Fearing he's an anachronism, aging horror star Byron Orlok (the legendary Boris Karloff in one of his final roles) announces his retirement, effective immediately. He doesn't even want to make the next night's scheduled promo appearance at the local drive-in theater. After all, “no one's afraid of a painted monster” when the headlines scream of six slain in supermarket shooting. How can a cheap horror movie compete?
In a separate storyline seemingly unrelated, a clean-scrubbed suburbanite with the all-American name of Bobby Thompson (Tim O'Kelly) admits, “I get funny ideas.” Any viewers unsure what he means by that will have that cleared up when they glimpse into his car trunk, which hosts an arsenal of weapons: He's a rubber band pulled back too far, just waiting to snap.
When the first shot arrives, at 36 minutes in, it's a shocker — not just because of the victim it takes, but because Bobby is so nonchalant about it all. He then takes perch atop a water tower overlooking the freeway, where through the sights of his rifle, he treats passersby as a carnival game. Later, as night falls, he heads to the drive-in to ensure the evening will be the last picture show for many in attendance. While Roger Corman's The Terror unspools onscreen, real terror is wrought by the sniper.
Sadly, Targets is more relevant today in the wake of Fort Hood, Aurora, Sandy Hook and on and on and on, not to mention the ongoing debate on gun control those events inspire. No matter what side of the political issue your beliefs fall, Targets provides real drama, disturbing and suspenseful and brilliantly done. Bogdanovich's decision to have radio and TV chatter play in the background near-constantly is a brillant touch, suggesting an issue that won't go away; this film never will. —Rod Lott
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• The Terror Blu-ray review