Retro Review: ‘Martin’
As we have written about elsewhere in the House, film and popular culture as a whole were dealt a massive blow recently with the passing of horror director George A. Romero. Romero singlehandedly created the modern interpretation of the zombie, cementing forever his iconic take on this famous cinematic monster. Less well known was the filmmakers unique take on the vampire in 1978’s Martin. As many have pointed though, it is a bit disingenuous to call this a true vampire movie as it is never made clear if Martin is truly a bloodsucking member of the undead, or if this is a delusion he lives in rather than face the fact that he is a rapist and murderer. The film never says which is true, but Martin believes he is a vampire and his Van Helsing-esque older cousin really believes he is a vampire, and that is all that is needed for this film to unfold.
The plot is a simple one, Martin, a self-professed vampire goes to live with his much older cousin Cuda and his cousin’s granddaughter. Cuda gives the young man work delivering meat from his butcher shop, but makes it clear he is perfectly capable of driving a stake through his heart should the need arise. Despite claims to be a vampire, Martin does not shun crosses or daylight, nor does he have fangs. In fact throughout the film he proclaims that the magical elements associated with bloodsuckers is a load of crap. Throughout the picture we follow, Martin as he tracks down victims, sedates them with some kind of chemical, he then slices their wrists and feeds on them. Naturally with this being a Romero film, this all unfolds with plenty of gore and jaded social commentary.
The original cut of this film was shot entirely in black and white, instead what we see is that Romero utilizes this color palette to enhance certain scenes. Whenever we as the audience see the world the way Martin does, that is when the black and white color is broken out. This is fitting, because in these scenes we realize, Martin sees himself as sexy and mysterious Bela Lugosi/Christopher Lee-type being. Of course when the color is restored we see the ugly and gritty truth of the matter making from some truly memorable moments. A perfect example of this is there at the very beginning of the movie while he is on the train to his cousin’s in Pittsburgh. We see Martin break into the cabin of a fellow passenger armed with his needle of sedative and razor. In his own mind we see him as a menacing predator who seduces his scantily clad victim into surrendering her blood to him. When we as the audience are brought back to reality, we see a nervous Martin hide behind a door while his flatulent victim is stepping out of the bathroom. Rather than being helpless to his vampiric abilities, she tries to fight Martin off as he brutally murders her.
Despite this being George Romero’s first studio produced flick, he still brings his home-spun indie style to Martin. Utilizing friends and family to be the cast and crew, while also shooting on a limited number of locations, Romero was a master of making a budget for a movie stretch a long way. The filmmaker himself even plays a small role in the flick as a Cuda’s young priest who has to deal with the man’s ramblings about vampires while trying to keep a straight face. Supplying the violence for this flick is Tom Savini in his first collaboration of many with Romero. Modern audiences revere Savini as one of the greatest make-up and special effects artists in film history, this was one of his first films, but he ensures the violence he creates is memorable and causes audiences to squirm. Savini is also given an acting role in Martin, as the boyfriend of Cuda’s granddaughter, whom she does not love but rather is a way of escape to get away from her father and his perceived mental instability concerning Martin. The film also marks the first collaboration between Romero and actor John Amplas who plays Martin. Allegedly the protagonist, was supposed to be your standard vampire-type, an older and worldly type man. Instead Romero saw Amplas in a play and saw something in the young actor. Amplas brings a boyish charm and sense of innocence to a character who is nothing short of a monster whether or not he is a vampire. This creates a brilliant juxtaposition between the two sides of Martin we as the audience see.
Those who have seen this cult classic hail it as one of George A. Romero’s best films and a masterpiece of the horror genre. Unfortunately the rights holder to Martin, has been notoriously difficult to work with in distributing the film. According to many he requests an exorbitant amount for the rights, meaning home releases of this movie have been few and far between. But if you ever have the opportunity to view this film, please take advantage of it as Martin stands as one of the best movies on the filmography of one of cinema’s most revolutionary directors.