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Old 04-15-2007, 06:46 PM
Scored: 9
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Default Targets

Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: November 15, 2002

Released by: Lionsgate
Release date: 8/12/2003
MSRP: $9.99
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes

As the 60's became the 70's, horror shifted from the screen and into reality. Screen villains like Dracula and Frankenstein were replaced in the public eye by real-life killers like Lee Harvey Oswald and Martin Luther King assassin James Earl Ray. Boris Karloff, one of the most prolific screen villains, dealt self-consciously with this cultural shift in film geek auteur Peter Bogdanovich's first film, Targets. Made on a shoe string budget for Roger Corman, this came and went without notice upon its release in 1968. Over the years it has gained a notable following, and Paramount has recently released it on DVD to coincide with the releases for two other Bogdanovich films, Paper Moon and Daisy Miller. Let's point our crosshairs and zoom in on this disc.

The Story

inline ImageAfter observing a personal screening for his dismal new film, Byron Orlok (Boris Karloff in his final role) declares his intentions to retire from acting. Pointing out the headline "Six Shot Dead in Grocery Store," Orlok observes that the real horror lies no longer in his films, but within everyday reality. A diligent and aspiring filmmaker (Bogdanovich himself) tries to convince Orlok otherwise, but his mind seems entirely made up. Orlok agrees to make his final farewell at a drive-in theatre, where he will make a speech after a screening of his movie, The Terror.

inline Image In a story thread seemingly apart from Orlok's, an everyday suburbanite Bobby Thompson (Tim O'Kelly) is shopping for a rifle to take hunting with his father. Bobby lives an average mundane life, cookie cut with the perfect working wife, and a solid family unit. One day, without a hint of foreshadow, he decides to up and kill his family. He neatly tucks them back into bed, and then heads off to the freeway to continue his killing spree.

Bobby's travels end at the drive-in theatre where Orlok is making his final experience. Propping himself up behind the projection screen, Bobby sits there awaiting his next victim. Who will be next, and will it end up being Orlok's final appearance in both life and on screen?

inline Image Targets is a masterful directorial debut by Peter Bogdanovich, arguably one of the most important directors of the New Wave of American cinema in the 1970's. Bogdanovich would make a career of throwback films that would homage the great films of the past with fantastic vintage pictures like Paper Moon and The Last Picture Show. Targets however remains a distinct entity in his body of work, in its contemporary setting and relevant social commentary. Instead of homaging the work of his favorite directors like Howard Hawks and Orson Welles, Bogdanovich instead used the knowledge he gained from them to tell his own unique story.

inline ImageAnd what a story it is. Bogdanovich manages to intertwine the two distinct stories of Byron and Bobby very skillfully, using linking establishing shots like those of a clock or of the drive-in marquee. The genius of it lies however, with the subject matter itself. With the Summer of Sam and Vietnam still resonant in everybody's memory, Bogdanovich's observation that real horror lies in everyday headlines is brutal and honest. Given the task of including Boris Karloff's previous Corman effort, The Terror into his film, Bogdanovich strikes an interesting point of commentary. It looks terribly dated and out of place, despite it being shot at roughly the same time as Targets. The film points out the predicament that aging horror stars like Karloff were in, and thus works as a great swan song for Mr. Frankenstein himself.

inline Image Bogdanovich motivates Bobby Thompson's killing spree by the numbing serenity of everyday life. Unlike the obtrusive scores of Hammer films past or Karloff's own The Terror, Targets functions entirely without a score. There is nothing to dictate the emotions, only the background noise of the film itself. Bobby, so bored by his routine life, with gentle radio jingles and late night sitting of watching talk shows with the family, is driven to murder. Not because he has been beaten or because he lives in poverty, but instead the opposite, because his life is too perfect. Bogdanovich offers a biting insight into what may form the new killer of the contemporary world.

inline ImageAnother interesting setup that Bogdanovich develops is having Bobby assassinate moviegoers from behind the projection screen. Film is oft seen as a powerful and subversive medium, and is often criticized for the power it has over its viewers. Theoretical terms like the "magic bullet," which describes the way a film's content directly penetrates the vulnerable viewers by influencing their future actions, take on a literal meaning with Bobby shooting people from behind the screen. Viewers, unbeknownst to them, are killed literally by the screen in the final act. Considering the horror film is one that is often criticized for the way it can negatively influence its audience, Bobby's setup is a biting bit of social commentary.

inline ImageThe climactic scene, which I wouldn't dare reveal, skillfully combines both film and reality in the confrontation between Byron and Bobby. The power of the images on the drive-in screen is also very important, both in the film and in context with Bogdanovich's career. Peter Bogdanovich was one of the first of the second wave of movie directors like Spielberg and Scorsese, raised not on books but on the first generation of films. People like Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford were their teachers, and the power and influence of film remains a huge part of the careers of Bogdanovich and other 70's filmmakers.

inline ImageTargets is a dated film, but that grounds it in its late-60's context, of which is should always be remembered. Knowing the time in which it was released is vital in understanding themes that Bogdanovich tackles throughout Targets. Save for some awkward moments with Bogdanovich's Sammy character, the acting is solid, with a typically strong performance by Karloff and an even better one by the unknown Tim O'Kelly. The cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs (who would work on Easy Rider the year following) has beautiful film noir expressionism and nice interplay with the contrasting colors that Bogdanovich uses with the Byron and Bobby characters. It is a low budget cheapy, but one of both style and significance. In an era where the vintage Hammer films were becoming increasingly outdated and social issues increasingly important, Targets remains one of the best and most important horror films of the 1960's.

Image Quality

Targets is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced for widescreen TVs. The print used is riddled with print blemishes and is looks washed out at best. Several scenes, especially in the dark near the end lack depth and suffer from grain. This is all understandable for being a film of over 35 years of age, although it could have certainly looked much better. The image for the most part is sharp and clear however, and is more than serviceable. The end result though, is underwhelming at best, and disappointing at worst.


An English mono track is all that is included on the disc, and it sounds just fine. The sound is flat, but certainly sounds better than the hissing and popping that would be found on those drive-in speakers featured within the film. Given that there is no scoring within the picture, and a limited sound stage, there isn't really much more that could have been done with this track anyway. Perfectly acceptable.

Supplemental Material

Like Paramount's other Bogdanovich releases, this disc comes packaged with an introduction and a commentary with Peter Bogdanovich. The introduction is much more than the heading implies, running nearly 14 minutes long. It details several aspects of the production, dealing with how Bogdanovich got his start by Roger Corman (in he 60's, who didn't?) and how the concept came to form. Portions of a TV spot are also included. There are some big spoilers within, and therefore the introduction should be saved for after the feature.

The commentary deals with several points in the introduction, but also contains a huge amount of interesting anecdotes and insights by Bogdanovich. Along with Roger Ebert, Bogdanovich recorded a commentary on Citizen Kane, and there is little question why. He is a very vocal and well-remembered commentator, and his commentaries are some of the best of the business. He straddles the line between informal recollections and technical commentary, providing an intricate portrait of the films he comments on. In Targets he dissects many of his scenes, in one way talking about how a 5-minute dolly shot was pulled off indoors, while also talking about how he discovered Tim O'Kelly. He even knows plenty about the films he never even made, speaking at length about The Terror, pointing out that Jack Nicholson is the poor soul featured at the beginning. This is one of those great commentaries that you just can't stop listening to until the final credits role.

Final Thoughts

Targets is a classic little picture that marks both a beginning to Peter Bogdanovich's career and an end to Boris Karloff's. It documents and deals with the shifting nature of the horror film in the late 60's, and does so in a very classy and mature manner. The film definitely looks its age, but it could certainly look much worse. The audio is serviceable and about all that can be expected from a picture like this. The supplements, although they may seem sparse on the back cover, are crammed with informative content. Bogdanovich's commentary is a great listen from start to finish. Considering the DVD lists for a scant $9.99 and can be obtained for even cheaper, this is a film that should not escape anybody's collection. Zoom in and snipe a copy.


Movie - A
Image Quality - C+
Sound - B-
Supplements - A-

Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running time - 1 hour 29 minutes
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English mono
  • English subtitles

  • Commentary with Peter Bogdanovich
  • Introduction with Peter Bogdanovich

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