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Original movie poster
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Produced by Roger Corman
Screenplay by Peter Bogdanovich
Story by Polly Platt
Peter Bogdanovich
Starring Boris Karloff
Tim O'Kelly
Peter Bogdanovich
Music by Ronald Stein (from The Terror)
Cinematography László Kovács
Edited by Peter Bogdanovich
Saticoy Productions
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
  • August 15, 1968 (1968-08-15) (U.S.)
Running time
90 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $130,000 (estimated)[1]

Targets is a 1968 American thriller, written and directed by Peter Bogdanovich and filmed in color by László Kovács.[2]

In one of two parallel story lines that ultimately converge, a seemingly wholesome and normal young married man suddenly goes on a killing spree. In the other, Boris Karloff, in his last straight dramatic role, plays a semi-autobiographical character.

The film earned mostly positive reviews. It is currently included as one of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.


The plot follows two different and unrelated storylines that eventually come together at the climax.

Byron Orlok (Boris Karloff) is an aging horror film icon who is bitter and dissatisfied with his latest horror film credit and decides to retire from acting and travel back to his home country in England to live out his final days. Despite requests from his agent as well as film director Sammy to persuade him to continue his career, Orlok considers himself outdated because people are no longer frightened by old-fashion horror on the big movie screen. But after much persuasion, Orlok decides to make a final promotional appearance at a Reseda drive-in theater before leaving Hollywood for good.

The other story concerns a quiet, clean-cut young insurance agent and Vietnam War veteran named Bobby Thompson (Tim O'Kelly) who lives in the suburban San Fernando Valley with his wife and his parents. Thompson is also a deeply disturbed gun collector who has been having mental problems, but both his wife and parents do not seem to take notice. One morning after his father leaves for work, Thompson murders his wife, his mother, and a grocery delivery boy at his home. Thompson then goes on an afternoon shooting rampage from atop an oil storage tank that sits alongside a heavily traveled freeway. Several motorists and passengers are wounded or killed on the freeway. When the police respond and start to close in on him, he flees and takes refuge in the very same drive-in theater where Orlok is to make his appearance that evening.

After sunset, Thompson perches himself on the framing inside the screen tower during the airing of the Orlok film The Terror and begins randomly shooting at the theater patrons in their parked cars around the lot. As panic develops, people attempt to flee from the drive-in in their cars, while an armed vigilante group of men close in on the tower screen, forcing Thompson to fall back to an area in the corner of the screen to resume his shooting spree. Orlok and Thompson finally meet face to face when Orlock rashly approaches Thompson, who is distracted by Orlock's appearance before him and on the large movie screen behind him, which allows Orlock to knock a pistol out of Thompson's hands by using his walking cane as well as to slap the murderer into submission. As the police close in and arrest Thompson, he remarks with apparent satisfaction that he "hardly ever missed".


The character and actions of the killer are patterned after Charles Whitman, the University of Texas sniper. The character of Byron Orlok, named after Max Schreck's vampire Count Orlok in 1922's Nosferatu, was based on Karloff himself, with a fictional component of being embittered with the movie business and wanting to retire. The role was Karloff's last appearance in a major American film.

In the film's finale at a drive-in theater, Orlok – the old-fashioned, traditional screen monster who always obeyed the rules – confronts the new, realistic, nihilistic late-1960s "monster" in the shape of a clean-cut, unassuming multiple murderer.

Bogdanovich got the chance to make Targets because Boris Karloff owed studio head Roger Corman two days' work. Corman told Bogdanovich he could make any film he liked provided he used Karloff and stayed under budget. In addition, Bogdanovich had to use clips from Corman's Napoleonic-era thriller The Terror in the movie. The clips from The Terror feature Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff. Bogdanovich has said that Samuel Fuller provided generous help on the screenplay and refused to accept either a fee or a screen credit, so Bogdanovich named his own character Sammy Michaels (Fuller's middle name was Michael) in tribute. Fuller advised Bogdanovich to save as much money in the film's budget as possible for the film to have an action-packed conclusion.[3]



American International Pictures offered to release but Bogdanovich wanted to try to see if the film could get a deal with a major studio. It was seen by Robert Evans of Paramount who bought it for $150,000, giving Corman an instant profit on the movie before it was even released.[4]

Although the film was written and production photography completed in late 1967, it was released after the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy in early 1968 and thus had some topical relevance to then-current events. Nevertheless, it was not very successful at the box office.

However, Bogdanovich, who appears in the film as a young writer-director, credits it with getting him noticed by the studios, which in turn led to his directing three very successful studio films (The Last Picture Show, What's Up, Doc, and Paper Moon) in the early 1970s.

Writing in The Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert gave the film 2.5 stars out of a possible 4. He declared, "'Targets' isn't a very good film, but it is an interesting one." Karloff's performance was "fascinating" but somehow out of place, thought Ebert, and the film would likely have been more effective as a suspense-thriller without him.[5]

Targets holds an 88% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 25 reviews.[6]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Roger Corman & Jim Jerome, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never lost a Dime, Muller, 1990 p 143
  2. ^ Stephen Jacobs, Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster, Tomohawk Press 2011 p 487-492
  3. ^ Background and production information in accordance with the extensive audio commentary by Bogdanovich available on the MGM DVD release of the film.
  4. ^ Andrew Yule, Picture Shows: The Life and Films of Peter Bogdanovich, Limelight, 1992 p 32
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Targets Movie Review & Film Summary (1968) - Roger Ebert". Retrieved July 24, 2017. 
  6. ^ Targets at Rotten Tomatoes

External links[edit]