‘Handling the Undead’ Sundance Review – A Haunting Meditation on Grief

Only three years before he was trapped in Arizona by a kingdom of tarantulas and a mere five years before he played James T. Kirk in Star Trek‘s first motion picture, William Shatner starred in the low budget thriller Impulse. And thanks to the team at Grindhouse Releasing, the world can finally witness another Shatner joint in all its restored 4k glory.

So does good ole’ Bill play the hero in this one? Uh no, not in the least. We get full on evil demented Shatner in the flesh. He portrays Matt Stone (not to be confused with the talented South Park creator), who is just your typical thumb-sucking, mini cigar chain-smoking, conniving, scheming faux financial investor. His prey are vulnerable and lonely women, who he exploits for their money with delusional promises of fortune, love and monogamous commitment. He’s a sociopath, a psychopath…all kinds of ‘paths. Yet, he is suave and debonair, with a comb-over hairdo that is truly on point. And his wardrobe almost overshadows the actor himself–with a selection of loud and wildly designed leisure suits and a hat that could only be worn in the ‘70s.

After an extended black and white flashback sequence, we are treated to a most excellent belly dancing opening credits sequence that sets the stage of how much of a creep Stone truly is. He hooks up with a belly dancer, but he is caught in the act fraternizing by his current mark. When she chastises him for his scandalous ways on a ride the next day, Stone strangles her and disposes of her body by pushing her and the car into a large body of water. We are treated to a killer POV shot of the car hitting the water and quickly flooding, a spectacle for such a lower budget affair.

Matt finds his next target, the widowed Ann (Jennifer Bishop), who instantly falls for his charm. However, his play is compromised thanks to a chance meeting with her emotionally-stunted daughter Tina (Kim Nicholas) when he runs over a dog and gives her major stranger danger vibes from the get-go. Tina’s fears manifest once she becomes a witness in Stone reconnecting with his partner in crime and old cellmate, Karate Pete (Harold Sakata), in what is an unsettling reunion. Stone unsuccessfully tried to ditch Pete, but Pete has been watching Stone make his moves on Ann from the shadows, and now wants his cut of the action. And the only cut Stone wants to give Pete is a permanent severance for their relationship.

Tina attempts to warn anyone about Stone who will listen to her, including Ann’s wealthy friend Julia (Ruth Roman), who is quite fond of Stone. But she is even more loyal to Ann and starts to notice some red flags of her own. And things just snowball from there.

Director William Grefé definitely had a knack for putting out these types of gritty films during the ‘70s, like 1972’s snakefest Stanley and his follow up to this film, Mako: The Jaws of Death in 1976. The latter completely flips the script on the shark film in the peak Jaws craze era. So Grefé has proven to be one who is not afraid to do something different and go against the grain.

For Impulse, he takes Tony Crechales’ sinister script and leans into the bizarre with Shatner hamming it up and chewing scenery as only he can.

Make no mistake about it, this is not a great film. At least from a technical standpoint, particularly in the editing throughout the first act. There are quite a few unintentionally funny and memorable scenes, making it a must watch for true lovers of bad cinema. For starters, you will never view an automatic car wash in the same way ever again. There is also a scene where Julia receives an obscene phone call, not from Stone, that comes out of nowhere and has absolutely zero payoff. Meanwhile, Stone’s motivation to become a murderer makes absolutely no sense, as he acts in self defense when he makes his first kill as a child. And Karate Pete (such a great character name!) rides around in a mobile home with a handmade sign on it that simply reads “Karate Pete” in what seems to be a half-hearted hustle for providing martial arts lessons, maybe? The world will never know for sure.

And the William Shatner completists of the world will not be disappointed seeking this out because this is pure heroin Shatner! He goes from suave to socio to completely insane and doesn’t hold back, even for Shatner performance standards. In fact, this actually might be his greatest non-Kirk performance, although many would say his turn in The Intruder holds that acclaim. But watch the scene in this one where he body shames some poor woman for no reason at all, declaring her to be made into dog food of all things, and you just might change your mind.

Shatner is not the only recognizable face that should be noted. Among his other acting credits, Harold Sakata is a former professional wrestling champion and might be most famously known as Oddjob, Goldfinger’s bladed hat-throwing main henchman in the 007 flick Goldfinger. So if you ever wondered how James Tiberius Kirk of The U.S.S. Enterprise would fare in a battle with an iconic James Bond villain, you will finally get your wish. The rest of the cast are actually not that bad, especially Ruth Roman, who is very convincing in her role. Even Shatner’s wife at-the-time, Marcy Lafferty, has a small role as a saucy hotel clerk who delivers a pretty hilarious line.

How does Impulse look and sound? Grindhouse Releasing provided about as good a transfer as one can produce, considering the archival source elements available to them. And they definitely made the video more than very watchable. The audio is a little sketchy in a couple areas, but nothing that takes away from the overall viewing experience. All things said, this is very well done by their crew.

So how is one able to watch this? Well as of the writing of this article, this two-disc special collector’s edition is out of print. Whether or not Grindhouse Releasing will release more copies is unknown. Considering the work they put into it and the result they delivered, we hope they do. Or maybe it will pop-up on a streaming service. We are looking at you, Midnight Pulp!

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