Written & Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Byron Orlock...Boris Karloff
Bobby Thompson...Tim O'Kelly
Sam Michaels...Peter Bogdanovich
Byron Orlock, aging horror star, has decided to retire, much to the disappointment of the studio. It's only after much goading from his beautiful assistant Jenny and her screenwriter boyfriend Sam that he agrees to keep his scheduled personal appearance at the grand reopening of the local drive-in theater. But he assures them that once it is done, so is his once-illustrious career.
Meanwhile, in a seemingly unrelated story, Bobby Thompson (looking like an assimilated Matt Damon-Willem Dafore) is slowly coming unhinged. He's suffering from dark fantasies that he eventually gives into, murdering his wife and parents, and then finding a comfortable perch above the highway with a vast array of weaponry where he can open fire on the unsuspecting commuters.
The two distinct tales finally come together as Bobby seeks refuge at the drive-in when fleeing the police during a showing of Orlock's The Terror (actually Karloff's The Terror). Not content to leave good enough (bad enough?) alone, Bobby once again starts sniping.
The filmmaker seems to be making some sort of statement about the difference between the horrors of real life and the escapist horrors of genre cinema, but I'd be lying if I said I understood just what that statement was. Byron Orlock was played magnificently (of course) by the late, great Boris Karloff, obviously drawing from the well of his own experience. There was an excellent moment where Orlock, in that delightfully creepy timbre of his, related an old fable about a servant coming face to face with death. Although I had heard this story before, hearing it recounted by Karloff made me want to press it on vinyl 45s and pass them out at conventions.
There were a number of very tense moments caught in the crosshairs of Bobby's rifle, but unfortunately the pacing is inconsistent. I know that this wasn't meant to be a horror film, just a film about horror, but at times it teetered along so slowly that it felt more like an after school special than a theatrical production. Many people proclaim this to be a gem of a lost thriller, and although I wouldn't go so far as to call it a classic, it was a great little find.
And there is at least one thing here that you will never find in any after school special:
Boris Karloff, laying down a series of bitchslaps, proving once and for all that his pimp hand is strong.