Targets (1968)

Targets

Targets – 1968

Director – Peter Bogdanovich

Starring – Boris Karloff, Tim O’Kelly, Peter Bogdanovich, and Nancy Hsueh

My review of a couple of days ago of The Masque of the Red Death, dove-tails nicely with today’s review of the film Targets.  Both films started out as projects coming out of the creative collective that is Roger Corman and American International Pictures, however both films ended up becoming polar opposites of one another.  Masque, while brimming with campy fun, was  produced solely to turn a profit banking on the names of Edgar Allen Poe, Vincent Price, with a dollop of horror and a pinch of sexuality. 

Targets on the other hand, started it’s existence in much the same way, but was able to become more than the sum of it’s parts.  Corman, who produced the picture, offered the directing position to a young up-and-comer by the name of Peter Bogdanovich who would later go on to direct a number of critically acclaimed films, as well as make friends with some very influential and talented people (most notably portly wunderkind, Orson Welles).  Corman would allow Bogdanovich to make any film he wanted to with two caveats, he had to re-use footage of a b-horror movie “The Terror” that he had the rights to, and mix it with footage filmed in the two days of filming that legendary horror actor Boris Karloff owed to Corman.

Reportedly, Bogdanovich was so frustrated with trying to find a way to merge the scenes of campy victorian horror, with the older, more frail Karloff that he only had two days with, that he jokingly said Karloff was going to be a washed up movie star disgusted with where his career had gone.  Ultimately this ended up being a large chunk of what the story became. 

The other half of the movie centers around Tim O’Kelly’s character, Bobby Thompson, a troubled young man with a penchant for guns.  Modelled after real life gunman Charles Whitman, Bobby Thompson goes on a similar type of shooting spree, firing methodically into traffic and later into into the audience of Byron Orlok’s (Boris Karloff’s) newest movie.  Where Orlok represented horror in his day, Bobby Thompson represented the fear that existed in the future.  Thompson remorselessly guns down his wife, and mother before calmly collecting all of his weapons and setting out to make his mark on the world.

Though the story is one that is partially designed to be fantastic, and draw an audience through shock value, unlike Masque, it talks about a very real kind of fear, one that is just as prescient today as it was in 1968.  At one point Karloff’s Orlok laments about how he no longer wants to be in the movies because with things like these {murders} appearing in the papers, what’s so scary about a man in a rubber monster costume.  It is just these little kinds of humanistic characterizations that helped Karloff achieve such a dignity in his original famous role, that of  Frankenstein.  Though the story centers around these crimes that Bobby Thompson commits, and their direct influence on our main characters, the real meat of the film is watching Karloff as Orlok, play himself.  We watch as he realizes his time is done, his effectiveness has faded away, and his realization that he is no longer a star, but only a man.

Peter Bogdanovich does a fantastic job, not really despite what he has to work with, but because of it.  Due to his drive to create something beyond the desire for a payday, he was able to far surpass other grind-house films that started in the same vein,  like The Masque of the Red Death.  He is forced to be creative with his resources.  Everything from his actors, to his story, to his limitations on directing had to be carefully measured and weighed. 

To his credit, however, Roger Corman gave a lot of young, aspiring director’s their big breaks.  Without him wouldn’t have had Scorsese, Coppola, Demme, Bogdanovich, James Camer0n, or Joe Dante.  Imagine a world without Goodfellas, and Gremlins.

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

MasqueoftheRedDeath

The Masque of the Red Death – 1964

Director – Roger Corman

Starring – Vincent Price

Despite it’s lofty source material, and it’s pedigree of themes, this Roger Corman directed version of  The Masque of the Red Death seems more interested in cheap spectacle than it is in characterization and story-telling.  This isn’t necessarily bad, as sometimes cheap spectacle, gratuitous cleavage, and gaudy thrills is just what the doctor ordered.

The Masque of the Red Death stars Vincent Price as Prince Prospero, a sadistic and cruel ruler of a castle overlooking a small town.  As the story begins, he is verbally attacked by one of the towns people who are sick of the mis-treatment, and abuse they receive from him.  Prospero sentences the man and one of his compatriots to death, but before this can be carried out, the wife and daughter respectively of the two men, pleads for their lives.  Seeing a game, and some amusement in all of this, Prospero brings them all to his castle.  On their way out of the small town he discovers a kind of plague called the Red Death in the village, and orders the town burned to the ground.  From here, the story takes place completely at Prince Prospero’s opulent castle. 

Not having seen a Roger Corman film before, I didn’t know quite what to expect.  The sets were bargain basement.  They consisted of a couple of shoddy props dressed up with strong lighting and color, and this ended up being the true star of the show.  The craft of the film was, at best, shoestring, and at worst, threadbare.  The acting was hammy and overwrought, and the motivation of the characters seemed cartoonish and exaggerated. 

That being said, I can understand the motivation for making something like this.  I have to imagine the goal was to spend as little time and money on a feature film, quickly edit it and get it out there, and try to make as much money with it as humanly possible.  I can understand the attraction of audiences wanting to see a movie like this.  I enjoyed myself, after all.  It was full of campy hilarity, and it kept me busy for an hour and a half.  And I understand the historical significance that Roger Corman and Russ Meyer played in the movie industry.  Each man brought film-making a step closer to the people, and a step further from the studio’s control.  They gave the first chances at directing to some of those who would be considered the best of the best from the 70’s through the present (Scorsese, Cameron, Bogdonovich, etc..), and allowed them the creative freedom to get their feet in the door.  What I don’t understand is why this film deserves to be on the list of 1001 movies that someone should see before they die.  Again, like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, it seemed like they wanted to represent a specific genre of film, but didn’t feel that any one in particular could be singled out, so they just picked it out of a hat.

These movies are fun.  I really like Vincent Price, and he lives up to his reputation as a ridiculous, over-the-top personality in this film, but it is easily replaced by any number of campy horror themed classics, from this era.  Too bad,  I thought it was gonna be awesome.