This is the first film I saw when I started Year 1 of Film Studies at BIFHE (a technical college in Belfast) long ago (which has since been renamed the Belfast Metropolitan College and has since moved location. The building our classroom was in is now going to be a hotel room). At the time, it was unlike any film I saw before, and to this day I don’t think anybody has done a film quite like it. What can I say?
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich (who appears as the young movie director Sammy Michaels in this film, and is Dr Melfi’s psychotherapist in The Sopranos), Targets challenges the audience to ask a simple question: What are you more afraid of? Is it the monsters that appear in Horror movies? Or the human being who is out walking among you? One might give you nightmares of supernatural or illusive things. The other is a harsh reality, that was very evident during that time. Though this film was made in 1967, it was released a year later, shortly after both Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy were shot.
In terms of our main characters, first we have Byron Orlock, an ageing horror movie actor played by the legendary Boris Karloff (Known by many for playing the most famous version of Adam, Frankenstein’s monster in 1931). This would be 1 of Karloff’s last films before passing away in 1969. His character, Byron, is fed up with his job. He doesn’t believe people are scared of horror movies anymore. That there are much more horrifying things out there in the real world, and his movies no longer serve their purpose. He decides to retire, against the wishes of his bosses, promoters, director (Sammy Michaels) and secretary (simply named Jenny). He cancels all appointments except for 1; to appear at a drive-in movie theatre where his newest film was being released.
Meanwhile, Bobby Thompson makes preparations for the ‘real horror’ aspect of the film. On the surface, he seems like the least likely person who would do something like this (The only exception of this up until the late ’60s was possibly Norman Bates from Psycho). A Vietnam War Veteran, He is young, clean-cut, and he dresses quite smartly, even when casual. He drives a white Ford Mustang, drinks coke, eats home-made sandwiches, and eats Baby Ruth chocolate bars. He calls his Dad sir, is married to a lovely woman, has loving parents who say grace before meals, and he knows how to shoot every gun under the sun. To say the least, he’s the stereotypical all-american poster-boy who doesn’t play American Football or Baseball.
Without a little context, this might all seem a little cliche compared to most movie and TV killers from 1978 onwards. But the fact is, what Bobby Thompson does in this film is based on 2 true stories that happened just 1-2 years before filming. 1 of them being the 1965 Highway 101 Sniper attack, when a young boy started shooting at cars from a high hill. The other being the mass shooting rampage of Charles Whitman in 1966, which included a University tower, a sawed-off shotgun and a sniper rifle. Bobby’s story combines the 2 events together, but changes the locations. The Tower in Whitman’s story was changed into a Drive-in Movie Theatre.
For us, it can then bring up other questions; such as whether this film was insensitive or challenging. After Columbine happened, for a long time nobody dared show a bullied student with a gun, and for about 5 months that included Buffy The Vampire Slayer. After 9/11 happened, 1 of the best Simpsons episodes of 1997 (The City Of New York vs Homer Simpson) was censored for featuring the two towers in several jokes, and it’s quite hard to find the original episode anymore. This film brings a problem to light, rather than locking it away in case it was offensive. It allows us to see the great waste that comes with giving into such urges and curiosities, and it possibly is designed to satisfy that desire virtually. In the end, Bobby chooses to give up everything good and meaningful in his life for a short but explosive high. Was he mad? Yes. Was it his fault for being this way? Maybe it’s a reaction to his time in Vietnam. It’s a question to be discussed.
So how good is this film, really? Truth being told, it’s brilliant! It has a unique and surprisingly well focused narrative. It has great cinematography. It’s engaging, well acted, interesting, and the lack of a soundtrack (other than the radios in cars) made this feel like it was happening more-so in real life. Smartly made, certainly edgy for its day, and for its low budget, it was a success in quality.
10/10 for the story, 10/10 for the cinematography, 9/10 for the characters, 9/10 for the acting, 9/10 for the editing, 10/10 for the setting. I’ll give the music a 6/10, which would be one star if zero stars is 5/10 and minus 5 stars is 0/10. Though it has no real score or soundtrack, good 60s radio isn’t a bad thing. Overall: 90/100