by Peter Bogdanovich
Peter Bogdanovich flashed across the film director's sky like a meteor. He started out as a movie critic, probably the only one in the US who went from writing reviews about films to actually shooting them. In the late 60s, he flashed across moviegoers' consciousness with The Last Picture Shore, What Up Doc?, and Paper Moon. Then came his notorious flop, At Long Last Love, and he was quickly forgotten. Sure he's done some good films since then, but he was reduced to the type of filmmaker that gets some good reviews and is forgotten by the public.
Targets was his first film (not counting Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Woman, where he got hired to direct for Roger Corman and didn't use his real name). It was also one of Boris Karloff's final films (his last US screen appearance). As I have mentioned before, I'm a fan of Karloff, and this is certainly one of his best and most atypical roles.
Karloff plays . . . well, himself. Byron Orlok is an old time horror movie actor making a promotional appearance at a drive-in for his latest horror film (the film-within-the-film took footage from The Tingler, and Nicholson can be seen in the clips). He is growing tired of being typecast, but also feels he's a dinosaur: that his type of horror is no longer relevant.
And, it isn't. Tim O'Kelly plays Bobby, who picks up a rifle and kills his family. No reason is given for Bobby's rampage, though there are hints that his family life is devoid of any warmth.
After he kills the family, Bobby makes himself a sniper's nest overlooking a busy highway and uses the cars for target practice. And, eventually, he finds himself at the drive-in, behind the screen, shooting at the audience.
Bogdanovich wrote the screenplay, with Bobby obviously inspired by Charles "Texas Tower" Whitman. He also played the part of Sammy Michaels, the director of the film within the film. It was shot on a very tight budget; the only way he could afford Karloff was because Karloff owed two days of work to Corman and was willing to do a little more because he liked the script..
The film was certainly of its time and created a bit of a stir (it was first released a month after Martin Luther King was killed, and got general release a few months after Robert Kennedy was assassinated, though it was filmed a year earlier). It still remains a chilling portrayal of a killer, and a fascinating homage to Karloff's entire career. What's even better is that the two elements are integrated perfectly into a film well worth seeking out.
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