Dir. George Romero

Insecure teenager Martin believes he is actually an 84-year-old vampire and that he must drink the blood of humans to remain alive. His belief is reinforced by his elderly cousin, Cuda, with whom he is sent to live. Cuda is convinced vampirism is part of a family curse. Driven by his insatiable blood lust, the frustrated and confused teen is forced to kill and feed, drugging his victims to reduce their suffering before opening their veins with a razor blade. However, his inhuman desires are almost overcome when he begins an affair and he starts to question the validity of his self-belief…

Criminally undervalued by audiences and critics at the time of its release, Martin is now generally accepted to be amongst Romero's finest work to date; it’s certainly the director’s personal favourite of his own movies. With Martin, Romero slyly subverted the haggard conventions of the vampire myth and added a truly fresh angle to the vampire movie genre; in its wake came films such as The Addiction and The Hunger, in which vampirism was utilised as a metaphor to explore concepts such as addiction and obsession. Romero keeps things ambiguous – we never really find out if Martin is an actual vampire or if he’s just an extremely confused young man. As the eponymous anti-hero, John Amblas provides a sensitive, sympathetic and moving central performance. There is an interesting dichotomy in his gentle demeanour and the atrocious acts he carries out to sate his appetite for blood – particularly in the film’s shocking and blunt opening scene set aboard a night train.

The film has an oddly European feel to it, most notably in the music and art-house editing. The narrative is penetrated by black and white inserts that may be flashbacks to Martin’s previous life or flights of fancy he has conjured to lend his current crimes a more romantic edge. The events depicted within them more closely resemble typical traits and recognisable conventions and imagery of vampire flicks – flaming torches, brandished crucifixes and breathless, candelabrum bearing victims.

Romero touches on the notion that Martin’s vampirism is all in his head, and a number of times throughout, Martin himself says that ‘there is no magic – it’s a disease.’ He also has a distinct lack of fangs (his tools are a razorblade and hypodermic needle), and he has no aversion to daylight, garlic or crucifixes.

Interestingly, and rather humorously, he rejects the romanticised ideas of vampires as tortured and tragic lovers – though to an extent that’s exactly what his 'condition' has rendered him. Martin’s latent necrophilia is explored too, particularly in his timid and burgeoning relationship with Mrs Santini (Elyane Nadeau) and he gradually confesses to being too shy to do ‘sexy stuff’ with girls, particularly when they are awake. Martin appears to long for human contact, yet he shirks from it when it presents itself. He is essentially crippled by his own repression.

Aside from Martin and his draconian cousin Cuda (Lincoln Maazel), most other people, including Cuda’s granddaughter Christina (Christine Forrest) – the film’s only voice of reason - basically believe him to be extraordinarily naive and sensitive; someone to be pitied not feared. Cuda however sees Martin as pure evil, having inherited his dark inclination from a family curse. He makes Martin’s life very difficult and even refers to him as 'Nosferatu'. The tension generated from their various altercations provides the film with some of its most resonant drama. There is something genuinely sinister in the scene where Martin gets his own back, mocking his cousin while dressed as a vampire; complete with swishing cape and false fangs in an empty playground at night.

Interestingly the town where the film is set is depicted as economically and socially archaic. Cuda seems to represent the views of most of the older inhabitants whose old ways and stubborn customs threaten to stunt the growth of the town. The idea of traditional values and small towns dying out because of ‘brain-drain’ and their failure to move with the times, trapping their inhabitants and stunting their potential is subtly explored through the predicament of Cuda’s daughter and her boyfriend (Tom Savini). The film is not without its humour too – notably Romero’s cameo as a wine-loving priest and the scene in which Martin prepares to visit a woman whose blood he wants to drink. Black and white scenes of him pursuing her through a huge house as she fearfully glances back at him are intercut with him actually making his way into the house and to her room, only to burst in and find her sleeping with another man. The moment quickly becomes suspenseful however, as Martin struggles to overcome both people, and the sight of the woman feebly trying to call the police is quite taut, as Romero wrings every last drop of tension from the moment well.

The measured pace serves to better pull viewers into the story, and events remain utterly compelling - all the way to the blunt, brutal and quietly powerful ending...

Martin is a witty, shocking and intriguing tale of addiction, violent sexual awakening, obsession and vampirism as (possible) metaphor for mental illness.

Martin (cert. 18) will be released on DVD (£15.99) by Arrow Video on 28th June 2010. Special Features include: the original theatrical cut of the film with 5.1 and Stereo audio options plus a choice of 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratio presentations; ‘Wampyre’ – the Italian cut of the film - reputedly edited by Dario Argento - featuring Italian dialogue (with optional English subtitles) and musical score by Goblin; ‘Making Martin: A Recounting’; Documentary on George A. Romero; TV and radio spots; original theatrical trailer; photo gallery; four sleeve art options; double sided poster; exclusive collector’s booklet; six original poster art postcards.


Andrew said…
This one was one of the more interesting vampire movies I have seen, if a bit slow....
A fine review James of my favourite Romero film. It is one of only two or three Romero films I genuinely like. Its good to see Arrow Video given it the treatment it deserves, and I hope they continue to give prominent and important films (CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD aside) this kind of appreciation.
Will Errickson said…
My fave Romero as well. Doesn't Romero's wine-living priest confess to loving The Exorcist? Nice touch!
Pax Romano said…
Great review!

I love this film and its multilayer of themes (the death of small towns, the end of feminism, the slow death of religion etc). As much as love Romero's zombie films, MARTIN is his masterpiece.
This is such a great film.
Poor Martin - he was obviously disturbed whether he was actually a vampire or not...I mean, he was still killing those people, and just the fact that he believed it so wholeheartedly was eerie enough. At the same time though, you find yourself rooting for Martin, hoping he doesn't get caught.

It's just so thought-provoking, and is one of my favorite vampire films - even sans fangs!
Jose Cruz said…
Really great review, James! You pinpointed all the major elements that make this film so great and unique. Both the beginning and climax are so in-your-face and unexpected while the brunt of the film is extremely fascinating and almost melancholy as well. I love when horror movies twists the established cliches that we've all come to know. Most of the time it makes for a great viewing experience.
Aaron said…
WAMPYRE... not to be confused with WHAM!PYRE, starring George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley. Seriously though, I didn't even know there was a different cut of this movie, edited by Argento and scored by Goblin no less! I have to see it.

Personally, I think this is Romero's smartest film and a truly underrated vampire movie. There were some things about it that I didn't like, but as a whole it's very interesting and a unique take on the vampire tale and mythology, Great atmosphere and, like you said, a very European feel to it. Great write-up, James!
James Gracey said…
Yes Shaun, I just love what Arrow are doing at the moment. Dario Argento's Inferno is to get the Arrow Video treatment later this year. I for one, cannot wait!

Will, you're absolutely right! Romero's character does indeed comment on The Exorcist. I was beaming with fiendish delight when I heard it.

Pax I reckon I agree with you about this being Romero's most accomplished work.

Christine I couldn't agree more! John Amplas's performance was so touching and gentle. It was quite hard not to root for Martin, even though he was doing some pretty dark stuff.

Joe, that climax is so sad and blunt. It wields such power.

Aaron, I'm also looking forward to checking out Wampyre (which as you so rightly pointed out, should NOT be confused with WHAM!PYRE). I kinda dig the fact that Romero and Argento are buddies. Odd pairing to say the least! But I dig it.
Andrei said…
I think I heard about this one before, but I never got around to actually see it. Maybe now's the chance.

Excellent review.
Will Errickson said…
I recall a car chase/police bust that was like something out of Mean Streets or Assault on Precinct 13, maybe a concession to popular exploitation films of the day, so it would play well at the drive-ins.
James Gracey said…
Yes Will - the car chase/police bust at the end is right outta Hill Street Blues. Great stuff! The flashing of the police lights is intercut with a baying mob brandishing flaming torches.

Atroxion - check it out if you can! Refreshing alternative to so much of the vampire dross out there today. With the exception of True Blood of course. ;o)
Andrei said…

Oh yeah, "True Blood" is awesome!
Lysergic Earwax said…
As much as I love the Dead Trilogy (and I don't count the terrible new additions), Martin just pips them to post as Romero's most considered film. And it's just so steeped in atmosphere. Now, I think it's time for a re-apprasal of Knightriders :)
I couldnt agree more with everyone, I think DVD has given this film an entirely new life with younger audiences that can now appreciate it after 30 years of bland, effortless Vampire cinema. Such a great film, easily my favorite of his outside of the Dead trilogy!
James Gracey said…
Well said, Carl.

@ Lysergic Earwax - Ooooooh, Knightriders. :) indeed!

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