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

Theatrical release poster
Directed byPeter Bogdanovich
Produced byRoger Corman
Peter Bogdanovich
Screenplay byPeter Bogdanovich
Samuel Fuller (uncredited)
Story byPolly Platt
Peter Bogdanovich
StarringBoris Karloff
Tim O'Kelly
Peter Bogdanovich
Music byRonald Stein (from The Terror)
CinematographyLászló Kovács
Edited byPeter Bogdanovich
Saticoy Productions
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • August 15, 1968 (1968-08-15) (U.S.)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$130,000 (estimated)[1]

In one of two parallel story lines that eventually converge during the film's climax, a seemingly wholesome and normal young 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 film also featured the first film appearance of producer Frank Marshall, who played as a ticket boy.


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 Orlok considers himself outdated because he believes that people are no longer frightened by old-fashioned horror, citing real-life news stories as more horrifying than anything in his films.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."



The character and actions of the killer are patterned after Charles Whitman, the University of Texas shooter. 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. A brief clip of Howard Hawks' 1931 film The Criminal Code featuring Karloff was also used.

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]

See also


  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
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