February 24, 2014

Movie Review: Targets (1968)

Targets is one of those movies that has been sitting there, languishing in my Netflix queue. It is a movie that interested me enough to want to put it in there, but there it stayed, staring at me. For some reason I never seemed to find the right time to watch it. There it sat. Then, just the other day, the right moment came. I was spurred to action by the fact that an expiration date popped up next to it. There is nothing quite as motivating as the thought of losing that something. I am glad that it did as the movie is really quite good, involving, and unsettling.

The movie was born our of an offer from producer extraordinaire Roger Corman to newcomer Peter Bogdanovich. You see, Bogdanovich had worked as an assistant on an earlier Corman production, and impressed the producer to the point that an offer to make a film was made. There were a couple of caveats, one being he had to cast Boris Karloff, who had 2 days of work left on his contract, and he had to use footage from the Boris Karloff/Jack Nicholson movie The Terror. Obviously, he agreed.

Targets tells two stories, an odd passing of the torch if you will, a meeting of old and new, a look at the generational divide. On one side you have Boris Karloff as aging horror star (a role that strikes as being almost autobiographical) named Byron Orlok and on the other side you have Tim O'Kelly's Bobby, a clean cut young man (bearing a striking resemblance to Matt Damon) with a growing dark side that is about to erupt in a wave of violence.

They really are two separate stories that do not converge until the end. Orlok's story follows him as contemplates retirement, leaving the world to the young, how the time for his manner of horror has past and he has become a relic, an anachronism. It is up to those around him to at least get him to his final appearance at the opening of The Terror at a drive-in. An appearance he eventually agrees to.

The other story follows Bobby. He is a clean cut, all American fellow who lives with his wife and his parents, likes guns, and target shoots with his father. Things seem to be going well for him until he the crazy inside just tips over. His wife comes home and find him smoking in the dark. The next morning, he shoots her, his mother, and a delivery guy before going up on a oil tank and takes shots at cars going by.

Needless to say, the drive-in is where the two stories converge. It is a pretty fascinating film that examines the old and the young with a very reverent eye to the cinematic history that Karloff represents. It is a combination of old and new, the passing of the Universal monsters on to a more realistic human horror, a horror that appears like you or me.

Targets features very good performances. Boris Karloff is fantastic to watch as Byron Orlok. It is my understanding that he was in rather poor health when making this film, but he was so proud that he considered it his final film, although he appeared in a few more prior to passing in 1969. It feels like I am just watching Karloff reflect on his career and his current place in the world. Tim O'Kelly also delivers a fine, convincing performance that is chilling as he bubbles over into his killing more. It seems so nonchalant and easy, it is truly frightening.

One of the elements that really drives much of the movie's effectiveness is the lack of score. Targets does nor feature a score, any music is incidental from car radios and television sets. It underscores a the horror, makes it feel more real. That scene of Bobby shooting his wife and mother and going up on the tower to shoot at cars, all in near silence is enough to give you goosebumps.

I am glad that I finally watched the movie and regret taking as much time as I did to watch it. It is a fantastic film that arrives at a cinematic crossroads, a passing of the torch and it is just fascinating to watch.

Highly Recommended.

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