Targets (1968)    3 Stars

“”I just killed my wife and my mother. I know they’ll get me. But before that, many more will die…””

Targets (1968)

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Cast: Boris Karloff, Tim O’Kelly, Arthur Peterson

Synopsis: Elderly horror-film star who, while making a personal appearance at a drive-in theater, confronts a psychotic Vietnam veteran who’s turned into a mass-murdering sniper.




On the surface, Bobby Thompson (Tim O’Kelly) appears to be a normal, clean-cut all-American boy. He’s polite and friendly and good-natured. But all isn’t quite as it should be with Bobby. He’s in his mid-twenties and married, but still lives at home with his mum and dad. He’s out of work, and his wife works shifts to make ends meet. In short, Bobby is feeling a little emasculated, and it’s playing on his mind. He sits alone after his wife has left for work and his parents have gone to bed (‘promise you won’t stay up late,’ his mother gently admonishes him) and broods in the darkened front room. During target practice, as his father replaces the tin cans they have expertly shot down, Bobby captures him in the cross-hairs of his rifle. He tightens his grip on the trigger, but doesn’t quite have the nerve to pull it. His father is an authority figure whom Bobby finds it impossible to stand up to.

He drives around in a Ford Mustang with a boot full of artillery. One day, after shooting his wife and mother and an unfortunate delivery boy who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, Bobby goes on a shooting spree. He first takes shots at drivers on a freeway from his vantage point atop a gleaming white oil tank, and then tucks himself away behind the screen of a drive-in movie theatre and starts picking off the patrons as they sit in their cars.

There’s a cold, stark feel to Peter Bogdanovich’s directorial debut that coolly complements the dispassionate way in which Bobby goes about his business. There’s no music, other than what he listens to on the radio, and the camera seems to possess a clinical eye. It slowly wanders across a carpet after Bobby has killed the women in his family (he chooses a moment when his father is out of the house) to focus on the letter of intent he has left on his desk. It sees the assassination of the victims on the highway through Bobby’s detached gaze, so that they don’t seem like real people at all, but tiny dolls at the mercy of his whims. When Targets focuses on Bobby it is a remarkably good film, but it unfortunately has another strand that is nowhere near as good, but which occupies approximately equal running time.

The second strand involves Boris Karloff pretty much playing himself as an ageing horror movie star named Byron Orlok who feels that his particular brand of horror has become something of an anachronism and so has decided to quit acting, much to the dismay of young scriptwriter Sammy Michaels (played — badly — by director Bogdanovich) who has written what he believes to be a terrific script for the old boy. Apparently, Bogdanovich was given the green light to make Targets by producer Roger Corman on two conditions: that he used lengthy clips from Corman and Karloff’s 1963 movie The Terror, and that he gave a part to Karloff, who owed Corman two day’s work. Now while it’s true that necessity is often the mother of invention, in the case of Targets, this imposition on Bogdanovich results in a somewhat schizophrenic movie, the two sides of which, until a climactic scene which does at least have some dramatic punch, never really seem to be part of the same whole.

Karloff was always an atmospheric actor, but he was never a great one. While he gives a reasonable account of himself here, his acting style is still anchored firmly in the 1930s, which makes the scenes he shares with Bogdanovich something of a chore. Not only is Bogdanovich a pretty dire actor, his style clashes noticeably with that of Karloff.

Given America’s pre-occupation with its right to bear arms, movies like Targets will always be relevant. This is particularly the case in light of the massacre at a Dark Knight Rises screening in Aurora a couple of years back, which lends Targets an eerie prescience. As a study of a young man on the cusp of becoming a cold-blooded random killer, Targets surpasses the limitations of its budgets and its writer/director Bogdanovich’s experience; as the study of an ageing actor who feels he has lost his place in the world, it’s something of a let-down.

(Reviewed 15th March 2013)