Horror movies like all genres go through phases. Sometimes this yields results where a beloved subgenre is encased in amber for future generations to revisit (your screwball comedies for instance). Other times, movies just seem to get forgotten along the way even if they were part of a piece of a greater tapestry. This can specifically happen when the movie gets harder to describe as both a piece of its time and a harbinger of new genre directions ahead. It’s my hope to highlight some films this month older and newer that may have flown bellow many a proverbial radar and share the horror love.
First off, if you haven’t seen Targets, maybe it’s best to go in blind. Horror movies, heck movies in general, can often benefit of having a story unfold especially with the story takes twists one may not expect. Still if you don’t care about spoilers , feel free to read on:
Synopses from Wiki: Byron Orlok (Boris Karloff), an aging, embittered horror movie actor, abruptly announces his decision to retire and return to his native England to live out his final days. Orlok considers himself outdated because he believes that people are no longer frightened by old-fashioned horror, citing real-life news stories as more horrifying than anything in his films. But after much persuasion, particularly from young director Sammy Michaels (Peter Bogdanovich), Orlok agrees to make a final in-person promotional appearance at a Reseda drive-in theater before leaving Hollywood for good.
Bobby Thompson (Tim O’Kelly) is a young, quiet, clean-cut insurance agent and Vietnam War veteran who lives in the suburban San Fernando Valley area with his wife and his parents. Thompson is also deeply disturbed and an obsessive gun collector, but his family takes little notice. One morning, after his father leaves for work, Thompson murders his wife, his mother, and a delivery boy at his home. That afternoon, Thompson continues the killing spree, shooting people in passing cars from atop an oil storage tank that sits alongside a heavily traveled freeway. When the police respond and start to close in on Thompson, he flees, taking refuge in the very same drive-in theater where Orlok is to make his appearance that evening.
After sunset, Thompson kills the theater’s projectionist and perches himself on the framing inside the screen tower. While the Orlok film is shown, Thompson begins shooting at the patrons in and around the parking lot. After Thompson wounds Orlok’s secretary, Jenny, Orlok confronts Thompson, who is disoriented by Orlok’s simultaneous appearance before him and on the large movie screen behind him, allowing the actor to disarm Thompson using his walking cane. When the defeated Thompson retreats, a visibly shaken Orlok remarks, “Is that what I was afraid of?” Moments later, police officers arrive to arrest Thompson for the murders; as they lead him away, Thompson states with apparent satisfaction that he “hardly ever missed.”
Where Do We Go From Here?
This movie can definitely be called meta and in some ways it’s more meta than similar films that followed like Wes Craven’s New Nightmare which also starred someone essentially playing a version of themselves. However I feel like prophetic better describes Targets as to where it stands in the American horror’s pantheon. Universal classics were in the past, dabbling in the supernatural were still pretty popular at the then-present and movies like Halloween and its many imitators were over a decade away. It also sadly reflects fears that still ring too true in these modern times. What the average person is capable of in a small span of time with only a rifle and a box of ammo can turn a city upside down and that’s not just terrifying it’s also gravely unsettling.
It’s important to remember that this movie’s antagonist was a Vietnam vet and in a way is a stand in for a time in our country when the 60s were nearly over that many were asking “What’s next?” “Where do we go from here?”
So yeah this movie takes me to some heavy places because of how powerfully relevant it feels every time I see it, yet because of Karloff and the time period I do think it is possible to get immersed in the story without having to be dragged down by real-world parallels. Finally I just will leave this here. It’s one of my favorite Karloff scenes and it’s just the director giving him a chance to recite a little monologue showing off his skills in one of his very last times on screen.