Targets is a strange little movie that had its genesis in a typical Roger Corman idea - since Boris Karloff owed him a couple of days’ work, and since he had footage available of Karloff from an earlier horror movie (The Terror), why not get his protege Peter Bogdanovich to shoot an hour or so of additional footage and combine this with the new and old footage of Karloff, and hey presto you have a really cheap feature film starring Boris Karloff! Like so many of Corman’s ideas, it actually worked.
It’s actually two completely different and essentially unconnected plotlines that can’t possibly be successfully combined, but somehow they do connect. Karloff is an ageing horror actor disillusioned by the growing horrors of the real-life world that make the horrors of his own movies seem old-fashioned and irrelevant. So he decides to retire, but is persuaded to make one last public appearance at a drive-on theatre in LA.
The second plotline is based on the real-life case of Charles Whitman, a clean-cut all-American boy from Texas who one day climbed up a tower at the University of Texas and started shooting people. In the movie the character ends his shooting spree at a drive-on theatre in Los Angeles.
Had Bogdanovich simply made a movie about a spree killer the results might well have been merely bleak and depressing, and pointlessly violent. But combined with a rather bitter-sweet story of an elderly actor, and with Karloff’s masterfully sensitive and subtle performance, it becomes a much more moving and effective picture. And the sheer oddness of the movie makes it weirdly fascinating. It also becomes an interesting commentary on movies and real life.
In the accompanying (and very entertaining) commentary track Bogdanovich reveals that his own script was actually completely rewritten by legendary cult movie director Sam Fuller, but that Fuller insisted that Bogdanovich take the writing credit. Most of the ideas that make the film work were in fact apparently Fuller’s ideas, which Bogdanovich generously acknowledges. Bogdanovich also has some interesting comments on the use of colour for emotional effect, and some amusing anecdotes about the guerilla film-making techniques he learned from Corman.
Bogdanovich acts in the movie as well, plying a young up-and-coming writer-director! Tim O’Kelly as wonderfully creepy as the shooter, but this is Karloff’s movie and he’s superb. An intriguing little movie.