The Criterion Voyages (Spine #1179): TARGETS -- Bogdanovich's Underrated and Eerily Timeless Debut
By Sean Boelman
Targets is the directorial debut of iconic filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show) produced by genre film extraordinaire Roger Corman. Although the movie was already pretty widely available on home media, it’s rare to see genre cinema get picked up by the Criterion Collection, so physical media collectors should be frothing at the mouth to own this new edition of an underrated masterpiece.
The film follows an aging horror star who begins to contemplate retiring, believing that the movies are no longer as scary as the real world, as a disillusioned young man begins to plan and execute a killing spree. Although these two storylines seem somewhat independent at first, the way that Bogdanovich ties them together — both narratively and thematically — is often nothing short of brilliant.
Of course, given that the movie features a late-career performance by the legendary Karloff, there’s certainly a metatextual element to be found here. Yet, Bogdanovich doesn’t seem overly preoccupied with the novelty of his approach. It’s an interesting and provocative take, but Karloff just gives a damn good performance — preventing it from ever feeling gimmicky.
On the other side of the film is little-known actor Tim O’Kelly, who only had 18 credits in his filmography in his short stint in Hollywood — most of which were one-off roles in television series. In fact, Targets is his sole leading role. However, O’Kelly is simply chilling in his role here, giving a performance that will rattle you to your core.
Bogdanovich is known to be a talented director, but for this to be his debut and him to already be so accomplished is certainly impressive. This movie could effectively be a masterclass in suspense — and on a Roger Corman-sized $130k budget, the filmmaker does a lot with a little. The actual shooting sequences when they occur are absolutely terrifying.
That said, the most unsettling thing about this movie is how it still rings true, even 45 years later. Recent months have even seen an uptick in senseless violence, and the condemnation that Bogdanovich offers of the institutions that allowed our country to reach such a depressing point of desperation is just as accurate today as it was in the ‘60s.
The Criterion Collection Blu-Ray of Targets boasts an impressive 2K restoration of the film supervised by the late director before he passed last year. Most of the bonus features are recycled from previous releases of the movie, with the exception of one: a new interview with filmmaker Richard Linklater.
Targets is a film that might have flown under many cinephiles’ radars, but its addition to the Criterion Collection is a perfect opportunity to check out this eerily timeless thriller. Bogdanovich was truly one of the best to do it, and this debut is perfect proof of that.
The Criterion Collection edition of Targets is available beginning May 16.
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