‘Targets’ – Peter Bogdanovich begins on Criterion Channel and free on Hoopla

Old-school horror meets the new face of the real American terror in Targets (1968).

The debut feature from director Peter Bogdanovich fictionalizes the true story of Charles Whitman, the sniper who killed 17 people on a shooting rampage in in Texas in 1966, and winds it through the story of an aging horror actor (Boris Karloff playing “Byron Orlok”) who wants to retire because his brand of horror is simply no longer relevant.

The genesis of Targets (1968) is both unusual and familiar, given the opportunities that producer Roger Corman offered his assistants and apprentices to the director’s chair. Bogdanovich was given free rein to make what he wanted by legendary producer Roger Corman as long as he cast Karloff (who owed Corman a couple of days work) and incorporated footage from an earlier Corman production (The Terror).



His solution was to make a unique, self-reflexive horror film where the true monster is not the mythical creature on screen but the all-American boy (played by Tim O’Kelly) who goes on a killing spree with no apparent motive. Bogdanovich plays these scenes with precise detail and little dialogue, letting the true nature of his actions slowly reveal themselves as he methodically shoots innocent bystanders. It culminates at a drive-in where Baron Orlock’s final film is playing.

It’s amazing that so serious and powerful a film could arise from such conditions. It wasn’t Karloff’s last film, but it’s the farewell performance he should be remembered by: he’s gentle, funny, sad, and dignified throughout, and he gets to be the hero, a rarity in a career of villains.

Bogdanovich and Polly Platt wrote the original story (with uncredited assist from Sam Fuller) and the great László Kovács shot the film just before he photographed Easy Rider and went to shoot some of the greatest movies of the 1970s.

Rated R

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Targets (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
Targets (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
Targets [DVD]

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The Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD releases feature a video introduction and commentary by Peter Bogdanovich (from 2003), an interview with Richard Linklater, and excerpts from a 1983 interview with production designer Polly Platt.

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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