"My kind of horror isn't horror anymore... No one's afraid of a painted monster."
With this, director Peter Bogdanovich makes a bold statement about the changing social climate of the late 60's that would reshape the cinematic landscape forever. The words are spoken by a withered old Byron Orlok, played by the great Boris Karloff. Orlok is an old-fashioned and out-of-date actor who is scheduled to make a final appearance at the Reseda drive-ins during the showing of his latest film. Unbeknownst to Orlok and the rest of the moviegoers, an uninvited guest is also in attendance... A man perched high above the screen with a sniper rifle pointed at the crowd. As the movie plays, shots ring out and audience members are mercilessly killed at random, unaware that this film would be their last.
Fashioned after the Charles Whitman shootings in 1966, TARGETS hit frighteningly close to home in a time when the real horrors were the ones unfolding in the streets and newspapers of America. No one was safe when your friend or neighbor could be a murderer in disguise. There are no monsters here, no creepy castles or graveyards. What is also missing, and what makes TARGETS such a terrifying experience, is a motive. Bogdanovich broke new ground in 1968 by featuring a motiveless killer with no remorse and no explanation behind his actions. This would become characteristic in the Slasher genre in the years to follow, beginning with BLACK CHRISTMAS and HALLOWEEN, but at the time, it was quite revolutionary. The inclusion of Boris Karloff, a name synonymous with Horror, is also quite important. An era had ended, and with it went its many monsters. New Horror, including pictures like ROSEMARY'S BABY and later THE EXORCIST, took place right here at home, and could happen to anyone.
Karloff is in his finest form here as always, but the spotlight quickly moves to a charming, handsome, and charismatic young man named Bobby. Tim O'Kelly's disarming smile and cheerful demeanor remove all suspicion even as he travels to the gun store and decides on an ideal location for his murder spree. Still, there is a coldness about him that is difficult to decipher. He is excellently cast in the role.
Bogdanovich keeps the audience at the edge of their seats during a number of stress-inducing scenes. Like in STRAW DOGS from 1971, the violence is raw and extreme. The whir of the bullets are accompanied by quick zooms to give the illusion of movement. Even in the expository sequences, Bogdanovich maintains a high level of interest through his well-rounded and engaging characters.
TARGETS is a brilliant thriller that has had a tremendous impact on the genre. Its rediscovery is sure to leave a lasting impression with modern audiences.
Movies like TARGETS:
ANGUISH, GOD TOLD ME TO, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.