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Friday, 18 January 2008

Targets (1968) Peter Bogdanovich

Peter Bogdanovich, like every major name in film from the mid sixties until at least the end of the eighties, started out working for Roger Corman. For his first film, Corman allowed him the freedom to make whatever he wanted but with a couple of conditions attached. Firstly, he must use stock footage from Corman's film The Terror, which is obvious from moment one, and secondly he must cast Boris Karloff to whom he owed a couple of days work.

Karloff plays a very Karloffian actor, Byron Orlok, who retires from the industry at the beginning of the film, in cleverly written scene that references Bela Lugosi more than once without ever seeming to do so at all. He stays in the picture though, embuing the film with a sense of quality. The lines he's given are worthy and he gets to really act, even though for a good part of the film he can't be far off playing himself. That's got to be a strange situation to find yourself in, especially when it certainly isn't autobiographical.

The other key actor is Tim O'Kelly, who plays a Vietnam veteran called Bobby Thompson. He's polite, well mannered and decent, but he obviously came home with some major issues. He might fold his clothes and call his dad 'sir', but he also kills his wife and mother then goes out with his new sniper rifle to play target practice on the highway. These scenes are not comfortable ones to say the least, even though it's nearly 40 years before the real life sniper I read about in the news. Then again he wasn't the first.

The two end up in the same place, needless to say. Karloff, I mean Orlok, ends up making one last scheduled public performance at the Reseda drive in theatre, and Thompson finds his way there too to keep away from the cops. Naturally the opportunity of so many people seemingly waiting for his bullets like sitting ducks is too much to overlook, so target practice it becomes. And it's all down to Orlok to save the day and those scenes are gems.

'All the good movies have been made,' says Peter Bogdanovich, a first time film director playing a film director Sammy Michaels, who gets a great drunk scene trying to persuade Orlok to star in his latest script. He must have had a great time, not just as an actor here but especially as a scriptwriter (though he did so in collaboration with his wife, Polly Platt, and with uncredited help from no less than Sam Fuller).

Those Lugosi digs are far from the only ones to classic horror, or film generally. We see clips from old Karloff films, beyond just The Terror, of which we see plenty; and there are other references to many well known film names, from Howard Hawks to Vincent Price. I particularly liked little touches like the projectionist not actually watching the movie but reading a book in between the change of reels. In short it's a solid job for a first time filmmaker, especially one juggling direction, scriptwriting and acting all at once. There are slow scenes and clumsy scenes but some really powerful ones too. Bogdanovich proved that he was certainly a talent to watch out for, especially given the tight budget and shooting schedule.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a uniquely American horror film. I think it is more frightening today then it was in 1968.

Scary details...

Shooter telling gun shop clerk that he was going to hunt some pigs. Was this coincidental to the death to pigs reference in the real life 1968 Manson murders??

Relationship of father and son (shooter) similar to the Marine father and son in "American Beauty".

Surreal Hitchcock detail...

Shooter walking through his house and viewer expecting gun to go off as the images transition to the Karloff hotel room.