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Paramount Studios presents
Targets (1968)

"My kind of horror isn't horror any more....No one's afraid of a painted monster."
- Byron Orlok (Boris Karloff)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: August 17, 2003

Stars: Boris Karloff, Tim O'Kelly, Nancy Hsueh, James Brown, Sandy Baron
Other Stars: Peter Bogdanovich, Arthur Peterson, Mary Jackson, Tanya Morgan, Monty Landis, Jack Nicholson, Mike Farrell
Director: Peter Bogdanovich

MPAA Rating: R for Violent Content
Run Time: 01h:30m:00s
Release Date: August 12, 2003
UPC: 097360682441
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AA-B- B+

DVD Review

Boris Karloff had a long and distinguished career beginning back in 1918 opposite Douglas Fairbanks. After many years of playing heavies and gangsters, he eventually became typecast in horror film roles (though he often branched out into other types of roles, particularly on stage). Unlike most stars (including his contemporary Bela Lugosi), he never objected to the typecasting but enjoyed the attention and the continual work that the typecasting brought him. But as his career wore on into the 1960s, the real world slowly became more and more horrible than the classic Universal horror pictures where he made his name. Just before his 1969 death, Karloff owed Roger Corman a couple of days of filming on an old contract. Corman, never one to let one of his name actors go to waste, offered those two days to a young protégé, Peter Bogdanovich, for his first directorial feature. The result is a neglected classic that makes a wonderful farewell for the great actor (even though he made four best-forgotten el cheapo horrors in Mexico thereafter).

Karloff stars as Byron Orlok, an elderly horror star not all that different from Karloff himself. One significant difference is that despite the pleas of his assistant Jenny (Nancy Hsueh), Orlok is determined to retire from pictures and relax. His director, Sammy Michaels (director Bogdanovich), tries to convince him to remain in films, at least long enough to perform the new script that he has written for Orlok, something that would be very different (possibly the movie Targets, though it's never quite clear). Orlok is finally convinced to at least make one last personal appearance at a California drive-in theatre.

Paralleling the Karloff story is the tale of Bobby Thompson (Tim O'Kelly), a gun lover who gets a bit too involved in his hobby. After murdering his wife Ilene (Tanya Morgan) and mother (Mary Jackson), Bobby takes his guns and begins sniping on the highway. The two stories intersect in a bravura finale when Bobby decides to take his gunplay to the drive-in.

Even though this is Bogdanovich's directorial debut, he already has an assured hand here. The use of color is striking in keeping Karloff's scenes rather warm and Bobby's very cold, giving an emotional resonance to the visuals. The violence is brutal, especially for 1968, though not hugely gory. The pacing and camera work keep the viewer's attention at all times, and the suspense factor becomes almost excruciating by the finale as Bobby seems unstoppable in his monstrous rampage, contrasting of course in a most postmodern way with the cinematic horrors of Orlok. Bogdanovich gives much of the credit to Samuel Fuller, who did a major rewrite on the screenplay. Fuller's harsh sensibilities are certainly consistent with the bleak outlook of the finished picture; Bogdanovich may be being modest here, but his claims of Fuller's major involvement are certainly credible.

The film works on a number of levels; in addition to the more obvious suspense story, Targets is also a love letter of sorts to Karloff and to some extent the classic horror genre (even though Bogdanovich professes to dislike horror movies). Partway through, Bogdanovich and Karloff sit down to watch a television airing of Karloff back in 1931 (pre-Frankenstein) in the role of an inmate in Howard Hawks' The Criminal Code. In a foreshadowing of modern pop-culture-sensitive pictures, they start to discuss the merits of Hawks as they get increasingly drunk. The sequence is marvelous and warmly appreciative of classic film.

While Karloff's story is more or less based on him, Bobby is based heavily on Texas tower sniper Charles Whitman. As Whitman did, Bobby tells the local gun clerk, "Gonna shoot some pigs," just before his rampage begins. His segments are truly chilling, fueled by O'Kelly's pleasant and industrious attitude as he first murders his family and then satisfiedly picks off complete strangers. Of course, those living near the Beltway will find a deep resonance in this film to recent events. It also had a painful relevance at the time of its release, since between filming and its abbreviated release, both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy had been killed by gunfire. As a result, the picture did not get very wide play and essentially was buried for many years.

Paramount is to be commended for releasing this important film in such a good special edition at the miniscule list price of only $9.99. That price is worth it just to hear Karloff recite the tale of the Appointment in Samarra and its implications for mortality about halfway through. A beautiful cinematic moment, powerfully performed and expertly shot.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture looks very nice indeed. Color is excellent, as is texture, with good detail. The only significant flaw is a minor bit of speckling from time to time, but that's certainly to be preferred over using digital video noise reduction and losing some of the detail.

A few substantial segments of Karloff (and Jack Nicholson) in Corman's film The Terror (1964) are prominently featured in the film and they look gorgeous. If only someone would release a proper DVD in the correct ratio of that film to take the place of the multitude of wretched public domain discs that plague the market....

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The main problem with this disc is the soundtrack. Obviously, a Roger Corman-backed picture isn't going to have a big elaborate audio production, and this is no exception. The audio tends to be rather hissy and noisy. Bogdanovich intentionally used no music (except some minor onscreen source music), so only sound effects and dialogue are implicated. Both sound fine though undistinguished beneath the hiss.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director/screenwriter Peter Bogdanovich
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Paramount provides some very nice special edition material in support of the film. Most prominent is a full-length commentary by Bogdanovich himself, who has a great many anecdotes regarding Karloff and the filming. Particularly notable are the tales of illegally shooting footage on the Los Angeles freeways, and even worse, staging accidents for the film as Bobby picks off drivers. He seldom pauses or leaves dead space and avoids narrating what's onscreen. He does a fine job and provides a wealth of fascinating information for the viewer.

The other special feature is a so-called "Introduction to Targets." But it's hardly an introduction, since this featurette by Laurent Bouzereau runs 13m:41s. It does, unfortunately duplicate the commentary to a great extent, making it mostly a featurette for those without the patience to sit through a commentary. But I'd suggest doing so anyway.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

A neglected classic hits DVD in a lovely transfer (though the audio is a bit noisy) and with some excellent extras courtesy of the director. At this price, a definite buy recommendation.


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