The name George A. Romero is incredibly well known within the horror world, and for good reason. Romero forever altered the zombie genre when he created Night of the Living Dead in 1968. Before he created that film, zombies were the results of voodoo and magic; they were slaves who did the bidding of the one who reanimated them. The zombies that we think of today, as an infection, as a horde of flesh-eating creatures, that’s down to him and his films. He’s unarguably the father of the modern zombie. So, with that in mind it might surprise some to learn that he also tried his hand at creating a vampire movie.
Created in the decade between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, a period in which Romero failed to release another film that was as big a hit as his first, and a time in which he found himself struggling financially and almost facing bankruptcy, Martin was an attempt to create another hit in order to get out of financial difficulties. The fact that I’d never heard of this film, or that Romero had even made a vampire movie tipped me off before even watching this that it might not be the best that the director has to offer from his long and illustrious career.
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Martin tells the story of a young man named Martin (John Amplas), who believes himself to be a vampire. The film begins with him on a train to Pittsburgh, where he attacks a young woman in her cabin, injecting her with a sedative. After stripping her down and sexually assaulting her, he slits her wrists with a razor and drinks her blood as she bleeds out over him. He then sets the place up to look like a suicide, and leaves. Upon arriving in Pittsburgh he’s met by an uncle, Cuda (Lincoln Maazel) who he’s supposed to be staying with. It seems that Cuda is aware that Martin is a vampire, and keeps referring to him as Nosferatu, as well as having set up rings of garlic and crosses in parts of the house. He tells Martin that he will save his soul, then destroy him.
Over the course of the film we learn that parts of Cuda and Martin’s family, highly religious and superstitious Lithuanian Catholics, believe that their family is cursed, and that over the generations several members have been born as vampires. Cuda’s granddaughter, Christina (Christine Forrest) rejects these superstitions, and comes to believe that Martin is just mentally ill. She’s upset to see that he believes this family superstitions, especially when he claims he’s more than eighty years old. As the film progresses, we watch as Martin begins to try to live a normal life in Pittsburgh, but his cravings for blood continue to plague him.
Martin isn’t a long movie, just under an hour and a half in length, but it feels a lot longer than that. Romero manages to pack a lot into the short runtime, and juggles chaotic scenes of Martin trying to claim victims, the banality of his everyday life working in Cuda’s store, and the lives of the people around him. With the amount that happens in the film, and the generally laid back pace the film has, it ends up feeling like a much longer movie, and I found myself checking the clock more than once.
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Part of why the film feels so long is that there are numerous scenes where it feels like several moments, if not the entire scene itself, could have been cut down. In the extras we learn that the original cut of the film was close to three hours long (though it would probably feel closer to six if it still existed). As with many horror films of this decade, Martin is quite slow, and much of the movie lacks the feel of a horror film. It mostly feels like a family drama movie with some violent and horrific moments thrown in here and there. These moments are okay at best, and the scene in which Martin tries to take a victim and ends up chasing a couple of people around a house for ten minutes or more feels too long to be entertaining. Perhaps the best scenes of horror in the film comes right at the very beginning of the film, and right at the very last minute.
One thing that the film does well, however, is the presentation of Martin and his belief that he is a vampire. Martin states that he’s more than eighty years old, he says he is a vampire, yet he says several times in the film that magic isn’t real, and mocks his uncle with the fact that crucifixes and garlic do nothing to him. He seems to be in a constant state of contradiction, where he’s saying he’s this supernatural being in one scene, and mocking the notion in another. The film makes it quite clear that Martin is a young man with violent mental issues, and using modern parlance, is an incel who kills women because he’s too afraid to have sex (he manages to sleep with a woman at one point in the film and it does seem to change his outlook quite a bit). It seems that he believes he’s a vampire thanks to his family, and that their hard-line, almost violent approach to religion and their ‘old way’ beliefs have caused considerable damage to Martin. The film ends up being less a movie about a vampire, and more a film about what familial abuse can do to a person’s psyche.
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The new Blu-ray release comes with a 4K scan and restoration from the original film negative, but compared to a lot of older films that have received similar treatment Martin comes away looking pretty rough. Perhaps it’s down to the film used at the time making it harder to create a cleaner, crisper image, but visually the movie looks pretty bad at times, and reminded me more of old VHS films than what I’ve come to expect from Blu-ray. It does come with a lot of extra features, however, including four separate commentary tracks. Two of these are from previous releases, and feature cast and crew including George A. Romero, John Amplas, and Tom Savini (who appears in the film in a minor role). There are also two brand new tracks recorded for this release, featuring film critic and writer Travis Crawford (who passed away late last year), and film critic Kat Ellinger. There is also a new feature length making of feature, an interview with the films composer, some trailers and TV spots, and a short film included on the extras.
Martin is an interesting movie, and an interesting release. Whilst the film itself failed to grab me, or entertain me much, the insights into this point in Romero’s career are interesting, and the extensive behind the scenes extras and the audio commentaries make for a more entertaining time than the actual film itself does. If there are any big fans of Martin out there I’m sure that they’re already eyeing up this new release, but for those who’ve never seen it and are thinking of taking a punt it might prove to be a bit of a let down.
Martin is out now on 4K UHD and Blu-ray from Second Sight.