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Targets

Targets

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Today, I’m going to take a look at a controversial cult classic: Peter Bogdanovich’s 1968 feature, Targets.

The plot of Targets is summarized on IMDb as follows:

An elderly horror-film star, while making a personal appearance at a drive-in theater, confronts a psychotic Viet Nam War veteran who’s turned into a mass-murdering sniper.

Targets was written, produced, edited, and directed by Peter Bogdanovich, a lauded film critic who became one of the stalwart figures of the New Hollywood movement. After Targets, he built a strong career that included features like The Last Picture Show, What’s Up, Doc?, Mask, Paper Moon, Daisy Miller, and At Long Last Love, among many others. His wife at the time, Polly Platt, is credited as both his co-writer and the film’s production designer. She later gained more notoriety as a producer on such movies as Bottle Rocket, The War of The Roses, Broadcast News, and Say Anything.

targets2The cinematographer on Targets was Laszlo Kovacs, who had a lengthy and notable career shooting films like Easy Rider, Shampoo, Paper Moon, Say Anything, and New York, New York.

Roger Corman was an uncredited executive producer for the film, and was instrumental in its creation. He essentially gave Bogdanovich free reign on the project with a set budget, provided that he was able to make use of stock footage from a previous Corman production, The Terror, and found a way to use the elderly Boris Karloff for just two days. Ultimately, Karloff was needed for five days of shooting, but he waived his fee thanks to his fondness for the screenplay.

targets3The shooting spree featured in Targets was inspired by true events, most notably the 1965 Highway 101 sniper attack, in which a sniper fired on moving cars from a nearby hill, and the Charles Whitman shootings at the University of Texas in 1966. The realistic depictions of mass shootings caused the film to be particularly controversial, even for a b-feature intended for a niche audience.

Samuel Fuller, a noted writer and director in his own right, apparently contributed significantly to the screenplay for Targets, but turned down credit for the movie.

Targets is regarded as one of the starting points for a new era in film horror, as well as a key point in the development of New Hollywood. Books like Shock Value and Easy Riders, Raging Bulls have gone into detail about the film’s production, and how it influenced Bogdanovich’s career and the way audiences thought about horror.

Targets currently has Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 88% from critics and 81% from audiences, along with an IMDb user score of 7.4/10. Its reputation over the years has only grown, as its influence has been felt and appreciated both in and outside of the horror genre.

Targets is, above all else, an effectively eerie movie. The lack of a soundtrack in particular gives the tense and shocking sequences a more pronounced and uncomfortable vibe. There are no cues to indicate what the audience’s reaction should be to any given action, which plays into the fact that the audience is subjected to the killer’s perspective for most of the movie. He doesn’t react to killing someone, and the film doesn’t either. I think that this apect, more so than the shooting sequences themselves, is what made the film so controversial and uncomfortable for people. Murder wasn’t a new topic for film, but showing it from a killer’s perspective was (and still is) genuinely unnerving.

While there are a lot of impressive elements to Targets, it is far from a perfect movie. As with most debut features, it is a little rough around the edges, particularly when it comes to the pacing of events. There are some distinct moments where the lulls in progress last a bit too long, but that said, this is a damn impressive first flick. While Bogdanovich arguably peaked early and has waned since the 1970s, this film provides a good overarching sense of his talents and potential.

targets4For fans of b-movies, horror movies, the New Hollywood era, or even just film history in general, Targets is worth your time to dig up in my opinion. There are a lot of things to like about it, and they certainly far outweigh the negatives.

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Bargain Bin(ge): Movie Exchange (Houston, TX)

Movie Exchange is a local buy/sell/trade media chain with six locations around the Houston, TX metropolitan area. Like many other similar stores around the country, it has a selection that includes DVDs, Blu-rays, and a smattering of video games, but also notably still has a significant stock of VHS, which is rapidly becoming a rarity.

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The deals on movies were generally pretty good, but I was much more enthralled with the selection of more rare and off-the-wall features (which ultimately comprised most of my haul). Just check out some of the BBC DVDs of old school Doctor Who features below.

2 3Likewise, I was surprised to see a copy of Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper, which isn’t a DVD that you would casually stumble upon every day.
6Anyway, on to the handful of movies I actually walked away from Movie Exchange with:

The Changeling

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The Changeling stars George C. Scott (of Patton and Dr. Strangelove) in one of the most memorable haunted house movies you’ll ever come across, or so I’m told. I’ve never actually seen this movie, nor have I ever come across a DVD copy of it in my travels. I’m a big fan of horror movies that are done well, so I am eager to give this a shot.

Straw Dogs

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Straw Dogs is probably the most controversial movie in Sam Peckinpah’s notoriously violent filmography, and that is really saying something. Dustin Hoffman and Susan George star as a couple who are new residents in a small town, and rapidly become the targets of intense harassment from a gang of vicious locals. This movie taps into a fear that I don’t think it used enough these days in features: the sinister potential of the every-man. Your neighbors, if they were so inclined, could turn your life into a living hell in a mere instant. I can certainly say that Straw Dogs makes a compelling case to avoid the remote countryside at the very least.

Targets

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This movie kick-started the feature film-making career of one of the New Hollywood luminaries: Peter Bogdanovich. While his career has been one with pronounced highs and lows, his first Roger Corman produced b-movie influenced the future of the entire horror film genre by shaking it to the core. It may not be the pinnacle of his career, but I’d dare say that Targets has has about as much influence on film as a whole as any of his later features. This has been a movie on my list to dig up for a long time, and I can’t describe how thrilled I was to finally find a copy of it out in the wild. Keep your eyes peeled, because it will wind up back on the blog before too long.

Zeus and Roxanne

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Look, I don’t really have much to say about this. I honestly felt like I had to leave the store with something at least a little light-hearted after picking up Straw Dogs, The Changeling, and Targets. I mean, that is one hell of a trio of dark violence and depression. So, here is a Steve Guttenberg movie about a cross-species relationship between a dog and a dolphin. If that doesn’t sound like a winner, I don’t know what does.