Monday, October 19, 2009

Matt Stone - the toupeed character.

In the past we've explored how Bill Shatner's toupee can determine both his age and the state of his career. But has there ever been an example where the toupee has transcended from covering up Bill Shatner's head behind-the-scenes to being an overt component of an on-screen character? Obviously Captain Kirk doesn't wear a toupee, neither does T.J. Hooker - but there is one example of a Bill Shatner character that might - the psychotic murderer Matt Stone from the 1974 flick Impulse.

The toupee in Impulse (1974) is telling us something isn't right.

In his book The Encyclopedia Shatnerica, Bob Schnakenberg called Bill Shatner's toupee in Impulse "one of his worst". Yet there is a case to be made that the character of Matt Stone (not just actor Bill Shatner) was a toupee wearer. Indeed, this is a rare example of a poor toupee actually helping to enhance the representation of the on-screen character. In other words, Matt Stone, being deranged and psychotic, might himself wear a very bad toupee and thus the bad toupee helps the audience to perceive the character's charming, seductive facade as a mere dangerous illusion. In the language of film semiotics, the toupee serves as a crucial concept signifier - it tells the audience that something isn't quite right with this character.

In the movie, Bill Shatner plays conman Matt Stone, who is traumatized by the fact that as a child, he killed his mother's lover rather than watch the strange man continue to violently humiliate her.

Years later, the experience has turned him into a Jekyll and Hyde figure. On the one hand, he is a charming, likeable man - on the other, a disturbing psychosis lies bottled up beneath the surface, ready to explode at the slightest reminder of his trauma. He kills his girlfriend in a fit of rage after she complains of his visiting a strip-club. Later, he runs over a dog while giving a ride to a little girl - then, by coincidence, ends up dating the same girl's mother. The girl (obsessed with constant mourning for her own dead father) is suspicious of this apparent "dog killer".

Later, Stone ends up killing loan-shark Odd Job from Goldfinger - in Stone's mind, all three of these killings were "accidents" that simply could not be avoided. The Odd Job killing is witnessed by the same little girl as before. She sets out to convince her mother that her new boyfriend "killed a man" but no-one seems to believe her. Stone, his world falling apart from these constant accusations, then threatens to kill the girl, before going completely insane at the end of the movie and killing the little girl's grandmother (correction: she isn't really her grandmother) and also trying to kill the other two generations of the family as well. But before he can complete the bloodbath, the little girl kills him instead. For a more detailed plot summary, visit The Agony Booth.

Firstly, there is a great deal about this rather disturbing and unsettling film (likely made in response to the horror popularity wave caused by 1973's The Exorcist) that is either tacky, makes no sense, or is poorly thought through, mainly to do with how the film was scripted. The acting performances of the little girl (Kim Nicholas) and Odd Job (Harold Sakata) are nothing short of dreadful.

Behind-the-scenes with Sakata (left) and Shatner (right) - image sourced here.

Yet, Impulse isn't entirely without merit. Firstly, it was made in the 1970s and you really can't go wrong with the stylish 70s aesthetic on your side. Secondly, and this may seem surprising, but Bill Shatner's performance is actually pretty darn good. Anyone who has seen the Star Trek episode "The Enemy Within" will know that Shatner is particularly effective at portraying crazed insanity - the kind that mixes both the childlike longings of the disturbed adult mind (evil Kirk in tears: "I want to LIVE!") and the dangerous violence that this can bring about (evil Kirk to Yeoman Rand: "Let's stop pretending, Janice...").

Indeed, Matt Stone can be described as a fusion of both the good and evil Kirks from "The Enemy Within" (for those unfamiliar with this classic episode, it's the one where a transporter accident splits Kirk into two separate people - one Kirk's "good" side and the other his "evil" half). Except in the case of Impulse, the fusion is unbalanced. Rather than yielding a stable whole, the character is a mix of the negative traits of both: weak, tormented, violent and desperate. And if that wasn't enough, Impulse actually contains a direct nod to the infamous "rape scene" in "The Enemy Within". Watch our montage below:

But anyway, back to the toupee: what is interesting about Impulse is not just how the toupee serves as a warning shot with regards to the character of Matt Stone, but also how it changes its appearance depending on the state of the character's mind.

Stone the charmer is well groomed:

Stone the slightly ruffled is...slightly ruffled:

Stone the psychotic has an unnatural toupee style that reflects his unnatural state:

And Stone the crazed murderer has a toupee that, like the character, is falling to pieces:

Impulse can be placed in many categories, including the "so bad it's good" one. However, as a fusion of Bill Shatner's acting, which thoroughly holds and mesmerizes the viewer's attention, his general work ethic, which is always to give 100% of his energy to what he does, and his toupee, which gives nuance and subtlety to his portrayal of the lead character, we would suggest that Impulse (you can buy the film here) is nothing short of a William Shatner masterpiece.

Have you readers seen the movie? Let us know your thoughts.


  1. I remember reading an interview with Shat in which he said he wished that someone would burn this film so it couldn't be seen by anyone in the future. To deprive the world of this film masterpiece that contains one of his greatest performances -- could he have been serious?

  2. Greatest Hairpieces In Movie History
    (Khan's Revenge)

  3. There's a book about the director of Impulse that has an introduction written by the Shat.

  4. What is the greater toup-de-force? Impulse or the Encore episode of Mission Impossible?

  5. Yes, this movie is SOOOO BAD that it is a true masterpiece! This is William Shatner at his very, very worst. Nothing tops this one. Acting is terrible, the hairpiece is a shocker (although not as bad as his plastic looking hairpiece in Incident On A Dark Street)

  6. I love this film. Mainly because Shatner is so amazing in it; a truly superb performance. I highly recommend it.

  7. It was filmed in Tampa at a model home in Town N Country area(neighborhood). Old landmarks can be seen such as the old Noah's Pizza on Hillsborough Avenue. Both my sister and myself walk to school with the character Tina. A scene that lasted only seconds... But in retrospect, it was a fun adventure. We met William Shatner (a truly nice guy), Ruth Roman, Jennifer Bishop and of course "Tina". Even though it is a pretty bad film (in the beginning it was titled "Want a Ride Little Girl)we had fun and will always remember it.