Peter Bogdonovich may have debuted by fixing up a movie for Roger Corman called Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, but Targets was his first film. He directed, co-written and co-produced a movie that does not feel like the work of an inexperienced filmmaker.
Maybe it was because he had been studying. As the film programmer for the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, he saw up to 400 movies a year.
Byron Orlok (Boris Karloff) sees no reason to be in horror films any longer. The news on TV every night is way more frightening than any film he can conjure. However, as a favor to a young director named Sammy Michaels (Bogdanovich), he will make one more appearance at a drive-in before leaving for his native England.
Bobby Thompson is an insurance agent and Vietnam War veteran who snaps. One morning, he decides to start killing, taking out his wife, mother and a delivery boy before climbing an oil tower to kill people in passing cars before heading to the very same drive-in that Orlok will appear at.
As Orlok’s final film is shown, Thompson begins murdering more people. However, as the elderly actor appears on screen and in-person, Orlak smacks him down with his walking cane, giving the police the opening they need to arrest him.
I love the concept of this film: it exists in the middle of two eras, with Karloff as the last remaining Universal Monster, coming up against the cynical and all too real evil that the New Hollywood would use as monsters.
While Thompson is based on Charles Whitman, Orlok isn’t anything like Karloff. Instead of being tired after years of acting and angry that he was only known for horror, Karloff was proud of his legacy.
The actor was in ill health. He had emphysema along with rheumatoid arthritis, with only one half of a lung still functioning. Years of abuse to his body wearing the heavy Frankenstein’s Monster makeup led to braces on both his legs, as well as the need to use a cane.
Bogdanovich only got to make this because Boris Karloff owed Roger Corman two days’ work. Corman told the young director that he could make any film he liked provided he used Karloff and stayed under budget. What really speaks to the actor is that even though he was only supposed to do two days work, he was so impressed with the script that he refused pay for the three additional days of work he did to complete the film.
Writing about the film for the New Beverly Cinema, Quentin Tarantino said, that Targets was “the most political movie Corman ever made since The Intruder. And forty years later it’s still one of the strongest cries for gun control in American cinema. The film isn’t a thriller with a social commentary buried inside of it (the normal Corman model), it’s a social commentary with a thriller buried inside of it… It was one of the most powerful films of 1968 and one of the greatest directorial debuts of all time. And I believe the best film ever produced by Roger Corman.”