Monday, October 22, 2007

DOUBLE BILL: 'The Terror' of 'Targets'

Note: This post is a contribution to the Double Bill Blog-a-Thon at Broken Projector.

Targets is a movie about a seemingly ordinary, well-behaved man who suddenly goes on a killing rampage in Southern California. So it's a bit odd that it starts out with Dick Miller and Boris Karloff in a castle shouting about something, with water quickly filling up the room. Credits fill up the screen, and we learn that Karloff is indeed in the movie -- but where are the guns? And why do we keep seeing that raven? And who's that ghostly woman we see before "The End" pops up on screen. Peter Bogdanovich's first major film, Targets is a unique experience for the viewer in part because it makes great use of another film, Roger Corman's The Terror, released five years earlier in 1963. For this Double Bill, we're going to screen The Terror first.

The Terror (1963)
A French cavalry guard riding on the beach. An attractive woman who may be a ghost. A castle inhabited by the strange Baron von Leppe and his assistant Stefan. A raven. These are the main characters in Corman's The Terror, and there are well-known names behind almost all of them (I don't know the name of the raven): Jack Nicholson, Dick Miller, Boris Karloff and Sandra Knight. Behind the camera at one point or another during the piecemeal production were Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill and even Nicholson. And the actors and collaborators aren't the only familiar pieces of the film -- Von Leppe's castle interior is also seen in the Corman pictures Tomb of Ligeia, The Haunted Palace and The Raven.

Shot in the dream-like Pathe color, The Terror is titled as horror, but is more mystery or detective story than anything. Nicholson's Lt. Andre Duvalier has been separated from his military unit, and seeks shelter in Von Leppe's castle, as well as an explanation for the beautiful woman he saw on the beach who disappeared. Von Leppe is hesitant to do either, and the fidgety Stefan seems to be hiding something. Oh, and the raven is outside cawing. A coherent story is not always on the screen, as it seems most of the movie is comprised of Duvalier following Von Leppe around the castle asking questions. Eventually, the mysterious woman appears (and disappears) again, and some elements of Von Leppe's past are revealed. The raven makes many more appearances (often cawing), there's lots of shouting at the end, Stefan and the bird get in a fight on a cliff, and the raven wins.

There's never a point in The Terror where it doesn't feel like a legendarily cheapo Corman production, and it's really not one of his better cheapos. But considering it was filmed in many fragments by several directors, it comes together pretty well, and has a fun gothic atmosphere. But these aspects combined to make The Terror a great choice for a second life in Bogdanovich's Targets -- as a run-of-the-mill drive-in movie. Bogdanovic made the movie at Corman's urging, with the conditions being that he use portions of The Terror and also utilize Karloff, who owed the producer two days of shooting from another production.

Please enjoy this episode of Batfink

Targets (1968)
Since we're now familiar with The Terror, it's a little strange to see it on the screen again, this time with credits imposed over the film's climax. We once again see Von Leppe's discovery in the tomb, with good old raven flying next to "The End." The next shot shows us the origin of what we were watching: a studio screening for producers, director Sammy Michaels (Bogdanovich) and star Byron Orlock (Karloff). Orlock is an aging horror star who is ready for retirement, studio contract or not, and is also hesitant to participate in a hokey premiere of The Terror at a local drive-in. The next shot of Orlock is a masterful introduction to the film's other main character, Bobby, who has Orlock in his crosshairs from a gun shop across the street. Bobby has a lot of guns, and he's about to buy some more. Leaving the gun shop, Bobby opens the trunk of his Mustang to reveal a startling weapons cache. For the rest of the film, we follow Bobby and Orlock's paths until they meet in a near-perfect climax.

Bobby appears to be a young man cut right out of the My Two Sons mold, and he's more than eager to speak to his parents in "Yes, sir!" "Great!" and "Delicious" tones. But besides his gun collection, there are a few other odd aspects about Bobby: during an outing at the shooting range, he puts his father in his crosshairs briefly, and when his wife comes home from work that night, she finds him sitting in the dark smoking a cigarette. The next morning, Bobby mechanically kills everyone in the house, leaving a confession note and a warning of many more killings that day. Orlock, meanwhile, is spending the day in high spirits, content that his often disappointing career is coming to a close. He will make an appearance at the drive-in tonight, and that will be that.

Bobby's killing path will take him to a water tower overlooking a freeway, where he will pick off several cars with remarkable ease -- while eating a sandwich and drinking a Dr. Pepper. While eluding the police later in the day, Bobby finds the perfect hiding place for more mayhem: behind the screen at the drive-in. It is here where The Terror again becomes a character, with the images of Von Leppe, Duvalier and the raven filling the screen. Bogdanovich films the drive-in scenes perfectly, with dialog barely audible through the collective drone of the tiny car-mounted speakers. Bogdanovich makes great use of The Terror's B-movie quality, showing us fragments of it that make it appear even less comprehensible than in full form. Orlock arrives just as Bobby's terror begins, and as people drive out of the lot in horror, he takes it as their reaction to his movie.

The Terror and Targets come full circle as Orlock gets out of his car to find the source of all this murderous mayhem. Bobby looks up at the screen to see Von Leppe walking down a castle corridor, and then looks to his left to see Orlock walking toward him. The converging characters -- fiction and reality in one -- is too much for Bobby, as he surrenders with his hands over his eyes.


Anonymous said...

Great work Adam! I loved the read very much and it was very innovative of you to bring in the Batfink Intermission in true Double Bill style.

Thank you for participating!

elgringo said...

Batfink, oh wow.
Remember Count Duckula?