poorly interlaced and smeary VHS transfer plagued by prominent vertical lines in 2005 by budget/grey market label Hollywood Entertainment, Reality’s Edge follows their 2012 recovery of the long lost Devil’s Sisters with a somewhat improved if still surprisingly soft upgrade.
Colors still blur, the picture is PAL conversion-level hazy (with the telltale framerate choppiness such transfers are prone to) and this is ultimately miles away from the sort of hi-def transfers connoisseurs of cult film have become accustomed to in the age of Blu-ray. Even so, given some comparatively stronger focus and relatively bolder color on display, this fairly flawed transfer still represents something of an improvement over the eye chart-begging double vision the film had previously been subjected to. In other words, it’s decidedly imperfect, but even on image quality alone, this is arguably the version to go with.
Of more clear cut value are the numerous extras provided herein (Hollywood Entertainment’s release came in a bare bones film-only budget edition), inclusive of the film’s trailer, a quick introduction by Grefe himself, actual footage of an incident behind the scenes involving Shatner, Sakata and a near hanging we’d discussed in depth during our interview, a 5 minute WTBS piece on Grefe and his second unit involvement on the Roger Moore Bond film Live and Let Die (also discussed in depth during our chat) with Barbara Walters and 10 minutes of footage produced for the Florida Film Legend awards involving a pre-taped Bruce Campbell introducing Grefe (and daughter Melanie) quickly running through several of his career highlights as preface to presentation of the award.
Most surprisingly, viewers are also treated to a rare and quite entertaining half hour in house marketing ad for Bacardi rum featuring Shatner alongside his Impulse costar Jennifer Bishop which Bill had graciously sent me a copy of after our career length discussion and which had been a treasured keepsake since. More of a Something Weird style cinematic cultural obscurity than an ad proper, fans of either Grefe or The Shat should be absolutely delighted by its inclusion here.
In a similar vein comes a 10 minute pitch starring both Shatner and Grefe for the latter’s FAME (First Artists Media Entertainment), a proposed independent film investment venture, though this is more of a straight up corporate boardroom video for use at a sales meeting than the highly entertaining, plotted mini-film of the Bacardi promo film. Taken all in all, it’s a rather nice mix of Grefe-produced and related ephemera from and surrounding the era of Impulse, and taken with a relative (if admittedly still rather imperfect) upgrade of transfer, leaves Reality’s Edge’s release of Impulse a no brainer for the Grefe devotee.