When the always economical Roger Corman wanted to shoot a new movie with screen legend Boris Karloff, he pitched an idea to Peter Bogdanovich to make a feature film which would also utilize footage from Corman's earlier Karloff collaboration, THE TERROR (1963). Having already trudged his way through the Corman film school in a variety of jobs, Bogdanovich accepted the work, but instead of just attempting to merge new scenes of Karloff with five-year-old footage, he concocted a thriller with parallel storylines which ingeniously come together during a stirring climax.
In TARGETS, Karloff plays Byron Orlok, an aging horror film star not unlike himself. He has just completed a horror movie for young director Sammy Michaels (Bogdanovich) at which point we see scenes from THE TERROR being passed off as said film. Orlok is contemplating retiring and going back to his native England, feeling out of touch with the modern world and its ghastly and sensational newspaper headlines. Orlok is also set to attend the premiere of his new movie at the local drive-in, where he is to address his fans.
At the same time, and in the same California town, we are introduced to Bobby Thompson (Tim O'Kelly), a polite, clean-cut, mild-mannered young man who lives in a typical dry suburban household with his wife (Tanya Morgan) and parents (James Brown and Mary Jackson). One early morning while the father is at work, gun enthusiast Bobby shoots his wife, mom and a grocery delivery boy. He places the ladies' corpses in bed, makes a stop at the local ammo store, and goes on a spree of sniper murders. First he picks off freeway motorists from the top of a water tower, and after eluding the police in a car chase, he makes his way to the drive-in where Orlak is set to appear.
The Bobby Thompson character of TARGETS is loosely based on real-life ex-Marine Charles Whitman, who killed more than a dozen Texans in 1966. O'Kelly's portrayal is very disturbing, as we witness a normal seeming "All-American" male nonchalantly murdering family members and other innocent men, women and children with absolutely no remorse, while snacking on "Babe Ruth" bars and sipping on soda pop. In what should have been his career swan song, Karloff is terrific, given a part he can really relish, delivering some choice dialog, and he even ad libs it a bit. Karloff was the stuff of our nightmares as kids, but here is a hero in the face of much more terrifying horrors that can occur (and have occurred) in our own backyards. Going on to become one of the most acclaimed directors of the 1970s, Bogdanovich gives us a poignant, exemplary modestly-budgeted outing in TARGETS, and it succeeds on many levels, and its strong points weigh out its few flaws.
Paramount Home Entertainment has made TARGETS available on DVD in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement in a transfer that accurately recreates the films intended look. The colors are a garish mix of warm and cold which change from scene to the scene, and appear very natural if not overly vibrant. Detail and black levels are up to par and there are only a handful of print blemishes, mostly confined to the first few minutes. Overall, the source print looks fabulous. The audio presents the original mono mix. With no score except for incidental music and lots of characters speaking offscreen, the dialogue is always clear. Optional English subtitles are also included.
An audio commentary by director Bogdanovich is included, and he gives a thorough, well-detailed talk that always stays on track and is interesting from start to finish. The mild-voiced director (who does a great Alfred Hitchcock impersonation!) explains most of the film's difficult shots, he tells of the Corman-influenced "guerrilla" filmmaking techniques that he and cinematographer László Kovács had to endure, and he shares the fond experiences of working with the beloved Karloff, who shot his scenes in a total of five days. Although the story credit goes to Bogdanovich and then-wife and collaborator Polly Platt, he affirms that director Sam Fuller contributed much to the script but didn't want to take credit. Aside from the excellent commentary track, also on the disc is "Targets - An Introduction," which is actually a featurette/interview with Bogdanovich. Most of what he covers here is also found in the commentary, but it's still very worthwhile and includes the story of how Paramount came to obtain TARGETS after studio head Bob Evans screened it. No trailer included, but parts of it can be found in this featurette. (George R. Reis)
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