If you don't know the name "George A. Romero", then you're not a real horror fan. Likewise, if you've never seen Romero's unsettling, darkly humourous quasi-vampire epic "Martin", then you shouldn't count yourself among the elite of Romero's fans. Now, I say "quasi-vampire"...that might throw some of you for a bit of a loop. Don't worry. It all becomes very clear...or does it? Just keep readin', twats! "Martin" was released in 1978, a time when the only vampires viewers were familiar with were played by Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. In other words, all the vampire films made up to then were very "traditional"...and their title characters shared many common bonds. They had fangs, which they used to suck the blood from the living. They were shape-shifters, and could turn into smoke, bats, wolves, and other manifestations at will. They were adverse, among other things, to garlic, running water, sunlight, and the ever-trusty stake-to-the-heart bit. Most of all, however, these early screen monsters shared a singular sexuality...they simply oozed sex, and held sway over countless buxom broads with their deadly come-hither gazes.
"Martin" opens on a Pittsburgh-bound overnight train trip. We follow the movements of two people. One, a woman in her mid to late twenties, seems to be going on a fairly ordinary business trip. She gets on the train, finds her sleeping-car, and turns in for the night. The other person, a quiet young fellow, watches the actions and habits of the woman. After the sun has gone down and most of the passengers have retired for the night, the young man prepares a needle and syringe...along with some sort of unidentified drug...and stealthily picks the lock to the woman's cabin. After a moment of hesitation, he enters the room, and finds that the woman is in her bathroom. The boy hides in a corner, and when the woman emerges, she doesn't notice him...at first. Suddenly, the boy pounces on the woman, and after a violent struggle, he injects her with the drug. The woman quickly grows woozy, and all the while, the boy tries to reassure her that, among other things, "It won't hurt" and "You'll just go to sleep". Soon, the woman does just that. The boy disrobes, strips his victim, and takes her to bed. After some perfunctory and highly awkward groping, the boy raises the woman's arm in the air, pulls out a razor blade, and slices her arm open messily. As the woman's life ends, her blood flows rapidly...into the greedy, hungry mouth of the young man. Soon thereafter, he thoroughly cleans up the mess, making her death appear to be a suicide. He leaves the room, and settles in for the remainder of the trip. Our "hero" is called Martin Mathias, as we learn when he is greeted by Tata Cuda, his elderly cousin, at the train station. "First I will save your soul, and then I will destroy you," Cuda intones, and the two venture to a small, economically-depressed suburb of Pittsburgh, where Cuda lives with his niece. Here, the remaining action plays out.
With "Martin", Romero toppled the conventional genre trappings by creating in his titular character a frail, fragile, quiet, likeable, and gentle (except for his fatal habits, natch') teenaged boy who may or may not be a "real" vampire. More importantly, he made the vampire, despite his violent tendencies ,the "good guy", and took the genre-smashing to the next level by making the would-be vampire hunter, Martin's elder cousin Tata Cuda (played with religious fervor by the late Lincoln Maazel) the "bad guy". What plays out for the viewer is as much a psyhchodrama as a horror tale, as we follow Martin through his sad, lonely, misunderstood day-to-day life as the houseguest/prisoner of Cuda. Martin is such a sympathetic guy that we are all the more shocked with his seemingly senseless killings. Romero makes us feel sorry for the guy, then makes us feel like schmoes for doing so by having Martin do some really nasty things (courtesy of Tom Savini's damn-near perfect effects work). Even in the throes of murder, we still feel Martin's pain and loneliness...and perhaps his sickness.
Is Martin really a vampire? I don't know. Personally, I think he's just a really disturbed guy, but I'll leave that up to you. That's the whole point of the film. I won't reveal any more of the plot for those of you who have yet to see this masterpiece. Suffice it to say, however, that when the film ends, it ends badly. That lonely, sad, questioning voice on the radio (you'll know it when you hear it) asks one simple, chilling question, and ends the film on a sublime note of despair and doubt.
"Martin" has only been sporadically available on video, and until recently, Anchor Bay's slipshod fullscreen release was the only one on DVD. To make matters worse, it's out of print, so it's been more of a challenge to lay your hands on a copy of this film. Still, I can't recommend this one highly enough, so seek it out at all costs. This new edition, from Lion's Gate, is quite a nice special edition. Finally, we're able to see "Martin" in it's intended widescreen format, here enhanced for 16x9 presentation, and we're given a bevy of new special features. The commentary track, with Romero, effects-man/actor Tom Savini, composer Donald Rubinstein, and producer Michael Gornick is excellent, funny, and informative. In almost every way, it's better than or at least as good as the commentary that originally appeared on not only earlier Laser Discs of "Martin", but also on the aforementioned Anchor Bay release. There's only one thing that this new commentary is lacking...the presence and input of John Amplas, who plays Martin. This omission is regrettable, as it would have been nice to hear Amplas' updated input in this context. Oh, well...woulda, coulda, shoulda... Other features include a new documentary called "Making Martin: A Recounting". It's an excellent piece, but it really doesn't bring any new information to the table, as die-hard Romero fans (myself included) will have heard nearly all these anecdotes countless times before. Still, it's a nice piece. Rounding out the special features are TV Spots, a trailer, and an "all new" photo gallery, that actually contains some promotional stills and behind-the-scenes shots that this reviewer had not seen before...it's always nice to be surprised by these things.
Compared to all earlier editions of this film, this release is certainly the "one to have". All around a truly great disc.
"Martin" is a great film, and really is one of the best "vampire" films ever made. See this one more than once, and see it soon. It will stick with you for a long, long time. It gets the "Atrocities Cinema Essential Award".
The Atrocities Cinema Scoreboard
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