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TARGETS (aka: BEFORE I DIE) (director/writer: Peter Bogdanovich; screenwriter: story by Polly Platt; cinematographer: Laszlo Kovacs; editor: Peter Bogdanovich; music: Ronald Stein; cast: Boris Karloff (Byron Orlok), Tim O’Kelly (Bobby Thompson), Peter Bogdanovich (Sammy Michaels), Nancy Hsueh (Jenny), Tanya Morgan (Ilene Thompson), James Brown (Robert Thompson Sr), Monty Landis (Marshall Smith), Arthur Peterson (Ed Loughlin), Mary Jackson (Charlotte Thompson); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Peter Bogdanovich; Paramount; 1968)
“Impressive directorial debut.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Writer-director Peter Bogdanovich (“The Last Picture Show”), a 29-year-old at the time, comes up with a low-budget cult film gem for his impressive directorial debut. It’s based on a story by Polly Platt (at the time Bogdanovich’s wife). Boris Karloff basically plays himself as Byron Orlok, an aging horror star on the point of retiring because he feels like an antique and out-of-touch with the fast-moving contemporary world. The melodrama is meant to point out the merging in society of real and fantasy violence. It was inspired by the bloody 1966 shooting spree of Texas Tower sniper Charles Whitman. Bogdanovich’s cinematic mentor Roger Corman allowed him to use twenty minutes of Karloff in The Terror for the finale at the drive-in; it was a film Corman produced and directed. Also used was Howard Hawks’s 1930 The Criminal Code, the first film Karloff had a major part in.

Bogdanovich weaves together two separate plot lines that merge in the finale confrontation scene. In one story line Orlok disappoints sleazy low-budget producer Marshall Smith (Monty Landis) and ambitious young unrecognized director Sammy Michaels (Peter Bogdanovich) by telling the Hollywood people he’s quitting films, after making three cheapies for them, to go back to London for his retirement. Orlok, without reading the script Sammy gave him, refuses to make another picture. This also disappoints Orlok’s Chinese-American secretary Jenny (Nancy Hsueh), who is smitten with Sammy and wants to remain in the States to continue the budding romance. Orlok’s press agent (Arthur Peterson) arranges for one last publicity appearance for Orlok at a drive-in. In the second story, clean-cut Vietnam vet gun collector Bobby Thompson (Tim O’Kelly), an ordinary insurance man who lives with his cheery wife Ilene and religiously devout parents, one morning just murders his wife, mother and delivery boy (who was at the wrong place at the wrong time); then he goes on the roof of an industrial gas site to shoot at cars on the freeway. After killing a few people, he dodges the cops by ducking into the same drive-in where Orlok appears for his publicity gig and the psychopath starts randomly mowing down the drive-in patrons with his high-powered rifle from the drive-in tower. With Karloff on the screen in The Terror, the Karloff playing Orlok climbs the stairs to the tower and confronts the sniper (confused at seeing two Karloffs and not sure which one is real) and gets him to surrender to the cops.

Though its effort to prove the point about violence seems too pat, there’s something chilling about the offering that explores the imaginary world of art with the ugliness of the outside world. After such an exciting start in films, Bogdanovich was never able to duplicate in his later films something as fascinating.

REVIEWED ON 12/16/2006 GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”