TARGETS ARE PEOPLE… AND YOU COULD BE ONE OF THEM!
Roger Corman had a deal for Peter Bogdanovich. The filmmaker-in-waiting had helped out on a few of Corman’s projects and was now given the chance to make a film of his own, but on two conditions. First, he had to use some footage from Corman’s The Terror (1963), a horror movie that starred Boris Karloff. Second, Bogdanovich had to cast Karloff because the star owed Corman two days of work. Perhaps Bogdanovich could work something out along the lines of The Terror, but the young director turned out to have different plans.
Two stories are told simultaneously. The famous old horror movie star Byron Orlok (Karloff) is attending a studio screening of his latest film. As soon as it’s over, he tells everyone around him, including the young director Sammy Michaels (Bogdanovich), that he intends to retire. Byron owes his career to the early genre pics, but he also believes that his monsters have prevented him from growing as an actor. Meantime, we’re introduced to Bobby Thompson (Tim O’Kelly), a cheerful insurance agent and model citizen who spends his nights having dinner and watching TV with his wife, mother and father. He enjoys his time at the local shooting range and is very good at hitting cans.
One morning he kills his wife and mother with a gun, writes a farewell note and drives to an oil refinery in a car full of weapons. Lying on a roof, he targets several people on the adjacent highway. That night, both Byron and Bobby plan to attend an outdoor screening of an old Orlok movie – but for different reasons.
Compellingly told stories
It is obvious that Bogdanovich wanted to juxtapose a story about very fictitious horrors with one ripped from the headlines; the Bobby Thompson tale was in fact clearly inspired by the murders committed in Texas by Charles Whitman in 1966. The director is not entirely successful in comparing those events with whatever thoughts regarding his career that an old horror movie star may entertain, but both stories are compellingly told. Bobby is chillingly played by O’Kelly who to modern audiences bears a close resemblance to Michael C. Hall’s character in Dexter; he may appear to be a very pleasant, regular guy, but as soon as he goes on his shooting spree you know that he’s so damaged he won’t stop until he’s dead.
Watching Karloff 40 years after Frankenstein (1931) ponder what his life might have been without the horror movies that made him famous is fascinating – and amusing since he apparently in real life had no intentions of retiring. His health was failing but he has a few very memorable scenes, not least the climactic meeting between Orlok and Bobby during the outdoor screening of The Terror where the young killer ends up confused, not knowing which Orlok to point his gun at. Parts of the movie look like they were directed by a novice, but those final scenes are cleverly staged and edited by Bogdanovich.
One reason why the film is enjoyable is the director’s obvious love and reverence of what has come before him, and he has a sense of humor about it too. The scene where the killer shoots people from behind a film screen should make you smile at the memory of what happened the first time the final scene of The Great Train Robbery was shown in theaters in 1903.
Targets 1968-U.S. 90 min. Color. Produced, written, directed and edited by Peter Bogdanovich. Cinematography: Laszlo Kovacs. Cast: Boris Karloff (Byron Orlok), Tim O’Kelly (Bobby Thompson), Nancy Hsueh (Jenny), James Brown, Sandy Baron, Arthur Peterson… Peter Bogdanovich.
Trivia: Some prints feature a gun-control prologue, which was added after the Robert F. Kennedy assassination. Mike Farrell plays the man in the phone booth.
Last word: “I didn’t want to make a picture that was released by AIP [American International Pictures], which was kind of an exploitation distribution company that Roger [Corman] worked with a lot. I asked if I could sell the picture to a major, and got lucky, and Paramount bought it. But we worked within the limitations of what the genre was and what kind of picture Roger expected, which was basically what we used to call a thriller. Now, they might call it a film noir or something, but it was basically a thriller, rather than a horror picture.” (Bogdanovich, The Dissolve)