In the Dark | Oct. 13

Each issue this month, I’m reviewing a different scary flick, focusing on ones that have somehow remained below my radar up to this point and about which I knew virtually nothing until viewing them… titles that I’ve been “in the dark” about.

I’ll write a brief reaction to each, as well as rate it based on the five criteria that I deem most essential for a good scary movie, using a “zero-worst to 10-best” scale.

Targets (1968, directed by Peter Bogdanovich)

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Amazingly, Targets is what resulted after micro-budget producer Roger Corman offered Bogdanovich the opportunity to direct any type of film he wanted, based on the following criteria: shoot Boris Karloff for two days, since that’s the amount of time the horror-film legend owed Corman; and use clips from Corman’s thriller The Terror, which featured Karloff and a young Jack Nicholson. The outcome is a surprisingly coherent, compelling film that is actually a study of gun control through one man’s teetering into psychosis. (Of course, viewing the film now, one can’t help but note the obvious parallels, considering the recent mass shootings in Las Vegas.)

How the film manages to handle such controversial subject matter and incorporate the Karloff material so seamlessly, however, is rather miraculous. Unfortunately, it was released just two years after Charles Whitman killed 14 people and wounded 32 others during a shooting spree at the University of Texas, and distributors figured audiences weren’t ready for it. Critics were though, and they gave it great reviews.

Karloff is especially charming (and funny!) as an aging film star who, despite the wishes of the industry folk around him, wants to retire from movie-making altogether. It’s also amusing to see such bygone American traditions as: a family sitting around watching television together; and walking into a gun store, writing a check for a rifle and walking out with it the same day. Also, the movie’s ending is set at a drive-in theatre, and it’s fun to see the old-fashioned snack shop, the speakers mounted on the car windows and the couples “necking” in lieu of watching the feature.

All the nostalgic stuff aside though, Targets is a disturbing, engaging story that came at the wrong moment in cinema history– ahead of its time and just a little too late.

Ratings
Sophistication/intellect of story– 10
Overall creepiness/fright factor– 8
Effectiveness of art direction to establish mood– 9.5
Revelation of supernatural presence– 8
Casting and actors’ performances– 9

Overall Score– 8.9 out of a possible 10

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