Saturday, March 7, 2009

Karloff's Last Great Screen Appearance

Targets (1968)
Starring: Boris Karloff, Tim O'Kelly, Nancy Hsueh and Peter Bogdanovich
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

As aging horror movie star Byron Orlok (Karloff) prepares to announce his retirement, a seemingly average young man, Bobby (O'Kelly), embarks on a murderous killing spree. The creator of make-believe monsters and the real-life monster come face to face when Bobby's day of terror culminates with a sniper rampage at the drive-in where Orlok is making his final public appearance.

In "Targets", Bogdanovich expertly interweaves two storylines that only really connect in a single scene at the film's climax. In the process, he manages to build a tremendous amount of tension, because we come to like and care about Orlock, his secretary (Hsueh), and the young writer/director (Bogdanovich) who is trying to convince him to make at least one last movie--his movie. The audience can see that these three characters are going to walk head-long into Bobby's gun-sights, and Bogdanovich establishes that he is a good shot.

Although the entire film is perfectly paced, well-acted--with Karloff in particular shining, despite his health being poor at the time--and looks far better than the shoe-string budget it was shot on should allow, it's the scene where the two stories finally completely merge, with Orlok and Bobby confronting each other that really makes the movie for me.

This is a film that's definately worth seeing for fans for suspense and horror movies and admirers of Boris Karloff. It's the last good movie in Karloff's career and like so many of his films it holds up spectacularly well.

As I make this post, "Targets" is officially unavailable commercially. A few copies may still be had at retailers and you want to make sure you get the "Paramount Widescreen Collection" DVD version of the film. That disc includes an interview with Bogdanovich. It gives some fascinating insights into how the movie came to be. It's a very different film than it started out as--a throw-away Roger Corman production made to fulfill Karloff's contractual obligations to the producer--and it's a story that illustrates that pure business decisions can sometimes lead to great art, even on shoe-string budgets and tight shooting schedules.

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