In the early 1960s, celebrated director Peter Bogdanovich (1971's THE LAST PICTURE SHOW; 1972's WHAT'S UP, DOC?; 1973's PAPER MOON, et al.) was just starting his career in the motion-picture industry as an interviewer and critic. By the middle of the decade, he was working as a technical assistant for renowned low-budget producer/director Roger Corman, with whom he developed a good working relationship and a great mutual respect.
Impressed with Bogdanovich's creative and aesthetic contributions to the projects of others on his staff, Corman offered him the opportunity to write and direct a horror cheapie of his own, and of course, Bogdanovich jumped at the chance. But this would be a true test of Bogdanovich's mettle, Corman warned, because there would be three restrictions placed upon the project: Bogdanovich must keep the cost of making the film within its meager budget; the film must make prudent use of footage edited out of Corman's earlier cheapie, THE TERROR; and the film must feature actor Boris Karloff (yes, THE Boris Karloff, who was contractually indebted to Corman's production studio for one last film). The result? TARGETS, Bogdanovich's suspensful and intriguing two-pronged study of the effects of unrelenting ennui.
In the film, Karloff portrays Byron Orlok, an aged horror star of yesteryear who, despite opposition from his assistant and a director friend, wants to retire from filmmaking. The world has become so apathetic towards violence, he believes, that everyday events can sometimes be scarier than any of his fright flicks, and thereby his work has become passé.
Tim O'Kelly plays a dissatisfied young husband whose lack of genuine success is making it difficult for him to live in the shadow of his overbearing father. When he finally reaches his breaking point, he stoically murders his wife and parents, after which he takes his father's rifles and goes on a sniping spree.
The two stories converge at a drive-in theater, where Byron Orlok is preparing to make a public appearance (and where he plans to deliver his swan song and announce his retirement to his fans). After shooting at passing cars on a nearby highway, the sniper hightails it to the drive-in, being drawn there when he notices Orlok's name on the marquee. When the two men actually meet, the ennui in the lives of each finally comes to a head, but with quite different consequences.
The performance that Karloff delivered in TARGETS is arguably one of the best of his career. But it wasn't much of a stretch for him, to be honest, as the film was shot just a few years before his death and he was, therefore, merely playing himself. Peter Bogdanovich not only directed the film, he also played Sammy Michaels, the director friend of Orlok who is trying to talk the actor out of retiring. A beautiful young asian woman named Nancy Hsueh played Orlok's personal assistant, and she did an excellent job of complementing both Karloff and Bogdanovich. (Her performance really is outstanding, especially considering that she plays a secondary character, and it's a shame that she didn't go on to greater recognition before her death in 1981.)
Tim O'Kelly also derserves some kudos for the work he did as the discontented sniper. The role required little dialogue, so O'Kelly had to express most of his feelings and thoughts through facial expressions. It is really amazing to see the dichotomy of emotion--sometimes a mix of boredom and desperation, sometimes both anger and sadness--that he was able to convey at any given moment.
By the way, Bogdanovich did comply, for the most part, with Corman's requisites. Though production did go a bit over budget, TARGETS was still a low-budget film, even by the standards of the 1960s. (Since it was both critically acclaimed and a commercial success, the film actually earned a moderate profit for Corman's studio.) And obviously Karloff was, as required, the star of the film. But what of those snippets of footage from THE TERROR that Bogdanovich had to add in? They were were used as the "movie" that plays at the drive-in just before the Orlok character is scheduled to address his fans. Clever, eh?
Priase to Paramount for finally releasing TARGETS on DVD; the long-awaited disc is just fantastic! Though it doesn't appear as if much, if any, restoration was done, the print that was used for the transfer seems to be in very good shape. Colors are crisp and vibrant, and there are few intrusive wear artifacts. There are few extras, but an interesting feature commentary with director and co-star Bogdanovich is included. And at the going retail price, this DVD is a steal! Not often is such an excellent gem offered at for so little, especially one that has gained as big a cult following as this film has over the years.
This is certainly one film that is a must-own for Karloff fans. And those who love well-made, suspenseful thriller will be remiss if they don't add TARGETS to their collection.
on October 21, 2000
The story of how this film was made is almost as interesting as the film itself. Bogondavich was assigned a ridiculously short period of time by Roger Corman and a very small budget to come up with a contractual-obligation last film quickie for Karloff, with the only condition being that he had to incorporate scenes from the last two AIP Karloff films, flops that the studio was hoping to reawaken interest in. In just a few days, working on a shoestring, first-timer Bogdonavich comes up with this great, self-reflexive, funny, and disturbing film about an aging horror film star who wants to retire, because he feels his old gentle style of scaring people can't compete with modern horrors such as serial killers. This means that the "showdown" at the end of the film, where the sniper fires FROM BEHIND THE SCREEN, is not only great plotting, but thematically relevant; throughout the film, we're asked to consider our desire to watch horror movies in the first place. Anyone who really likes THINKING about cinema should love this -- it belongs on the shelf with PEEPING TOM and REAR WINDOW. It also has one of the funniest things I've seen in cinema -- a scene where Karloff catches his reflection in the mirror in an off-moment and, associating the image with years of monster movies, jumps in fear, before realizing it is only himself he's looking at... A great little movie.
on August 26, 2003
The DVD edition of TARGETS does more than justice to this terrific film that should be known by more viewers. Not for Karloff fans only, TARGETS is a uniquely suspensful film that combines a serial killer narrative with that of the final career stage of an aging king of horror films. What may be surprising is that it works. It works very well. Peter Bogdanovich demonstrates plenty of assurance and resourcefulness in this project that may have defeated a less adventurous director. There are no dull moments in TARGETS and the viewer continually marvels at the ingenuity of Bogdanovich, the cinematographer, and the sound technicians (this is one of the first studio-supported films that does not use a soundtrack, rather it uses source music only).
Karloff is in very good form here, delivering a subtle, humorous, self-deprecating portrayal that will not soon be forgotten by anyone who sees it. It is a worthy swan song for the great horror icon.
TARGETS looks downright incredible on DVD. Presented in widescreen, the nearly flawless image quality betrays almost nothing of the film's age. There is a short documentary on the making of the film, which includes portions of the trailer (which is itself not included as a supplement on the disc). The director makes many points that are repeated in the feature-length commentary. Bogdanovich's commentaries are among the better examples of their kind: he explains a lot about how shots were achieved, but he also gives plenty of credit for inspiration from older film makers--like Sam Fuller, Orson Welles, Hitchcock, John Ford, and Roger Corman--and he seems to have an endless collection of interesting anecdotes about the movie business.
Don't pass up this fantastic DVD.
on February 2, 2013
"My kind of horror isn't horror anymore... No one's afraid of a painted monster."
With this, director Peter Bogdanovich makes a bold statement about the changing social climate of the late 60's that would reshape the cinematic landscape forever. The words are spoken by a withered old Byron Orlok, played by the great Boris Karloff. Orlok is an old-fashioned and out-of-date actor who is scheduled to make a final appearance at the Reseda drive-ins during the showing of his latest film. Unbeknownst to Orlok and the rest of the moviegoers, an uninvited guest is also in attendance... A man perched high above the screen with a sniper rifle pointed at the crowd. As the movie plays, shots ring out and audience members are mercilessly killed at random, unaware that this film would be their last.
Fashioned after the Charles Whitman shootings in 1966, TARGETS hit frighteningly close to home in a time when the real horrors were the ones unfolding in the streets and newspapers of America. No one was safe when your friend or neighbor could be a murderer in disguise. There are no monsters here, no creepy castles or graveyards. What is also missing, and what makes TARGETS such a terrifying experience, is a motive. Bogdanovich broke new ground in 1968 by featuring a motiveless killer with no remorse and no explanation behind his actions. This would become characteristic in the Slasher genre in the years to follow, beginning with BLACK CHRISTMAS and HALLOWEEN, but at the time, it was quite revolutionary. The inclusion of Boris Karloff, a name synonymous with Horror, is also quite important. An era had ended, and with it went its many monsters. New Horror, including pictures like ROSEMARY'S BABY and later THE EXORCIST, took place right here at home, and could happen to anyone.
Karloff is in his finest form here as always, but the spotlight quickly moves to a charming, handsome, and charismatic young man named Bobby. Tim O'Kelly's disarming smile and cheerful demeanor remove all suspicion even as he travels to the gun store and decides on an ideal location for his murder spree. Still, there is a coldness about him that is difficult to decipher. He is excellently cast in the role.
Bogdanovich keeps the audience at the edge of their seats during a number of stress-inducing scenes. Like in STRAW DOGS from 1971, the violence is raw and extreme. The whir of the bullets are accompanied by quick zooms to give the illusion of movement. Even in the expository sequences, Bogdanovich maintains a high level of interest through his well-rounded and engaging characters.
TARGETS is a brilliant thriller that has had a tremendous impact on the genre. Its rediscovery is sure to leave a lasting impression with modern audiences.
I Like Horror Movies
on October 16, 1998
When in 1968 Roger Corman had a few days' use of Boris Karloff and nothing on tap for him, he gave young screenwriter Peter Bogdanovich the chance to write a screenplay overnight and start directing it the next day. The unlikely, astonishing result was "Targets", a well-made film that is both a character study of aging, disillusioned horror-film star Byron Orlok (Karloff) and a cold documentary of a young man gone quietly insane who murders his family and holes up atop a petroleum storage tower by the highway and begins sniping drivers. Escaping after some time, he winds up hiding out at a drive-in theatre (remember them?) where, as it happens, Orlok is making his last appearance before retiring from acting. What happens then is what makes the two parallel themes of the film come together in a dramatic, satisfying way. Bogdanovich established his reputation with this film, which has attained deserved cult status. Boris Karloff, in his last American film role, delivers a warm, genuine, fully realized performance, almost playing himself, at his best when Orlok expresses his cynicism about the kind of work he does, when reciting the old folk tale "Death in Samarra", and in the film's last moments as he comes to a confrontation with the deranged young sniper. This is a marvelous film that in many significant ways outstripped the bigger-budget films released in the late 1960's, and is definitely worth viewing. END
on November 20, 2014
Peter Bogdanovich himself admits (on this rather interesting but not always insightful DVD commentary track) that he is no fan of the horror genre, and this can clearly be seen in the film "Targets", which is more of a restrained thriller rather than a truly horror-inspired flick. Nonetheless, this is an essential film to see if you are into Bogdanovich's early career--if not, it's a rather light Karloff affair, using the manically good performance of Tim O'Kelly to anchor the film in a grim--and thoroughly unpleasant--reality. Karloff fans should own this title for sure, but don't expect it to be a truly great film because it isn't (I still like it though). Now it was a clever idea to do a Karloff "horror" title without giving Karloff a scary role or to use much horror stew at all, but this bit of cinematic invention seems a cliché to watch now (but it was original at the time). "Targets" has some very disturbing scenes of gun violence, and yes this is the original theater shoot-'em-up story--Bodganovich might be ill after what happened in Aurora, Colorado in 2012 during that silly "Dark Knight Rises" movie, but why he feels any responsibility over that tragedy is beyond me because "Targets" is at least a minor suspense classic if nothing else--but for today's young, I have little doubt that it is all but completely forgotten.
"Targets" on DVD is rather incomplete (to my way of thinking, as a collector). Why no documentary upon Charles Whitman? Wouldn't this have been an appropriate cultural history piece to include here, since he was obviously the inspiration? Why no commentary by a film historian (rather than director/co-star Bogdanovich)? Why no trailer gallery? And, most significantly, why no little "making of" featurette? There must have been one released by Paramount...right? It was Karloff's later period, after all. The picture seems to have been transferred from the source VHS, which is disappointing in terms of transfer--the sound is nothing special either. I doubt this one is up for a Blu-Ray redux. So, overall, if you need a copy of "Targets" by all means purchase it, but to me, it's a rather disappointing package. B-
What does the name Peter Bogdanovich mean to you? Until I read about him on a certain well-known movie Internet site, I associated him with three things: those glasses with the thick frames you always see him wearing during interviews, his smash hit film "The Last Picture Show," and that sordid Dorothy Stratten affair back in the early 1980s. What I didn't know about this once promising director could fill a book--and probably has! I had no idea he wrote articles about cinema for Esquire before deciding on a career as a filmmaker, nor did I realize he's written many influential books about moviemaking. Unfortunately, he shared one trait with his greatest cinematic hero Orson Welles, namely great success immediately followed by career shattering hubris. It happens to the best of us, you know--a great stroke of success leads to an inability to take helpful advice from those who've been down the path before. Sometimes recovery is possible, but not in the case of Bogdanovich. He still does the occasional television project and the writing thing, but his best days seem long gone. And to think it all started under the auspices of schlock king Roger Corman.
As unlikely as it seems, the 1968 film "Targets" served as Bogdanovich's launching pad. It's not the sort of film to give birth to a legend, at least not on the surface. Starring the inestimable Boris Karloff at the end of his career, "Targets" is a rather schizophrenic film. Two narrative threads wend there way through the movie. One concerns an aging horror icon named Byron Orlok (Karloff), a man weary of making films for audiences living in a world full of random and shocking violence. Orlok feels--perhaps rightly considering the time in which he lives--that the disintegration of society, the rise of incivility and its concomitant violence, has made his brand of quaint horror passé. Why go see an old guy acting like a vampire, a mummy, or a ghoul when opening the daily newspaper or watching the evening newscast provide more than enough chills and thrills? Obviously, the film people around him aren't happy about his decision. They're even unhappier when he initially refuses to fulfill his promotional duties associated with his latest cheesefest. One of the people trying to keep Orlok on an even keel is Sammy Michaels (Bogdanovich himself). He's a film director who appreciates Orlok's living legend status even if the man himself doesn't. Orlok will eventually keep his appointment to appear at a local drive-in, much to his everlasting horror.
Here's where the second thread of "Targets" comes into play. A young, boy next door type named Bobby Thompson (Tim O'Kelly) suffers some sort of breakdown. He calmly assembles an arsenal of firearms and ammunition, murders his family, and then proceeds to go on a killing spree throughout the city. His nonchalance about what he's doing makes the blood run cold. For example, after slaughtering his loved ones, he heads over to an industrial area that will give him a clear line of sight to the highway. While munching on a sandwich and taking liberal slugs from a bottle of soda, he proceeds to take shots at passing vehicles. We literally see the bodies bucking in the cars through the scope of his rifle. Frightening. Bobby flees from the scene before the cops arrive, and continues his outrages. His last excursion takes him to the local drive-in, the same drive-in where Orlok is scheduled to make an appearance. Bobby climbs up behind the screen and begins to kill people watching the movie. A movie, coincidentally, that stars Orlok. The final sequences of "Targets" seem to fulfill Orlok's fear that real violence has eclipsed the carefully staged blood 'n guts special effects made famous by Hollywood.
It's rather obvious that Bogdanovich took Texas tower sniper Charles Whitman, whose murderous rampage took place just a few years before this film, as the primary impetus for Bobby Thompson. Tim O'Kelly's character simply shares too many similarities with that particular mass killer. He's young, he's an expert with firearms, and he kills his family before unleashing death on the general public. The comparison to Whitman would not be lost on the film's original audience. More interesting is the storyline involving Karloff. Not only does this thread involve an actor soon to pass away after a long career in the horror industry, but it's also likely the best part the aging thespian found in the twilight years of his career. Look at his filmography; he was largely reduced to taking on roles in schlocky Mexican movies and other assorted projects far beneath his talents. It's nice to see Karloff in a movie with a relevant message. That message, as far as I am able to discern, involves the escalation of violence in society versus Hollywood and the easy availability of firearms. At least I think that's what is going on.
Anyway, "Targets" is a nice little obscurity with which to spend a few hours. Extras on the disc are slim but there is a commentary with Bogdanovich that is well worth a listen. It's amusing to hear how Bogdanovich internalized Corman's penny-pinching film techniques. He says on several occasions that what we see on the screen is every second of film he shot. Not a scrap went to waste. We also learn how Bogdanovich got his start in the biz and what it was like to work with Karloff. Neat stuff. It's quite sad that Bogdanovich couldn't maintain this quality of work for the rest of his career, but "Targets" is one of his success stories.
TARGETS was the directorial debut of Peter Bogdanovich and was one of the last films that Boris Karloff ever made. The movie ties two seemingly separate stories together and unites them in a climax at a drive-in movie theatre. Karloff plays an aged actor famous for his roles in horror movies who decides to retire. He agrees to make one last public performance before moving back to Europe permanently. Meanwhile, Tim O'Kelly plays a psychopath who murders his wife and mother before going on a shooting rampage with a sniper rifle. It's quite intriguing how the two stories connect and are finally tied together in the end.
The movie causes one to think and is a good film to watch nowadays to consider the impact media may or may not have upon violence.
There are several scenes in the film worthy of discussion, but two particularly stick out in my mind. The first one is when Karloff awakens in the morning and startles himself in the mirror. It makes me wonder how much of a success he might have had as a comedian. The second scene is when Karloff's character is discussing what to do at the drive-in as his swan song and he decides to tell a story. The story he tells is "Death Speaks" by W. Somerset Maugham. Hearing the story told by Karloff can give one the chills just by listening to it.
Overall, a fine little movie worth watching.
Clearly inspired by Charles Whitman's 1966 shooting rampage at the University of Texas, "Targets" is an ultra-realistic view of mental instability, murder and human interaction that resulted in a bunch of people being killed and other lives ruined. It's also a first and last of sorts, being Peter Bogdanovich's first feature film, one of later-director Samuel Fuller's first screenplays, and actor Boris Karloff's last film.
The plot of "Targets" revolves around the protagonist's mild-mannered demeaner and home life, which suddenly turns sour when he first shoots his mother, then his wife -- repeating the exact sequence of Whitman's real-world killings in Texas. The plot then varies from what really happened as the shootings move to other places than a university tower building. The main subplot is actor Karloff's career winding down and an upcoming personal appearance at a drive-in movie that happens to coincide with the exciting final scene of the film, where shooter, targets and Karloff all interact.
This is a fine and disturbing film to watch, made all the more so by its mimic of real-life events from just a year earlier -- and produced on a cheapie budget. Bogdanovich casts the whole thing in ultra-realism; there is no Hollywood gloss, no stilted script, no fakes in the actors or prima donnas outside of Karloff playing himself. The locations in the low-budget thriller are also real-world.
The black and white print is a little gritty but it hardly detracts from your involvement. This is an outstanding, hard to watch drama and a notch in the bedpost for everyone involved, first, last or othewise.
on January 5, 2014
Acting legend Byron Orlok (THE Boris Karloff!) is retiring from his storied career. He sets out w/ his assistant, checks into a hotel, and begins drinking heavily. Meanwhile, a man named Bobby (Tim O'Kelly) is amassing an arsenal of various firearms. Something, in addition to his trunk full of guns, seems a bit "off" about Bobby. His mind is troubled, so he goes to his car and grabs a .45 automatic. He soon goes on a shocking (especially for 1967!) killing spree, starting w/ his own family. TARGETS is a fascinating, topical film about society's dark descent into horrific, inexplicable violence. Bobby's mental breakdown and eventual rampage are set brilliantly against Orlok's -now quaint- portrayals of movie heavies and monsters. Orlok is disillusioned w/ movies and the grisly realities of the world. Unbeknownst to him, he will cross paths w/ Bobby shortly. The Bobby character is like Starkweather merged w/ the Texas Tower sniper, w/ an eerie foreshadowing of ZODIAC thrown in! The image of Bobby perched atop the oil storage tank, picking off victims on the freeway while drinking a bottle of Pepsi, is chilling and indelible. Highly recommended...