Like a lot of movie lovers, I miss the much-loved and much-lamented streaming service FilmStruck. It was a glorious wonderland but like so many things of as late it felt “too good to not be messed up by corporate shenanigans.” One of the very first films I watched on the service was 1968’s “Targets,” a film that is notable for two big reasons. It was the first film directed by the late Peter Bogdanovich, who would become an important figure in the American New Wave, and it was the last film to star one of the great icons of horror, Boris Karloff.
“Targets” was bankrolled by legendary producer Roger Corman, who gave Bogdanovich his first shot at directing a feature with two conditions. First, Boris Karloff owed Corman two days' worth of work off a contract. Second, the film had to include 20 minutes of footage from a film Karloff had made that Corman directed, “The Terror” from 1963. Bogdanovich and his then-wife, Polly Platt, who also did production design on the film, worked on the story together with him writing the screenplay.
The film features a dual storyline. Karloff plays Byron Orlock, an aging horror film star who has decided he’s had enough and it’s time to hang his hat up. It’s easy to see parallels between Orlock’s career with the real-life one of Karloff, but unlike Karloff, Orlock is feeling a little bitter in his older age about the films he’s made. He points out to his young director friend, which happens to be played by Bogdanovich, that the horrors of his movies can’t compete with the horror of the real day. Tossing a newspaper that states about a person who killed six people in a supermarket.
The film also follows an ordinary-looking, young man. Clean cut, the boy next door type. He’s married, and his parents live with him and his wife. He works in insurance, and he and his father enjoy shooting guns and hunting on the weekend. All seems right and well with the young man, till we see him open the trunk of his Ford Mustang and it’s full of guns. The young man soon begins to use these. On his wife, his parents, strangers on the highway, and random people at a drive-in theater where Byron Orlock is scheduled to make a personal appearance.
What makes “Targets” a hell of a movie, and also scary, is that this is a movie from 1968 that, sadly, feels very contemporary. Karloff is fantastic in the movie, and considering his role is a nod to his history, it’s a very fitting swan song for a true icon. It’s also one of the most impressive debut films ever made by a first-time filmmaker.
If you know anything about Peter Bogdanovich, you know he was born to make movies. He was obsessed with them and had interviewed many of the great giants of American filmmaking long before he ever got the chance to make “Targets.” Shot with a low budget, “Targets” is impressive as hell with how well the film is made. It’s a film that you won’t likely forget if you see it.
The film has been out of print for several years, it was released on DVD by Paramount in the early 2000s. But now a new, restored edition of the film has been released by The Criterion Collection. Though the great Peter Bogdanovich sadly passed away in January of last year, he was already working with Criterion on this release and supervised the new transfer of the film. It’s a 4K digital master, scanned from the original 35mm camera negative. Audio is the original mono soundtrack presented uncompressed by the 35mm magnetic sound masters.
The film looks fantastic, significantly better than what I saw that was streaming on FilmStruck. It makes me very happy to know that Bogdanovich got to oversee a new master of his first film before he passed away. He is present on this release thanks to an introduction and wonderful commentary track he did for that 2003 DVD release. Archival materials include the trailer and a 1983 American Film Institute interview with Polly Platt. A new feature is a half-hour look at the film with filmmaker Richard Linklater.
“Targets” is a heck of a film and one that is sadly, disturbingly, contemporary. The film has many ardent fans and admirers and it’s great to see the film out in a wonderful new edition from Criterion, and downright heartwarming to know Bogdanovich was involved with the release before his passing. This one comes highly recommended by me. See you next week.