Ooh, the October Challenge is winding down, but there are a few more posts and updates both here and over at Dreams in the Bitch House in the coming days. 31 October, the big day, is going to be a busy one, with a final handful of films on the viewing slate. In addition to that, from 7-8pm EST, I’ll be spinning a bunch of Halloween tunes over at blip.fm. I plan on playing a bunch of stuff from the wayback, so come on over for some groovy, ghoulish tunes. In the meantime, however, here’s a look at one of my favorite horror films, George Romero’s Martin.
Directed by: George A. Romero
Stars: John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel, Christine Forrest
Country: United States
I can barely contain myself when I find out that someone hasn’t seen George Romero’s vampire film, Martin. “WHAT?!,” I exclaim loudly, “Oh, friend, get thee to a whatever it is people use to watch movies at home these days!” I’ve told people to buy the DVD, not realizing until very recently that DVD editions are out of print here in the States, and as of late 2013, there does not appear to be a Blu-Ray edition of the film either. This is sad, because Martin is one of Romero’s best films, as well as one of his most intimate. If pressed, I’d say it’s my favorite of his, although Day of the Dead ranks awfully high. But I digress.
The plot here is simple: Martin (Amplas) is sent to live with his elderly relative Tateh Cuda (Maazel) and cousin Christina (Forrest) in Pittsburgh after his parents die. Cuda immediately tells Martin that he knows exactly what Martin is, calling him Nosferatu and hanging crosses and garlic around the house. Weird as this seems, the film opens with Martin, drinking the blood of a young woman he drugged on the train. We know he’s a vampire of some kind, but is he really over 80 years old, or is he just a psychopath? Throughout the film, we see two very different sides to our protagonist – on one hand, he is sweet and almost painfully shy; on the other, he’s brutal when he kills for blood, the cruelty only tempered by Amplas’ soft and youthful appearance. My god, you think, he’s just a CHILD.
By twisting the traditional vampire tale around, Romero makes us question our loyalty to Martin. Do we like him, because he does seem to be a young man who just needs help, or do we abhor him, because he is a killer and a drinker of blood? This is, I believe, where the film’s greatest tension lies, because I want to see no harm come to Martin, yet he is a terrible person. We can chalk this dichotomy up to Amplas, who plays the character with equal parts tenderness and bloodthirstiness. It’s a brilliant performance.
The film also subverts what we know about vampires when it comes to sex and what Martin calls “magic.” The vampire film has always been rooted in sexuality – all that neck-biting! – but here, Martin shies away from what he calls “the sexy stuff.” He makes calls to a radio talk show as “The Count,” and discusses how he can only do the sexy stuff with his victims when they are asleep (this makes Martin, in essence, a rapist as well). The way he gets his victims’ blood is also far from sexual – he carries sedative and needles, drugging his victims, then slicing their wrists or arms with a razor. There’s no foreplay to it; it’s all very clinical.
Also, Martin openly mocks Cuda, who believes that carrying a crucifix and garlic will repel Martin. He tells Cuda that “there is no real magic,” as he wears a typical “Dracula”-style cape and plastic vampire teeth. Cuda’s beliefs will not work against him. This scene plays partially for laughs, but there’s also a very real, very sinister tone to Martin’s voice. For all of Cuda’s bravado talk of saving then destroying his young relative, he’s still clearly terrified. And when the film reaches its conclusion (I won’t spoil it here), it is both shocking and somehow satisfying. It’s a strangely perfect ending.
Romero has always had a knack for getting the right actors for his films, and here, in a film set in a very specific part of Pittsburgh, he does it again, mostly using locals, friends and family, including former wife Christine Forrest. Martin was a small production – the cast and crew totaled, I believe, somewhere around 15 to 20 people – and that intimacy carries over onto the screen. This also marks the first time Romero worked with Tom Savini, who not only provides the special effects here, but also plays Christina’s boyfriend Arthur. The director himself also plays a small role as Father Howard, a local priest.
Martin is indeed one of the most underrated vampire (read: horror) films out there, so it always warms my shriveled black heart whenever it pops up on a “greatest horror films” list. I hope it comes back to DVD and / or Blu-Ray, and soon, because it really does deserve a wider audience. For vampire fans, for Romero fans, for horror fans, Martin is an absolute must-watch film.