Tag Archives: Peter Bogdanovich

TARGETS (1968)

Although Targets (1968) is not the masterpiece debut film of Peter Bogdanovich, as some have claimed, it is a compelling, near-valedictory film for star . Being an almost autobiographical story, it should have served as a near-perfect coda for the actor. Instead, Karloff wanted to die acting, and for the first time in his career since 1931’s Frankenstein, he did not have a plethora of offers. Producers knew that the horror icon was almost literally on his last leg, and the cost of insuring him was undoubtedly a problematic casting factor. The final offers came from  to make a series of low budget Mexican horrors, but it is best to conveniently imagine those under the rug.

Targets serves more as a last, satisfactory glimpse at the Karloff screen persona, as opposed to being a successful film on its own terms.  It also is the film debut of director Peter Bogdanovich, who miscast himself in the film in order to save money. In part, this was due to having  as his tight-fisted producer. Pragmatic in his business approach as usual, Corman  wanted to use clips from his previous film with Karloff, The Terror (1963) as filler, and granted Targets a twenty-three day shooting schedule and $125,000 budget. From this simple instruction, Bogdanovich crafted a surprising, awkwardly innovative narrative, which the artist in Corman responded to, advising Bogdanovich: “Shoot it like Hitchcock.”

Karloff plays aging horror star Byron Orlok , screening his latest film, The Terror. Much to everyone’s surprise, Orlok announces his retirement. Script writer Sammy ( Bogdanovich) waxes angsty; he has finally written a screenplay, one which hints at something akin to the plot of Targets itself.  Feeling like a Gothic anachronism amidst the authentic horrors of the newspaper headlines, Orlok refuses to read the script. The studio heads encourage Sammy to dissuade Orlok from his decision. Orlok and Sammy get drunk and screen Karloff’s Criminal Code (1931, dir. Howard Hawks), the film which lead to his casting as the monster in Frankenstein (1931). Orlok agrees, albeit reluctantly, to promote The Terror at a local drive-in cinema.

Targets then roughly shifts to its parallel narrative: Bobby Thompson (Tim O’Kelly) who sports a Baptist haircut as the husband and son of diehard Republican gun-lubbin, red, white and blue super-patriot suburbanites. Cue massacre.

This is the more compelling plot, ultimately rendering  the Orlok narrative a bit prodigal, despite Karloff’s very satisfactory depiction of Orlok.

Still from Targets (1968)Looking at Targets in hindsight, it may be tempting to see Bogdanovich’s film as prophecy after a string of infamous media-inspired shooting events (as John Hinckley’s obsession with Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver led directly to his assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981, or James Holmes’ massacre in an Aurora movie theater during the premiere of Dark Knight Rising). Life imitating art? Art imitating life?  It is hardly that simplistic, nor can Targets serve so accessibly as a model.

Bobby’s domestic scenes are the most unsettling, awash in grisly rural hues. His Charles Whitman-like sniper escapades reveal Orlock’s drive-in horror host gig as clunky medievalism. That, of course, is Targets intent , but it tries so hard to be clever and profound that by the time we get to the cinema-under-the-stars shootout,  we feel the residue of a naive fusion. Considering our growing apathy to the aftermath of pop culture inspired violence, perhaps Targets‘ coarseness is all too apt.

CAPSULE: VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1968)

DIRECTED BY: Peter Bogdanovich (using the pseudonym Derek Thomas)

FEATURING: Mamie van Doren

PLOT: Three cosmo—I mean, astro-nauts—are sent to Venus to rescue two missing comrades,while Venusian blondes in seashell bras pester them from afar by sending volcanoes, thunderstorms and dinosaurs to hinder them.

Still from Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Prehistoric Women is a classic Frankenstein-film, stitched together from various pieces of footage lying around the studio. The movie was made from dubbed footage from the Soviet space opera Planeta Bur, some effects from a second Soviet science fiction film, new voiceover narration which changes the focus of the original plot, and added scenes shot years later featuring English-speaking actors. Not only is the discrepancy between film stocks, soundtracks and atmospheres disorienting, but the new footage of (top-billed) Mamie van Doren and other scantily clad, pterodactyl worshiping Venusian dames is itself bizarre. This makes Prehistoric Women a worthy curiosity, if one for specialized tastes. Unfortunately, the movie is neither entertaining nor demented enough to merit inclusion among the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time.

COMMENTS: Though it was seriously intended, the original 1962 Soviet space opera that forms the bedrock stratum of Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women was not a great movie. Looking at it from a post-Cold War perspective, the most valuable thing about it is the revelation that, despite petty ideologically differences, the US and the USSR were not so different as we supposed at the time: both societies assumed that nearby planets in our shared solar system would probably be inhabited by dinosaurs. Technically speaking, the special effects are highly variable: the hovercar looks great, the giant-tentacled cosmonaut-eating Venus flytrap is not bad, the tin-can robot is standard Forbidden Planet surplus issue, and the men in dinosaur suits are as cheesy as anything you might see in a low-budget 1950s American sci-fi epic. The color, which was tinted from the original black and white, is extremely washed out in surviving prints, a look that producer and director Bogdanovich managed to keep consistent for the new sequences; or, maybe, the passage of time did their work for them. The muted colors add another layer of unreality to the film.

Looking at the original Soviet film, you have to believe that Corman was onto something: what this movie really needed was a bunch of sunbathing, telepathic, pterodactyl-worshiping sirens in skintight pants and clamshell bras to liven things up. The gratuitous mermaid babe sequences are the most memorable parts. Every time the explorers face an environmental Venusian threat like a volcano or thunderstorm, it turns out the ladies’ pagan ceremonies were the cause. Their siren scenes, which all take place on a single rocky beach, are accompanied by an eerie, wordless keening, and the fact that the prehistoric witches never speak except in voiceover does add a legitimately dreamlike feel to these sequences. Prehistoric Women is slow (and incoherent) by contemporary standards, but the patient viewer seeking a cinematic experience that’s the equivalent of a fractured dream half-remembered after falling asleep on the couch at 2 A.M. while watching a sci-fi marathon on a UHF station will find this to be mildly rewarding.

This was the ever-frugal Corman’s second attempt to recycle footage from Planeta Bur. In 1965 he released the same Russian footage, with different inserts, as Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet. The earlier film featured a few scenes of top-billed star Basil Rathbone as a mission control type back on earth, barking extraneous orders to the stranded cosmonauts that were relayed to them through yet another unnecessary character. Mamie and her buxom coven were a big upgrade over Basil, and not just in pulchritude; without the ridiculous Venusian siren subplot, Prehistoric Planet was a much duller experience, while remaining just as confusing.

Because Corman was too cheap to renew the copyrights on his 50s and 60s movies, Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women fell into the public domain.  It can be found on many bargain-priced compilations or can be legally viewed or downloaded by anyone through the Internet Archive or other sites.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…[the] very peculiar ending… has a weird B movie pulp poetry to it.”–Richard Scheib, Moria: The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review (DVD)