Color, 1984, 91 mins.
Directed by Graham Baker
Some films simply defy classification, and Impulse is a perfect example. Is it a horror film? Not really, though it is capable of giving viewers a serious case of the creeps. Is it science fiction? There's nothing drastically beyond the scope of feasible scientific accomplishments already, but it does mine the same vein of paranoid small town fear as Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Is it drama? Yes, but anyone looking for a straightforward tale of human conflict will be very shaken. This refusal to conform to genre standards was most likely responsible for Impulse's relative oblivion today, though Anchor Bay's new incarnation may go some way to correcting this oversight.
While hardly a classic, Impulse is something of an anomaly in the slasher-happy mid-'80s. A young unmarried couple, Stuart (Tim Matheson in one of his last really good roles) and Jennifer (Meg Tilly, fresh off of Psycho II), travel to their small hometown after Jennifer's mother shoots herself over the phone. The local doctor, Hume Cronyn, is tending to the comatose mother, and the couple attempts to uncover the cause of her drastic action while staying with Jennifer's father (John Karlen) and brother (a scrawny-looking Bill Paxton). Meanwhile the local townsfolk are behaving very strangely: urinating on car bumpers, swiping cash from bank tills, setting things on fire, and so on. The entire town seems afflicted, and events begin to spiral violently and tragically out of control.
Boasting strong performances all around and a slow, gradually mounting atmosphere of unavoidable doom, Impulse will be a pleasant surprise for those who overlooked it during its theatrical run. The film's original VHS release from Vestron, long out of print, was a fuzzy eyesore; the new Anchor Bay DVD is greatly improved, with detail and color invisible on cable and video versions. The fullscreen transfer contains more information at the top and bottom of the image and slightly less on the sides than theatrical screenings, most likely cropped from a 1.66:1 master. While the DVD contains no extras (but is time coded, thank God), this presentation is quite acceptable and is mostly likely the best this will look for a very long time. Don't be misled by the cover art, which tries to pass this off as a sexy sci-fi thriller; this is a somber, effective look at society going to hell, with one of the most haunting and nihilistic endings of its decade. Brace yourself and give it a shot.
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