Targets ★★★★½

In his book Shock Value, about the great horror filmmakers of the late '60s and '70s, Jason Zinoman discusses Targets as a film that signals the divide between American horror movies as Gothic fantasies that could play at kiddie matinees and the kind of stark, low-budget existential horror that followed. The film cuts between Boris Karloff, playing a barely fictional version of himself, and a smirking, unassuming psychopath named Bobby (Tim O'Kelly) who snaps and goes on a violent rampage, culminating in a shooting spree at a drive-in where Karloff is making an appearance. There's a climactic confrontation between Karloff and O'Kelly that, in retrospect, is what the entire movie has been building to, a man who has spent his life embodying completely imaginary monsters face-to-face with a real and chillingly banal evil. Produced by an uncredited Roger Corman (using a lot of footage from Karloff's performance in Corman's The Terror), Peter Bogdanovich's debut film mostly uses its threadbare production design and wooden supporting performances to its advantage; the horror of Bobby's killing spree is amplified by the dull ordinariness of his life and surroundings.

Bobby is a character, like the assassin in Nashville, that was obviously inspired by then-contemporary real-life killers like Charles Whitman, with their random targets and inscrutable motives. That the movie's climax is set at a drive-in, with Bobby sniping at audience members through a hole in the screen, obviously makes the movie as disturbingly relevant as it's ever been. I was reminded of the one argument against stricter gun laws that makes any sense to me, that there's no way to legislate against people losing their shit. While I'm about as anti-status quo regarding gun laws as you can get (not to mention the state of mental health services in the U.S.), there's an unavoidable truth to that idea, and Targets explores it to chilling effect. Perhaps the most disturbing thing in the movie is Bobby's final, casual line of dialogue, which I won't give away; our real-life monsters are as incomprehensible to themselves as they are to us.

Andrew liked these reviews