One of the most stunning horror films of the 1960s, and one of the
finest movies ever directed by Peter Bogdonovich. TARGETS may be dated
in many respects but has a lot to say about the intersection of horror
movies and reality, and so remains startlingly pertinent today. In fact,
it may well be the most modern of all horror movies.
Peter Bogdonovich made TARGETS (1968) under the
auspices of Roger Corman. Bogdonovich was a young film critic at the
time who’d slapped together the Corman financed VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF
PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1968) with footage from the 1962 Russian sci fi flick
PLANETA BUR. The legendary Boris Karloff was the headliner of TARGETS,
which was inspired by the real-life shooing spree of Charles Whitman, an
ex-Marine who in 1966 killed 16 people and wounded 32 others on and
around the University of Texas campus.
Bogdonovich scripted TARGETS with the late Polly Platt,
and reportedly had uncredited assistance from filmmaker Sam Fuller.
Bogdonovich has never made another horror film, unless you count the
mediocre 1998 TV movie NAKED CITY: A KILLER CHRISTMAS, about which the
less is said the better.
Byron Orlock is an aging horror movie icon who’s just
completed production on a trashy low budget horror flick. After viewing
the finished film in a Hollywood studio Orlock is so appalled he vows to
give up acting.
Across the street from the studio a young man named
Bobby is buying a gun. The charming and upstanding Bobby then drives
back to his home in the San Fernando Valley, where he lives with his
mother, father and fiancée. Bobby’s life may seem serene, but he has
severe psychological problems he’s unable to articulate.
One morning, without any warning, Bobby shoots and
kills his wife, mother and an unfortunate delivery boy before taking off
in his car with a bunch of guns. He leaves behind a typewritten note
warning that many more people will die before he’s apprehended.
Bobby makes good on his promise by climbing to the top
of a large tank overlooking the 405 Freeway. He picks off several
motorists with his rifle, as well as a nosy caretaker, before a
motorcycle cop shows up.
Fleeing the tank, Bobby drives to a nearby drive-in
theater. There he stations himself behind the screen and shoots at the
drive-in’s patrons. What he doesn’t know is that Byron Orlock is on his
way to that very drive-in to make a personal appearance…
In this film Peter Bogdonovich took the lessons of his
mentors Roger Corman and Sum Fuller to heart: the shooting style is fast
and efficient, there’s a goodly amount of action and, most importantly,
the film has a GREAT ending. The idea of saving the majority of his
budget for the final scenes is one Sam Fuller reportedly impressed on
Bogdonovich, and he utilized that advice quite well in TARGETS. The
film’s early scenes are admittedly rather awkward in their distracting
old movie references (reminding us that Bogdonovich was a critic), and
even a little pretentious in the way they clumsily intercut the exploits
of Orlock and Bobby through parallel panning shots. Yet the film grows
stronger as it advances, evincing a real flair for horror and suspense
that Bogdonovich has unfortunately abandoned.
Another talent associated with TARGETS who (largely)
abandoned his calling is actor Tim O’Kelly, who’s so effective as the
tormented Bobby. O’Kelly went on to do a handful of episodic TV
appearances (including the pilot of HAWAII FIVE-O) and the 1969 feature
THE GRASSHOPPER before unaccountably dropping out of sight.
Boris Karloff is also impressive, essentially playing
himself: an aging horror icon uncertainly trying to make his way in
Hollywood of the 1960s. His final confrontation with Kelly, who confuses
the real Karloff with the Karloff on the drive-in screen (an idea
Bogdonovich claims originated with Sam Fuller), is perhaps the ultimate
cinematic expression of the clash between reel and real life violence.
The latter, it’s safe to say, has long since supplanted the former as
our prime source of anxiety in and out of the movies, a fact TARGETS
makes terrifyingly clear.
Director/Producer/Editor: Peter Bogdonovich
Screenplay: Polly Platt, Peter Bogdonovich
Cinematography: Laszlo Kovacs
Cast: Boris Karloff, Tim O’Kelly, Nancy Hsueh, James Brown, Sandy Baron,