e-mail:Smokey X. Digger
1968, Dir. Peter Bogdanovich
Guest review by Iniquity Films British Correspondent Steve Barron.
Hot shot 70s director Peter Bogdanovich made his feature debut with this above-average, unconventional thriller. After gaining initial success with Targets and The Last Picture Show, Bogdanovich has hopefully secured eternal damnation in the deepest pits of Hades for inflicting the horrifying Barbra Streisard in the appallingly dreadful What's Up Doc on an unsuspecting human race. The excruciating Nickelodeon and Paper Moon did him no favours, either. The basic plot of Targets proffers comparisons between the all time-worn screen horror purveyed by ancient movie star Byron Orlok ( Boris Karloff ), and a far more frightening modern horror; the lone, motiveless, psycotic sniper.
Based upon the Charles Whitman case ( Whitman was a student at the university of Texas, who climbed to the top of a campus tower and proceeded to target and shoot 45 fellow students - killing 12 - in 1966 ) Targets opens with the last few scenes from Roger Cormans The Terror - supposedly Orlok's latest opus - in actuality it's Cormans movie used as a plot device. When the preview has ended, Orlok announces that he is finished making horror films and plans to return to England. He is only too aware that news headlines have far surpassed his tame brand of horror : "The world belongs to the young. Make way for them. Let them have it. I am an anachronism."
Across the street from the screening room, clean-cut, all-American boy Bobby Thompson (Tim O'Kelly), is busily buying yet more guns to add to the virtual arsenal he keeps in the trunk of his car. Somethings badly wrong in Bobby's perfect little world - he lives with his young wife at his parents home - and it manifests itself when he guns down his family in cold blood before driving to a nearby industrial tower beside a major highway. He settles himself down (he's even bought food and drink with him) and begins to zoom in on passing cars, eventually killing several motorists. meanwhile, the studio and Orlok's secretary (Nancy Hsueh) are desperately trying to persuade old Byron to make a promotional appearance at the drive-in premiere of The Terror. Bobby has finished his roadside killing spree, and heads for the drive-in for more easy pickings.
Targets really should have been Boris's swan song. He somehow staggered through a terrible Euro-horror flick (Alien Terror, 1969) before finally shuffling off. he very neatly parodies himself and the rapidly dwindling impact of old-style monster movies in Targets, and the finale brings together both strands of the film very well indeed, with Karloff looking imposingly down on a cowed Thompson: "Is that what I was afraid of?" Quite frankly, Boris looks utterly exhausted throughout this movie, and one scene in particular is a little unsettling. As he lays down on his hotel bed and wearily closes his eyes, you get the distinct impression that he will not be opening them again. If you didn't already know that he had another film in him, it could be quite disturbing.
Karloff made Targets because he had a few days left on his contract after making Curse of the Crimson Altar. Bogdanovich cleverly builds his movie around Boris, using his age and infirmity as pivotal points. So why do these old troupers carry on trouping (often to the point of death) ? Probably best left to the trick-cyclists to answer that one. Bela Lugosi ploughed on long after being eternally typecast as various ghouls, vampires and hunchbacks - due to his appearance and thick Hungarian accent - only to finish his days a morphine addict and appearing in Ed Wood movies; both of which are surely fates-worse-than-death. Boris (real name William Henry Pratt - hence the change, I would venture to suggest) found fame as the Frankenstein monster and was also mainly cast in horror from then on. The problem is the horror genre is subject to the vagaries of fashion like no other. Some of the movies he made must have made him weep; godawful, rushed scripts; micro-budgets and hard, physical shoots. He even handled the final indignity (an Abbot and Costello movie) with great dignity. he was 80 years old when he made Targets - relying on a stick to get around - and he looks tired and ill; carrying on despite looking like he could drop stone-dead at any moment. Boris Karloff died in a Sussex hospital in 1969.