Outposter Wrenage returns with a look at a forgotten movie, buried in a classic year for movies. Impulse. But first, he gives us a glimpse into his mind!
Shut Up Meg!
It’s interesting how often little coincidences come up when talking about movies. For example, Tilly is the name of a character in the upcoming Beauty and the Beast prequel. I happened to watch Meg Tilly in a movie the night before I read the post about the Beauty and the Beast prequel.
Obviously, this means Meg Tilly and I are destined to be soulmates. This will likely happen after time travel is invented, and we both meet in 1992. Meg will go to prom with me. I will buy us a matching set of necklaces where each one has a half-heart pendant. Every morning Meg will fit her necklace over her poofy hair, and I will let my necklace dangle over my Ocean Pacific t-shirt. All will envy our great love (even as I use Meg to get closer to her sister, Jennifer).
Until that day, I will send Meg my ear as my promise to her.
Or is that a bit much? Maybe a pinky is better. I have ten fingers and two ears, so sending a pinky shows commitment without coming on too strongly. Sending an ear says, “I like you so much, I’m giving you half of my ears!” Sending a pinky says, “I’m serious, but not psycho”.
Anyway, the Meg Tilly movie I watched was Impulse (1984).
Impulse was a box office loser, grossing $2.5 million on a $10 million budget. Impulse was released on September 28 and had no real competition that weekend. Amadeus came out two weeks earlier and movies like The Terminator and Nightmare on Elm Street were a month away. As for why no one saw Impulse, maybe everyone was still watching Ghostbusters, Temple of Doom, Gremlins, Star Trek III, The Karate Kid, The Last Starfighter, Revenge of the Nerds, Red Dawn and Sheena.
I can’t blame them. I’d be watching those movies, too. Man, the choices we had in movies back then were awesome! I didn’t even mention Romancing the Stone, Beverly Hills Cop, and plenty of others. Hollywood truly is dead. It’s a zombie at this point, lurching along on reflex and cocaine.
Despite the fact no one watched Impulse, it’s a quietly effective little thriller. Plot-wise, Impulse is basically The Crazies (take your pick on the original or remake), only a lot more subdued.
Fingers On The Impulse
Tim Matheson gets top billing in Impulse. Matheson has a sneaky good career. The dude worked with Clint Eastwood (Magnum Force), had an iconic turn in Animal House, got directed by Spielberg (1941), popped up in Fletch, and also starred in the decently wacky A Very Brady Sequel.
In addition, Matheson has 97,264 television credits. They go from the 1960s to the present. Matheson has been on Leave It To Beaver, My Three Sons, Space Ghost, Night Gallery, Bonanza, Kung Fu, Hawaii Five-O, St. Elsewhere and a plethora of others. Matheson has even sat in the director’s chair for TV, helming episodes of Criminal Minds and The Last Ship.
Matheson plays a big-city doctor in Impulse and displays no “Otter” traits. Rather, Matheson operates in every-man mode. Performance-wise, Matheson does fine, but he plays the smooth-talking, goofy guy so well that it is hard to set aside that baggage when he inhabits more serious roles.
Meg Tilly stars as the small-town girlfriend of the big-city doctor. Meg Tilly has an ethereal quality to her that is hard to nail down. Her sister, Jennifer, is definitely more bombshell. Meg reminds me of an edgy Julie Hagerty, perhaps?
I know Meg mostly from Psycho 2, which should be grouped with Aliens as an excellent sequel to a classic. Psycho 2 has a wonderful Dean Cundey look, a Jerry Goldsmith’s score, quirky Anthony Perkins, a Tom Holland script and is directed by Australian Hitchcock imitator, Richard Franklin, who also delivered the competent Roadgames.
The other Meg Tilly movie I’m most familiar with is Body Snatchers — Abel Ferrara’s take on Jack Finney’s classic book. I enjoy Meg’s where-you-gonna-go bit.
Bill Paxton shows up in Impulse. What can be said about Paxton? He is gone too soon. I don’t like even writing about the guy. Words put limits on the limitless concept that is Paxton.
Paxton plays the brother of Meg Tilly’s character. Paxton does not display his big personality in the film. Basically, Paxton in Impulse is like a gun with a silencer. You know the essence of Paxton is there, but no real bang exists in his performance.
It’s convenient that we mentioned Hitchcock earlier because Hume Cronyn is in Impulse. Cronyn worked with Hitchcock on Shadow of a Doubt and Lifeboat. Later in life, Cronyn had a nice little run on second tier-type movies: The World According To Garp, Brewster’s Millions, Cocoon, Batteries Not Included, Cocoon: The Return, and The Pelican Brief.
Cronyn’s role is that of a small-town doctor. Cronyn looks rough, smoking and drinking throughout the movie. I don’t know if Cronyn would be allowed in a movie today. Even rough-looking characters in today’s movies don’t look real-world rough. They look carefully constructed rough.
Cronyn definitely looks real-world rough in Impulse. He pretty much looks like he came to the set each morning from a hospice bed. Father Time isn’t afraid to punch below the belt.
John Carlen is the father of the Tilly and Paxton characters. Carlen has a recognizable face, but I was hard-pressed to remember anything I had seen him in without checking the Internet. Carlen has a pretty extensive TV credit list. I reckon I recognize him from his role on Cagney & Lacey. I never watched the show, but I can remember it being a thing.
Uh-oh…someone from Hollywood is reading this, aren’t they? We are shortly going to see a Cagney & Lacey reboot, aren’t we? (Edit: they tried to reboot it in 2018.) Then again, the concept creates a conundrum. Sure, Cagney and Lacey are strong female characters, but they also work for the police, who are evil, according to the latest woke polls.
I would worry about Hollywood coping with the cognitive dissonance this matter produces, but using the word cognitive implies that they are thinking to begin with…
Finally, recognizable character actor Peter Jason rounds out the main cast. Jason has been in a lot of classic movies: Rio Lobo, 48 Hrs., Prince of Darkness, They Live, The Hunt For Red October and even popped up in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Jason is a card-carrying member of the John Carpenter acting troupe, which alone makes him bonafide.
How does Impulse work as a movie?
I’m not going to go into big spoilers, but Impulse has some nice things going on, even as all of those things are small in scale. The film has a solid setup to get Meg Tilly and Tim Matheson to make the trip back to Meg Tilly’s hometown. From there, the townsfolk begin to act a smidge strangely. It is up to Matheson and Tilly to figure out why.
Since I already referenced The Crazies, you can guess the reason. It seems to me that a glut of chemical-leak movies happened back in the day, similar to the run we had on underwater movies in the late 80s, like The Abyss, Deepstar Six, and Leviathan. I remember other chemical leak movies, like Endangered Species with Robert Urich, and Warning Sign with Yaphet Kotto, Kathleen Quinlan, and Sam Watterson.
At the end of the day, Impulse perhaps gets a bit redundant in the second act, but I am attributing that to the slow-burn aspect of it. Impulse is not an in-your-face movie, yet I appreciate its subdued tone.
I enjoy it when a movie can find a way to tell the story without focusing on the obvious and instead focus on something tangential to the obvious. Night of the Creeps contains a good example of this. There is a scene where Tom Atkins’s character moves in and out of the frame while he prepares for the final confrontation. His head is not even in view. Rather, the camera pushes in on an open gas oven. Finally, Atkins shuts the oven off and the scene ends.
Impulse contains a similar moment when one of the characters succumbs to the problem. Instead of showing the act that happens in conjunction with the fall of the character, the scene instead tells the story with a piece of gum stuck under a seat.
Another sequence I enjoy is the discovery of the problem. The sequence takes its time. Nothing fancy happens. A sparse score (that maybe hearkens to Jerry Goldsmith) gives the scene the slightest hint of eeriness as it all slowly builds up to a single…drip!
Graham Baker directed Impulse. He also directed the last Omen entry — The Final Conflict — along with Alien Nation and a handful of other movies. The writers were Don Carlos Dunaway, who co-wrote Cujo, and playwright Nicholas Kazan, who wrote the Denzel Washington vehicle, Fallen. It gives you an idea of the flavor of Impulse when you see the creators involved.
The more I write about Impulse, the more I kind of like it. I’m going to give it four out of five stars. It is apparent that the people who made it were more thoughtful than impulsive.
A full version of Impulse can be found on YouTube if you want to check it out.