Wednesday, February 18, 2015

TARGETS (1968) - Peter Bogdanovich

Forget American Sniper. For a truly unsettling film about an expert marksman, where celebrities and crosshairs also happen to align, you might be better served watching Peter Bogdanovich's small first film, which could easily share the same title as the aforementioned blockbuster. Targets merges the trajectories of an ex-Vietnam vet turned freeway sniper with that of an aging Hollywood monster movie star (Boris Karloff as "Byron Orlok") who's about to bow out of the business with his final film. You wouldn't think these plotlines would blend as easily as they do. One half plays like a homespun Taxi Driver, the other like Birdman without all the gliding camera hijinks. But somehow it all works and works quite effectively.

For much of the film, Tim O'Kelly's sniper is a cheery-faced cipher, sort of Wally Cleaver with a high powered rifle. He snacks on Baby Ruths and trades small talk casually as he's buying obscene amounts of ammo from the local gun store. When he later cracks, kills his wife and mother and takes to the water tower above the freeway to start picking off motorists, the guy first packs himself a brown bag lunch. Charles Whitman's UT guard tower shooter was an obvious inspiration, but watching O'Kelly pick off drivers one by one with little emotion you're also queasily reminded of the D.C. Sniper. Later, when he takes to a drive-in and starts mowing down moviegoers from a hole cut within the screen, you can't help but think of the Aurora shootings. Sadly, watching Targets from a modern day vantage, there's no shortage of wack-jobs on which this film could be based.

The Karloff parts are pretty good, too. Though I've never been a huge Bogdanovich fan (apart from The Last Picture Show), I have to admit he knows what he's doing here. Like Dementia 13, Targets was another cut-rate Roger Corman production done on the fly and mostly because of contractual obligations. Karloff owed Corman a couple of hours work, and Corman had some footage from The Terror (starring a young Jack Nicholson and Karloff) lying around. Bogdanovich was basically tasked with making a film from these disparate elements, a tiny budget and too little time. As much as I cringe to see him acting the part of film director onscreen, he gets the job done.

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