“Targets” (1968)


Studio: Paramount Pictures
Starring: Boris Karloff, Tim O’Kelly, Peter Bogdanovich, Nancy Hsueh
Directed by: Peter Bogdanovich
Rated: R
Running Time: 89 min.

Synopsis: As an old horror actor retires from the business, a new terror begins when a young man goes on a shooting rampage.


Chris Woods

A classic film from the late 1960’s that mixes classic horror with the birth of modern horror. An excellent film all around and one of Boris Karloff’s last films. This was a film that I heard about many years ago and finally found it on DVD about five or six years ago and the wait was worth it. The film is a masterpiece and a very important film to come out of the 60’s, not only in the world of horror, but in cinema in general.

Targets is basically two stories going on at the same time that eventually meet in the end. One is about an aging horror actor, Byron Orlok, played by Karoff, who wants to retire from the business because he believes that his type of horror with monsters, witches, old castles, ghosts, etc, is not scary anymore. The other story is about a young man, Bobby, played by Tim O’Kelly, who has a large collection of guns, snaps and kills his family then goes on a shooting rampage on the interstate and a drive-in. The film in a way is kind of like old horror passing the torch to new horror and both eras are best represented in the movie.

Orlok is persuaded by studio heads to not retire and do another movie, but he is tired and wants to return to his home country of England. Screenwriter and director, Sammy, played by Peter Bogdanovich (who also directed the film), and Orlok’s secretary Jenny still believe in him and want Orlok to continue on with his acting. Orlok doesn’t want to make the same old horror films, but Sammy has a role for him where he doesn’t play a monster and tries to get him to do the movie.

Meanwhile, Bobby is a simple insurance salesman who is married and lives in his parent’s house. They all seem to get along and are a very loving family, the classic nuclear family of that era. Both Bobby and his father share the love of hunting and often go out and fire off the many guns that they own. Bobby is also having thoughts in his head that are not quite right. Thoughts of shooting people to death and making humans a part of his hunting instead of animals. He ultimately shoots his wife and mother plus a delivery boy from the grocery store then goes out and finds a tower by the interstate and starts to shoot at cars and killing many others. Police catch wind of this and Bobby goes on the run. He hides out in a drive-in where the people there become his next target. This is the same drive-in where Orlok is making a finally appearance at the screening of his new movie.

Both elements with Karloff and the sniper are very well executed and done in an unconventional way for the time. One thing, there’s no musical score, but they are elements of sound throughout. Only music is from the Orlok film (which happens to be The Terror), which is shown in the very beginning of the film and is shown later on in the drive-in. There is also music being played from bobby’s car radio. Other key sound elements are traffic and gunshots. Giving the film no soundtrack is a statement saying this is horror in real life and there’s no soundtrack in real life, just background noise. They are only a few movies that get away with not having a musical score and are successful with filling the area of dead air with sounds around us and this movie is one of them.

Karloff gives a great performance as we witness a man who feels he is out of style and should be put down, but also misses his days of being in his prime. One scene he is watching on TV one of his first roles (The Criminal Code) and is very proud of his early work and his great career. Even though he seems happy to finally give up acting and retire, it almost looks as if he regrets his decision. There’s a great moment where he’s telling a scary story that he plans on telling at his appearance, which is about a servant in the Middle East, who sees death in the market place and runs from it. A great little tale that you have to hear when you see this movie, which is classic Karloff.

The scenes with the sniper, Bobby are simply done, but very intense and powerful. We first see Bobby when he’s buying a gun and coincidently, Orlok is across the street getting into his car and Bobby just happens to be looking though the scope of the gun and he sees Orlok through there. After buying the gun, there’s a great overhead shot where he opens the trunk and reveals that he has a great collection stashed in there. When Bobby returns home for the day, he looks around his house and even his own room like he’s a stranger there and this whole set up is odd to him, almost like he’s not who he is anymore.

After trying to talk to his wife about the strange urges he has and not getting anywhere with her, he simply shots her and then his mother. This happens very sudden, but you are also waiting for it to happen. After a big build up with Bobby taking the gun out of his trunk the night before and instead of having him shoot his wife when she comes home at night, where you normally would expect it to happen, the killing takes place the next morning when his wife goes to kiss him hello and he shoots her. After the killings, he acts very calm and starts cleaning up the mess like he just spilled a glass of soda on the carpet. He puts his wife and mother in their beds and hides the delivery boy’s body in a closet. There’s a cool shot where the camera slowly dollies through the house and we hear in the background Bobby getting into his car and taking off.

There’s an exciting mini car chase where Bobby is running from the cops after the shooting on the interstate and ducks into the drive-in. He lays low for a bit then when it starts to get dark and more people have arrived he grabs his guns and hides up top in the screen. He starts to shoot at the patrons while the Orlok film is being played. A real shocking scene is a little boy sitting in a car frightened to death. The camera pans over and we see his dead father sitting next to him. That scene always gives me the chills.

The production of the film started with Roger Corman when Karloff owed him two days of shooting, so Corman told Bogdanovich to shoot some scenes with Karloff then was given a budget to make a film around the Karloff footage. Bogdanovich was inspired by the murders of Charles Whitman who shot at people on top of tower at the University of Texas and based the character of Bobby on him. When the film was released it was in the same year of the Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy assassinations, which made the film more relevant to the times.

Targets will always be a classic film and along with Psycho, Blood Feast, and Night of the Living Dead, it is a turning point in horror that set trends in the genre and in cinema in general in the 1960’s. The film has a great story, a talented cast, and has an excellent style to it, that captures the realism of the situation. A film that’s a must see and a must to add to your DVD collection.