Targets is a 1968 American crime thriller film directed, co-written and co-produced by Peter Bogdanovich, with cinematography by László Kovács.
In one of two parallel story lines that eventually converge during the film's climax, a seemingly wholesome and normal young man played by Tim O'Kelly suddenly goes on a killing spree. In the other, Boris Karloff, in his last straight dramatic role, plays a semi-autobiographical character. The film also features the first film appearance of producer Frank Marshall, who played as a ticket boy.
Targets received generally positive reviews. It was included in the 2003 book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
PlotByron Orlok, an aging, embittered horror movie actor, abruptly announces his decision to retire and return to his native England to live out his final days. Orlok considers himself outdated because he believes that people are no longer frightened by old-fashioned horror, citing real-life news stories as more horrifying than anything in his films. But after much persuasion, particularly from young director Sammy Michaels, Orlok agrees to make a final in-person promotional appearance at a Reseda drive-in theater before leaving Hollywood for good.
Bobby Thompson is a young, quiet, clean-cut insurance agent and Vietnam War veteran who lives in the suburban San Fernando Valley area with his wife and his parents. Thompson is also deeply disturbed and an obsessive gun collector, but his family takes little notice. One morning, after his father leaves for work, Thompson murders his wife, his mother, and a delivery boy at his home. That afternoon, Thompson continues the killing spree, shooting people in passing cars from atop an oil storage tank that sits alongside a heavily traveled freeway. At the moment an employee at the storage tank comes up to investigate the gunshots and discovers Thompson's sniper's nest, Thompson shoots him as well. As he flees, he unintentionally leaves some of his guns and ammo at the scene of the crime. When the police respond and start to close in on Thompson, he flees, taking refuge in the very same drive-in theater where Orlok is to make his appearance that evening.
After sunset, Thompson kills the theater's projectionist and perches himself on the framing inside the screen tower. While the Orlok film is shown, Thompson begins shooting at the patrons in and around the parking lot through a hole in the projection screen. After Thompson wounds Orlok's secretary, Jenny, Orlok confronts Thompson, who is disoriented by Orlok's simultaneous appearance before him and on the large movie screen behind him, allowing the actor to disarm Thompson using his walking cane. When the defeated Thompson retreats, a visibly shaken Orlok remarks, "Is that what I was afraid of?" Moments later, police officers arrive to arrest Thompson for the murders; as they lead him away, Thompson states with apparent satisfaction that he "hardly ever missed."
- Tim O'Kelly as Bobby Thompson
- Boris Karloff as Byron Orlok
- Arthur Peterson as Ed Loughlin
- Monte Landis as Marshall Smith
- Nancy Hsueh as Jenny
- Peter Bogdanovich as Sammy Michaels
- Sandy Baron as Kip Larkin
- James Brown as Robert Thompson, Sr.
- Mary Jackson as Charlotte Thompson
- Tanya Morgan as Ilene Thompson
- Mike Farrell as Man in Phone Booth
In the film's finale at a drive-in theater, Orlok—the old-fashioned, traditional screen monster who always obeyed the rules—confronts the new, realistic, nihilistic late-1960s "monster" in the shape of a clean-cut, unassuming multiple murderer.
Bogdanovich got the chance to make Targets because Boris Karloff owed studio head Roger Corman two days' work. Corman told Bogdanovich he could make any film he liked provided he used Karloff and stayed under budget. In addition, Bogdanovich used clips from Corman's Napoleonic-era thriller The Terror in the movie. The clips from The Terror feature Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff. A brief clip of Howard Hawks' 1931 film The Criminal Code featuring Karloff was also used.
Bogdanovich has said that Samuel Fuller provided generous help on the screenplay and refused to accept either a fee or a screen credit, so Bogdanovich named his own character Sammy Michaels in tribute. Fuller advised Bogdanovich to save as much money in the film's budget as possible for the film to have an action-packed conclusion.
Releaseoffered to release, but Bogdanovich wanted to try to see if the film could get a deal with a major studio. It was seen by Robert Evans of Paramount who bought it for $150,000, giving Corman an instant profit on the movie before it was even released.
Although the film was written and production photography completed in late 1967, it was released after the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy in early 1968 and thus had some topical relevance to then-current events. Nevertheless, it was not very successful at the box office.
However, Bogdanovich, who appears in the film as a young writer-director, credits it with getting him noticed by the studios, which in turn led to his directing three very successful studio films in the early 1970s.
Around five years after release, in March 1973, New Zealand refused to issue a 'certificate of approval' for the film's trailer on the basis that it was "contrary to public order and decency."
Critical receptionOn the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Targets has an approval rating of 89% based on 27 reviews, with an average rating of 7.67/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "A startling directorial debut by Peter Bogdanovich mixes an homage to Boris Karloff horror films with a timely sniper story to create a thriller with modern baggage and old school shock and awe."
Howard Thompson of The New York Times called the film an "original and brilliant melodrama", and concluded that "Targets scores an unnerving bullseye." Dave Kehr of The Chicago Reader called the film "an interesting response to the demands of low-budget genre filmmaking." Variety wrote of the film: "Aware of the virtue of implied violence, Bogdanovich conveys moments of shock, terror, suspense and fear." In a retrospective review of the film, Geoff Andrew of Time Out called it "a fascinatingly complex commentary on American mythology, exploring the relationship between the inner world of the imagination and the outer world of violence and paranoia, both of which were relevant to contemporary American traumas."
Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, critic Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four, and wrote that "Targets isn't a very good film, but it is an interesting one." He called Karloff's performance "fascinating" but noted that the film may have been "more direct and effective" without his scenes. A review of the film published by Time stated that "Targets eventually falls victim to artistic overkill."
In 2020, Quentin Tarantino called Targets "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, 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."