From the very beginning of his career, Peter Bogdanovich’s love for classic movies was evident. In his first feature, Targets, he cast Boris Karloff who was in contract to Roger Corman’s studio at the time. This casting choice and decision for Mr. Karloff to play a version of himself set the tone for the rest of his career. He was able to a give an aging star one last truly interesting role to play.
The movie tells two different stories that don’t converge until the end. The first story is the one of Byron Orlock. He is an aging horror star who wants nothing more than to retire. In fact at the screening of his last movie, he announces that he will not act ever again. This of course upsets the suits but also the director of his last picture who just wrote a great part for him in his new script. He also announces that he will not do any personal appearances which is a problem because he is due at a drive in theater the next day. He goes to the hotel room and drinks a lot. This story is intertwined with the story of a young ex-war hero. He lives a typical American existence but there is something off about him. He loves guns. In the first scene you see him buying a gun and pointing its scope at Byron Orlock who happens to be across the street. Once he has bought this particular gun, he opens the trunk of his car to reveal that he has a very large collection of other kinds of guns. His interactions with his loved ones are stilted and fake. It seems the only time he comes alive is when he is shooting tin cans with his dad. For some reason, that I’m sure he doesn’t even know, he snaps and kills his wife and parents. He then takes to a high vantage point and guns down people on the freeway. After several people are left to die, he heads to the drive in theater that Orlock is supposed to appear at. Orlock, meanwhile, has a semi change of heart and decides to do one last appearance before going off to retire. The two-story lines converge dramatically.
There are a couple of major problems with this film. The first problem is that not all of Karloff’s scenes are completely necessary to the plot or his character. From the beginning we know this character and we sympathize with him. We don’t necessarily need more scenes to make him sympathetic. The second problem which is connected to the first one is that the scenes that feature Karloff are the best scenes in the movie. Because the character is basically Karloff’s real life persona, he brings a dimension to the scenes that makes him easy to watch. There is one scene where his character and the director character are watching an old movie of his on television. You hear him reminiscence about this Howard Hawks directed picture and you know that came from Karloff’s real experiences. I wanted to stay in that scene for the rest of the movie. To just hear Karloff talk about the golden age of cinema and his evolution as an actor is completely fascinating to me. But Bogdanovich won’t let you stay there. Instead he gives you another storyline that is boring by contrast. The serial killer is supposed to be an everyman that is driven crazy by the minutia of modernity, but these attributes do nothing for the character. He is beyond bland and so are his interactions. This of course makes for boring film watching. If you have seen a serial murderer picture before than you know what is going on. He doesn’t bring anything new to this genre. If I were you I would fast forward through the serial killer scenes in order to get back to the great scenes with Boris Karloff in them.This way you will truly know that Karloff really is the shit.