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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Impulse (1974) Blu-ray Review



Grindhouse Releasing

Blu-ray Release: March 12, 2024

Video: 1.85:1/1080p/Color and B&W

Audio: English and French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono

Subtitles: English SDH

Run Time: 87:05

Director: William Grefé


Matt Stone (William Shatner) is a deranged gigolo who preys on rich women, unable to control his murderous psychosexual urges. (From Grindhouse Releasing’s official synopsis)


A masculine counterpart to the more popular Black Widow character type, the Killer Gigolo has its roots in classic folklore, most famously the French tale Bluebeard (first published in Charles Perrault’s Histoires ou contes du temps passé in 1697). Bluebeard types remained popular in literature and filmmaking throughout the centuries, changing as the audience's tastes developed and real-world crimes became common knowledge. Likely due to an increased awareness and interest in drifter serial killers, as well as the seismic impact of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), the period between the late-’60s and early-‘80s were a prolific time for Killer Gigolos, who appeared throughout American psychosexual thrillers and Italian/Spanish gialli. One of the more manic and unexpectedly weird entries in this particular lottery was William Grefé’s Impulse (filmed in 1972, released in 1974), starring a struggling TV actor and the future (credited) author of the TekWar series of novels, William Shatner.



Impulse ultimately owes a lot more to Psycho than Bluebeard – from its killer’s mother-based initial trauma to his regressive behaviors and means of sinking a car to get rid of a body – but does set it apart from other trashy, contemporary Psycho riffs from the period, like Marc B. Ray’s Scream Bloody Murder (1973) or Robert J. Emery’s My Brother Has Bad Dreams (aka: Scream Bloody Murder, but not to be confused with the previous film, 1972), by making its killer a gigolo type, instead of a loser who most women would rightfully avoid (I’m not including Norman Bates in this equation). Hiring Shatner probably qualifies as stunt casting, even in 1972, but guarantees a unique level of greasy sex appeal. Combine that with his patented hyperbolic acting style and you have a perfect slimeball psycho-killer. Giving him a dead-father-obsessed plucky little girl (Kim Nicholas) as a nemesis is an especially strange touch that only magnifies the uncanniness of his performance.


Shatner was arguably a household name during the ‘60s and ‘70s, thanks to the lasting cult impact of Star Trek and guest roles on multiple popular shows, such as Twilight Zone, Ironside, Gunsmoke, Mission Impossible, Columbo, and so on. He eventually headlined five seasons of cop drama T.J. Hooker (1982-’86), but his pre-Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) film career was famously almost exclusively B-movies. Thanks to his enduring pop culture footprint, most of these films have garnered cult followings, including Roger Corman’s klan melodrama The Intruder (1962), Leslie Stevens’ Esperanto language horror film Incubus (1966), José Briz Méndez’ Spanish-shot spaghetti western White Comanche (1968), in which Shatner plays twins, Steve Carver’s Corman-produced Bonnie & Clyde cash-in Big Bad Mama (1974), Robert Fuest’s satanic panic effects spectacular The Devil’s Rain (1975), and John "Bud" Cardos’ genuinely spooky eco-horror classic Kingdom of the Spiders (1977).



Besides his made-for-TV movies, Impulse is probably the least known, least seen film from this period, reputedly in part because Shatner himself hated it so much (something not supported by the extras on this very Blu-ray). It’s easy to understand why he might have been embarrassed by the final product – it’s a mean-spirited, scummy exploitation film – but any fan looking for a classically manic, Captain Kirk in The Enemy Within style performance need look no further. Shatner is matched with Strangers on a Train (1951) star Ruth Roman, hot off Ted Post’s impossibly weird psychothriller The Baby (1973), Hawaiian pro-wrestler and Goldfinger (1964) scene-stealer Harold Sakata, and Al Adamson favorite Jennifer Bishop, all of whom maintain a surprising level of dignity, all things considered.


Despite ties to reputable television, Grefé was something of a trash contemporary with Adamson, Herschel Gordon Lewis, and Ted V. Mikels, though not as prolific and not as zeroed-in to any specific genre. He worked out of Florida making car racing movies The Checkered Flag (1963) and Racing Fever (1964), bikersploitation cheapie Wild Rebels (1967), snake-based Willard rip-off Stanley (1972), psychedelic hagsploitation bummer The Naked Zoo (1970), starring a likely Alzheimer's-addled Rita Hayworth, and weirdo horror film Death Curse of Tartu (1966). Shortly after Impulse, he directed the first American-made Jaws (1975) cash-in, Mako: The Jaws of Death (1976), though, once again, Willard seems to have been a bigger influence. Impulse is one of his more professional-looking features, despite some awkward editing and blocking, and tends to overcome Killing Kind (1973, directed by Curtis Harrington) scribe Tony Crechales’ tepid script and its tight budget with creative handheld camerawork.  



Video

Impulse was released with a hideously illustrated cover on VHS by MCA under the IVE imprint, then released on cheap, grey market DVDs from various companies, including Hollywood Entertainment, Braun Media, and Tango Entertainment. I assume they’re all VHS quality, but I can’t know for sure without seeing them. None of that really matters now that Grindhouse Releasing is on the case. This Blu-ray debut begins with the following title card:


Sadly, the negative for Impulse was destroyed many years ago. The presentation which you are about to see was mastered in 4K from the best existing element, a rare archival 35mm release print. The print was faded and damaged, but has been restored to the best of our ability.

Keeping those limitations in mind, this 1080p, 1.85:1 disc is a typically fantastic release and, as is often the case with Grindhouse’s HD releases, the transfer acts as a good digital home video representation of a gritty theatrical projection. It’s just a bit grittier than usual. Grain levels, detail, and textures all appear accurate for type and even the crushy qualities of the blacks and shadows tend to serve the film, aside from the occasional scenes where everything is so dark that it’s hard to tell what’s going on. Given cinematographer Edmund Gibson’s (note that during the commentary, Grefé also seems to refer to editor Julio Chavez as cinematographer) rough ‘n tumble camerawork during violent scenes and use of natural or naturalistic lighting, I’m not sure that the indiscernible shots were ever discernible. The colors do have a desaturated quality and neutral hues, particularly skin tones, have a pinkish quality, which is a common sign that the cyan and yellow levels have faded with age. Actual print damage is minimal (mostly thin, greenish vertical lines and chunky little upticks in grain) and you have to squint to find obvious compression artifacts. 



Audio

Impulse is presented with English and French audio options, both in their original mono and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. Based on the limitations of the video and the fact that a lot of the dialogue was recorded on-location with quite a bit of background noise, the English audio is especially clear and consistent. Environmental effects (including some very persistent birds) are also consistent and, along with the dialogue, avoid major muffling or crackling issues. There is no credited composer, just a musical director (Lewis Perles), and there’s certainly a lot of diegetic music from radios and location sequences, so I suppose that means it’s all library music. 



Extras

Disc 1

  • Commentary with director William Grefé – In this newly recorded track, the director shares a litany of behind-the-scenes anecdotes and discusses working with the cast & crew (many of whom he worked with on multiple features), coincidentally running into Shatner at the Miami airport and pitching him the film, changes made to the script over time, various time and money-saving tricks (he ended up getting lots of sets and set pieces for free), and shooting on location in Tampa.

  • The Making of Impulse (14:27, HD) – This featurette, which combines new and cataloged interviews with Grefé, Shatner (briefly), sound designer Henri Lopez, actor/make-up artist Doug Hobart, and Basket Case director/grindhouse expert Frank Henenlotter, effectively consolidates everything the director covers in the commentary, alongside some additional details on financing and release.

  • Shatner Saves Sakata (1:45, HD) – This silent 16mm footage of a near-fatal accident on set includes optional commentary with Grefé and a separate track featuring William Shatner.

  • 40th Anniversary Screening (27:10, SD) – Footage from a Nov. 7, 2015 screening at the Tampa Theater where Grefé took questions from the audience and host Joel Wyncoop.

  • Two trailers

  • Easter egg: Tina's Impulse (1:56, HD) – A surrealistic tribute short by Jacques Boyreau. 

  • Easter egg: Prolapse live 1994 (5:45, SD) – The band performs a song inspired by and sampling dialogue from the film.

  • Easter egg: Grefé recalls being offered a half-ownership investment in Deep Throat (2:19, HD)



Bonus Movies

  • The Devil's Sisters (1966; 84:15, SD) – Once thought lost, this supposedly true crime tale of human trafficking south of the border falls under the ‘roughie’ umbrella. Though the genre lasted well into the hardcore era, roughies were typically borderline softcore movies made when nudity was still forbidden in most countries, so they replaced sex with abusive violence and implied rape. They’re generally pretty tasteless and mean-spirited, but The Devil’s Sisters is such a melodramatic, stagey, stiffly-acted, and old-fashioned (feels more 1955 than 1966) B-movie that it’s hard to be offended. It’s goofy and sensationalistic, but deserves credit for its almost neorealist black & white photography and Al Jacobs’ score, which consists exclusively of a single flamenco guitar. The last reel actually was lost, so Grefé shows up to walk us through some stills and storyboards.

    • Commentary with director William Grefé – This track was recorded in 2012 for Ballyhoo Motion Pictures’ inaugural DVD release.

    • The Devil's Sisters Resurrected (2:42, SD) – A brief introduction from Grefé, also from the Ballyhoo DVD.

    • The Devil's Sisters Revisited (9:21, SD) – An interview with Grefé, also taken from Ballyhoo’s DVD, covering the making of the film.

    • Bill Grefé and The Devil's Sisters (1:20, HD) – A short interview recorded exclusively for this release.

    • Sisters of the Devil 1968 reissue radio spot

    • Photo gallery

  • The Godmothers (1973; 77:38, SD) – The second bonus Grefé movie is a subpar, family-friendly, cross-dressing mafia spoof featuring Mickey Rooney, Billy Barty, and Jerry Lester. It feels like a particularly un-funny variety show skit dragged out into feature length. I have to admit I’m struggling to find anything nice to say, but it’s good that Grindhouse has included it, because this particular film appears to have never been released on North American home video, DVD, VHS, or otherwise.

    • New introduction by Grefé (3:55, HD) – The director recalls working with Rooney, who kept rewriting jokes, to the point that they were shooting without a script, and shares a story about John Barrymore.



Disc 2

  • Between the Treks: Shatner in the 1970s (26:26, HD) – A new interview with author/filmmaker C. Courtney Joyner, who briefly talks about William Shatner’s early television and film appearances before digging into his post-Star Trek television series, pre-Star Trek: The Motion Picture career and exploring how his performance style changed over that time. Joyner’s discussion is supported by archival interviews with Pray for the Wildcats (1974) director Robert Michael Lewis and Kingdom of the Spiders director John “Bud” Cardos, and plenty of trailer footage, film clips, and stills/poster art.

  • Kingdom of the Shatner (64:37, HD) – Footage from a Beyond Fest Shatner-thon event in Santa Monica on Oct. 9, 2022, which included a screening of Impulse and post-show Q&A with the actor himself, who shares his hazy memories of the film, Kingdom of the Spiders, and Devil’s Rain.

  • The Corpse Speaks (33:58, HD) – Actor and make-up artist Doug Hobart, who plays a corpse (uncredited), is interviewed by Grefé, who quizzes his friend on their working relationship and ongoing friendship.

  • Bill Grefé is Furious (77:46, HD) – An extended, all-purpose, and largely spontaneous 2024 interview with the director, who talks about his larger career, movie-to-movie, professional friendships with other exploitation filmmakers, like H.G. Lewis and producer David F. Friedman, working with Rita Hayworth and Shatner, passing on Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the nature of mercenary low-budget filmmaking over the decades.

  • Bill's Miami Stories (24:45, HD) – Grefé explores the growth and development of Miami, where he was born and grew up.

  • Bill's Sea Stories (43:17, HD) – Grefé shares more of his life story.  

  • 2011 Bill Grefé interview by Andy Lalino (12:34, SD)

  • TV news feature about Grefé’s second unit work on Guy Hamilton’s Live and Let Die (1973)  (2:39, SD)

  • Legend Award (9:25, SD) – Footage produced for a sort of lifetime achievement award Grefé got for his work in Floridian cinema and television (briefly hosted by Bruce Campbell).

  • Bill Grefé's filmmaking seminars – Shot in 2012, this is a selection of three live seminars the director held on the subject of independent filmmaking. These are a major investment with runtimes in excess of most of Grefé's feature-length films, but in the spirit of Grindhouse’s ‘filmmaker in a box’ approach to special features:

    • Session 1 (125:05, SD)

    • Session 2 (103:07, SD)

    • Session 3 (80:23, SD)

  • Industrial and advertising shorts by Grefé

    • Bacardi: Shatner (1978, 19:32, SD) – A tourism board promo for the Bacardi plant featuring Shatner.

    • F.A.M.E. with William Shatner (1987, 12:09, SD) – A promo for Grefé's proposed First Artists Media Dealers, Ltd. (F.A.M.E.) production, also featuring Shatner.

    • Investing in Movies with Lauren Bacall (unknown, 23:01, SD) – Like the title indicates, this short has Bacall touting the value of investing in movies.

  • Recent William Grefé short films:

    • Thumbs (2019, 6:09, HD) – A strange older man bothers a young woman texting on a park picnic table, then cuts off her thumb. 

    • Iceman (4:56, SD) – A killer dissects a dead body in an industrial freezer while a young captive asks him questions. This is almost certainly a promo meant to finance a feature.

    • A Cask of Amontillado (2013, 9:22, SD) – After yammering about the making of Stanley, Grefé argues with Island of the Cannibal Death Gods (2011) actor Steven Brack in this silly version of the Poe story.

    • Underwood (2019, 21:09, HD) – Grefé guest stars as a curmudgeonly and curious convenience store clerk in clips from this indie ghost story from writer/director John McLoughlin.

  • Still galleries – Production stills, press, Drive-in Delirium newspaper ads, video releases, Bill Grefé photos, revival, and cover art by Dave Lebow.

  • Grindhouse Releasing Prevues – Peter S. Traynor’s Death Game (1977), Christina Hornisher’s Hollywood 90028 (1973), S. F. Brownrigg’s Scum of the Earth (1974), Love is Deep Inside (unknown), Stuart E. McGowan’s Ice House (aka: The Passion Pit, 1969), Ralph De Vito’s Family Enforcer (aka: The Death Collector, 1976), Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980), Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (1981), Duke Mitchell’s Massacre Mafia Style (1974) and Gone with the Pope (2009), Juan Piquer Simón’s Pieces (1982), Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (aka: Seven Doors of Death, 1981), Fulci’s Cat in the Brain (aka: Nightmare Concert, 1990), Amos Sefer’s An American Hippie in Israel (1972), Hartford-Davis’ Corruption (1968), Frank Perry’s The Swimmer (1968), Sergio Sollima’s The Big Gundown (1968), David E. Durston’s I Drink Your Blood (1970), Timothy Galfas’ Bogard (aka: Black Fist, 1975), and Lenzi’s The Tough Ones (aka: Rome Armed to the Teeth, 1976).

  • Easter egg: Swamp Man (18:14, HD) – Grefé’s recollections of his work as second unit director on I Eat Your Skin. This was filmed for use with Grindhouse’s I Drink Your Blood Blu-ray.

  • Easter egg: William Shatner's Full Moon Fright Night (5:00, HD) – C. Courtney Joyner recalls writing Shatner's hosting segments for the Full Moon/Sci-Fi Network series.

  • Easter egg: Interview outtake and unused reaction shots from Grefé and actor Doug Hobart (1:13, HD)

  • Easter egg: Sped-up footage of (I assume) Dave Lebow painting Shatner's face for the card included in the Blu-ray case (2:29, HD)

  • Easter Egg: 22 still covers from screenwriter Tony Crechales’ Point of Terror series of books.


The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.

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