A few weeks back, the fine folks on TCM ran a curious little film entitled, Targets. Intrigued by the quick synopsis of the plot given by TCM host, Ben Mankowitz, I hunkered down to watch. Unfortunately, about twenty minutes into the film, TCM went black!
Yup, just like that, no picture, no nothing. I was frantic and called The Evil Empire, Comcast to find out what was going on. After being on hold for about fifteen minutes, I hung up and figured on a case of sour grapes.
But, I was still intrigued by what I had seen so I went to Netflix, and ordered up a copy of the film.
Boy howdy, was I glad I did that!
Targets is a fascinating film.
Is it a horror movie? Yes and no.
The plot is a dual affair; one part deals with an aging horror film icon, Byron Orlok (played sublimely by an elderly, and apparently very ill, Boris Karloff) who wants to retire from the movie business because he believes that the modern world (circa 1968) no longer finds Gothic castles and monsters terrifying . Orlok is a sympathetic and likable character, and according to director , Peter Bogdanovich, was an honest reflection of the actual Karloff.
The other story concerns a handsome, boy-next-door-type, Bobby Thompson (Tim O'Kelly) . Thompson a Vietnam vet lives with his wife and his parents in a suburban section of L.A. and seems to have it all. However, when we first meet him we understand immediately that he is a troubled young man with a thing for guns.
AT THIS POINT I WILL REVEAL SPOILERS: YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
Partially inspired by the story of University of Texas sniper, Charles Whitman, Targets is a deeply disturbing work in that the horror that eventually does reveal itself seems senseless, and the sort of event that no one could have prevented.
When Bobby Thompson murders his wife, mother and a delivery boy, and then sets about to methodically place the dead bodies into bed, and blot the blood stains off the carpet with bath towels, we realize that we are indeed dealing with a monster much more terrifying than anything Dr. Frankenstein every dreamt of.
Similarly, when Byron Orlok picks up a newspaper with a headline in it about a teenager who goes on a shooting rampage at a supermarket and shows it to the young director (Sammy Michaels played by Bogdanovich) who wants him to appear in one more movie, he asks him, "How can I compete with these kinds of horrors?" Clearly, Orlock understands that the world no longer needs his type of monsters, as it is rife with a new breed of blood crazed freaks who look like your friends or neighbors, or your husband, or your son...
When Orlock begrudgingly agrees to appear at a showing of his new film at a drive-in theatre (clips from The Terror which starred Boris Karloff as well as Jack Nicholson are used), the paths of the psychopath and the move star are going to cross. A side note here: as he is being chauffeured to the theater, Orlock looks out at the City of Angels from the car windows and says, "This has become such an ugly city", and there is actually some sadness in his voice, as if he may be reminiscing about the Los Angeles of his heyday.
At this point, Thompson has already murdered several motorists on the freeway from his perch on the top of an oil refinery and is now headed to the same drive-in that Orlock is scheduled to appear at, and when Thompson finds his spot behind the screen and begins shooting, no one is spared, children and adults are killed until finally the entire drive-in finds itself in a state of bedlam.
How intriguing then, that Orlock ends up besting the real monster, who is terrified because he sees the actor approaching him in real life, as well as reflected on the screen ... he even shoots at the screen. And when Orlock finally comes face to face with the psychopath, knocking the gun out of hand with his walking cane, and then slapping him to the ground, he watches the man / boy who is now curled up and weeping and says, "Is that what I was afraid of ?"
What is even more chilling is Bobby Thompson's final words whilst being led away in handcuffs, "Hardly ever missed, did I?" he asks one of the cops, sounding like a varsity football player seeking praise from his coach.
After watching Targets, I was dumbfounded as to why this movie never found a larger audience. And then I discovered that shortly after it's release the killings of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy occurred, no doubt, souring the public's taste for a movie about nut-cases shooting people ... would American have preferred a more Gothic horror tale?
Targets was Peter Bogdanovich's first film where he served as director, and,
* A tip of the hat to The Man of A Million Movies, Cerpts, for informing me that this is NOT Karloff's last film, but in actuality, he made several more movies south of the border before he died.
** Wait, another tip of the hat to The Man of A Million and One Movies, Arbogast, for pointing out that Karloff filmed his scenes for the Mexican films in Los Angeles , and then said scenes were inserted in to the pictures.