Targets (1968): Proof There Are Still Good Movies to Be Made

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To view Targets click here.

A few years ago, a friend convinced me to buy, sight unseen, Peter Bogdanovich’s directorial debut, 1968′s Targets starring Boris Karloff. Because of the newly released DVD, there had been renewed interest in this rarely seen film. My friend promised that it would be money well spent, and that it would completely blow my mind. “[Roger] Corman produced it, it’s got Boris Karloff and the ending is…trust me, you just need to watch it,” he said. Rarely wrong in his film recommendations, I snagged the DVD during a sale and put it in my ever-expanding “to-watch” stack. Late one Friday night, after coming up empty during some mindless channel surfing, and after months of harassment by my good-natured cinephile friend, I decided to give Targets a try. I’ll be honest: I was skeptical of my friend’s endorsement of the film, despite his good taste and solid track record of recommendations. Now, don’t get me wrong–I love Boris Karloff. But many of his late-career films are a bit cheesy and seriously underuse and undermine his talents as an actor. And so, knowing absolutely nothing about the film, except my friend’s vague comments and my own preconceived assumptions, I thought, “What do I have to lose? Two hours?” I could easily spend all night watching Bert Convy-hosted game show reruns or infomercials for Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, so this seemed like a reasonable investment of my time.

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A Double Dose of Boris Karloff

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Life has been throwing me lots of curveballs lately and when I’m feeling low, I tend to gravitate towards what I like to call “comfort food films” and my comfort food tends to be classic horror films. During the cold winter months, cozying up on the couch with a warm beverage and a couple of creaky old black and white horror movies can make even the worse week seem manageable. Fortunately, I found exactly what I required streaming on The Criterion Channel of FilmStruck, The Haunted Strangler (1958) and Corridors of Blood (1958). Both of these low-budget British thrillers were directed by Robert Day and feature standout performances from William Henry Pratt aka the one and only Boris Karloff.

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Father of Fear

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This Friday, August 26, finds TCM’s Summer under the Stars getting a little chillier than usual with an all-day marathon covering the career of horror icon Boris Karloff from the dawn of cinema’s sound era in the revolutionary FRANKENSTEIN (1931) through his elder statesman phase of the horror genre in Roger Corman’s THE TERROR (1963).

However, I’m zooming in on the last film in the Karloff filmography airing that day (and repeating again on Halloween if you miss it!) — and one that’s especially close to my heart since it’s the first film I remember scaring me on TV (courtesy of a TBS airing many years ago). BLACK SABBATH (1963) is the only anthology film directed by the great Mario Bava and Karloff’s sole excursion into Italian horror. Karloff plays a key role in the longest and most elaborate of the three stories, “The Wurdulak,” and also serves as the onscreen host tying all three tales together. What’s fascinating and well covered by now is the fact that Karloff actually shot his narrator duties twice, with the Italian and American prints featuring entirely different presentations. The Italian version also adds a lighthearted coda with Karloff astride a wooden horse used for one of his earlier scenes, pulling back to show the film crew in a delightful, barrier-shattering flourish. [...MORE]

Revisiting The Terror (1963) on Blu-ray

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TCM’s spotlight on American International Pictures is over but I recently got my paws on a copy of The Film Detective’s new Blue-ray of The Terror, a film that was originally released by AIP in 1963. I was so bowled over by the quality of the disc that it made me reconsider my long held view of this low-budget Gothic horror film initiated by Roger Corman.

Like any horror film fan worth their salt and of a certain age, I’d seen badly beat-up and butchered prints of The Terror on TV and video a number of times. The film suffered the unfortunate fate of falling into public domain decades ago so it became a staple of late night television and was repeatedly released as part of cheap video and DVD compilations typically sold in bargain bins. What I hadn’t realized is how much the poor presentation of the film had colored my opinion of it.

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This week on TCM Underground: Lucio Fulci’s The House by the Cemetery (1981) and Michael Curtiz’s The Walking Dead (1936)

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If you love, as I do, to re-read Charles Dickens’ classic Yuletide novella A Christmas Carol every December then you’ll love TCM Underground this weekend! Ghosts, the restless dead, dark old houses, vengeance, redemption, severed heads, capital punishment — why, it’s as if Old Boz scripted these movies himself. Disagree? Eh, I don’t care.

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Mae Clarke: Frankenstein’s First Bride

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FRANKENSTEIN (1931) airs tonight on TCM at 9:30PM EST/6:30PM PST

The name Mae Clarke might not immediately ring any bells but the fair-haired, spirited and sad-eyed beauty was a promising leading lady in pre-code Hollywood before personal disappointments, mental health issues and a disfiguring car accident took their toll. When Clarke died in 1992 at age 81 most classic film fans remembered her as the woman who gets a grapefruit smashed in her face by James Cagney during THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) or they might have recalled her daring leap from a window to protect the man she loves in THE FRONT PAGE (1931). Thankfully, many of Clarke’s earlier films have been restored and made available since then. We’re now able to get a much broader understanding of why a 1932 issue of Picture Play magazine prophesied a “brilliant career for her” and Modern Screen claimed, “Mae Clark deserves a place among the big names of filmdom and will get there before long–watch her!”

Today TCM is featuring Mae Clarke in their Summer Under the Stars programming and you can catch her in a number of films including James Whale’s WATERLOO BRIDGE (1930), where she plays the doomed Myra. Many consider it her best film and Clarke often referred to it as her favorite role but today I’d like to focus on her often-overlooked performance in Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN (1931), where she plays the sympathetic fiancé of Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive).

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December 27, 2014
David Kalat
Posted by:

Saving Christmas from the Grinch

Sorry, Opie, but this is appalling.

The other night, a back-to-back broadcast of the original 20-minute Grinch cartoon was paired with the bloated monstrosity of the 2000 film starring Jim Carrey brought back waves of revulsion and anger to the surface, after almost 15 years of suppression.  As I’ve written here before, I don’t like hating on movies.  Life’s too short to let it get cluttered with unhappiness—it’s healthier to find that spark of something, no matter how flimsy, that you can enjoy about something and hang onto that.  If something really doesn’t work for you, stop watching/listening/reading/whatever and move on.

But even I have my limits.

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KEYWORDS: Boris Karloff, Chuck Jones, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Jim Carrey, Ron Howard
COMMENTS: 14
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Mind Over Matter: THE SORCERERS (1967)

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Since Michael Reeves unfortunate death in 1969 at the age of 25, the British director’s life has become the stuff of cinematic legend. His reputation as a sort of Byronic hero who challenged the British film establishment was secured when he died much too young due to an accidental drug overdose leaving behind just a handful of low-budget horror films that attained cult status in subsequent years. His distinct talent and the ephemeral nature of his work have led many of Reeve’s colleagues and admirers to speculate on the direction his career might have taken if he had lived longer and it’s not uncommon to see his name mentioned along with better known British filmmakers who also dealt with controversial material including Michael Powell and Ken Russell. Reeves’ bone-chilling WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1969), which explored the brutality of the witch hunts in England during the 17th century, is often cited as one of the greatest and most gruesome horror films produced during the 1960s but his most intimate and introspective film might be THE SORCERERS (1967).

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Lowered Expectations: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

With the holidays soon approaching, here’s the perfect gift for any movie lover looking to have a good time watching movies that never fails: lowered expectations.  I noticed on TCM’s schedule for the early morning hours of Tuesday that a short on the making of The Blue Lagoon was on.  I’ve never seen that movie and have no intention of ever seeing it but if I happened upon it on cable one day and saw a few scenes, I wouldn’t be disappointed.  I know that because I have absolutely no expectations that The Blue Lagoon is good in any conceivable way.  If, in the couple of scenes I watched, they managed to not drop the camera or accidentally insert footage from another movie, I’d feel I’d gotten my time’s worth.  Oh hell, let’s be honest, if they dropped the camera it probably wouldn’t make any difference.  That’s the joy of lowered expectations.  You, quite obviously, don’t expect anything, or at least, you don’t expect anything good.  When it goes in the other direction, you’ve got trouble.

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What Terrors Await Inside… The Black Room?

Serial killers are not a recent phenomenon in horror, they’ve been around for a while. The difference is, when one appeared in a horror movie back in the day, he was called a “mad killer” or, more simply, a “killer on the loose.” But they’ve been there a long time, especially once public interest in real life killers like H.H. Holmes and Jack the Ripper took hold.  When one thinks of classic portrayals of serial killers on the silver screen, the names Peter Lorre, Anthony Perkins and Anthony Hopkins immediately come to mind, having portrayed three of the most notable serial killers in film history, in the films M, Psycho and Silence of the Lambs (and its sequels and prequels), respectively.  But one name that should come to mind, and too often doesn’t, is Boris Karloff.  He’s played more killers than most people know and perhaps the best of them all is serial killer Gregor in the 1935 horror classic, The Black Room, directed by Roy William Neill.

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