Revisiting George A. Romero’s Martin
In the world of socially-conscious B-exploitation films, George A. Romero is a force to be reckoned with. He wrote and directed some of the most memorable horror films of all time, and in the world of zombie lore specifically, Romero is without peer.
He is perhaps best known for his “Dead” anthology: Night of the Living Dead (1968); Dawn of the Dead (1978); Day of the Dead (1985); and Land of the Dead (2005). But his personal favorite film within his own body of work was his low-budget reinvisioning of the vampire film, Martin (1978). The film does away with the cobwebs and Victorian costumes popular in the iconic gothic horror vampire films, and instead embroils itself in a gritty, contemporary urban landscape.
We meet the titular character (portrayed by actor John Amplas) as he’s traveling by train from Indianapolis to Pittsburgh. During the trip, he invades a young woman’s private sleeping car. After a brief struggle, Martin injects the girl with a sedative. Once unconscious, he proceeds to slash her wrists with a razor blade and drink her blood.
Martin meets his religious zealot granduncle, Tateh Cuda (Lincoln Maazel) at the train station. We learn that Martin’s immediate family in Indianapolis passed away, and that he will be lodging with Cuda (his next of kin). When the two arrive home, we find that Cuda’s house has been redecorated with wreaths of garlic in anticipation of Martin’s arrival. Cuda is convinced that Martin is a vampire. Martin doesn’t outright deny these accusations, but, curiously, suggests that the mythos surrounding Vampire lore is inaccurate. As we see, he is impervious to garlic and crucifixes and holy water. Martin repeatedly denounces commonly held conceptions of vampires as mythical or magical creatures, and indeed, his methodology seems to suggest that he is simply a serial killer who is fixated on the notion that he is a vampire. Regardless, Cuda swears that if Martin kills anyone, Cuda himself will drive a stake through Marvin’s heart.
Martin begins calling a local DJ, with whom he converses over the airwaves, about the trials and tribulations of living as a vampire in the modern age. The DJ loves it, and so do his listeners. Martin is insistent that the vampire cliches, all-too-familiar to the general public, don’t adequately or accurately reflect the complexity of living as a vampire.
Romero himself even plays a memorable cameo in the film as an ironically secular priest, who smokes and drinks liberally, and even quips about how much he enjoyed watching The Exorcist (1973).
Although he appears quite young, Martin says that he is, in fact, 84. Throughout the course of the film, we see Martin’s romantic (and literally black-and-white) visions of his past, which feature angry mobs with torches, and other images which evoke classic vampire lore.
Part of what makes the film so wonderful is that it is impossible to discern whether or not Martin is actually some kind of vampire, or merely a psychologically troubled young man whose mental health has been polluted by corrosive and unfairly accusatory religious influences.
In one memorable sequence, Martin even stages a scene to mock Cuda by donning a cape, heavy white cream makeup, and plastic vampire teeth. Is Martin a vampire film, or is it a self reflexive slasher film which ambiguously co-opts elements of traditional vampire lore? Either way, it’s an excellent and all too frequently overlooked film that offers a compelling and unique approach to the classic Vampire story , and is all too willing to take a stab at its own artifice.
Author Brandon Engel is an entertainment blogger with http://directstartv.com. Among his principal interests are: zombies, boogeymen, werewolves, Vampires (of course) and other ghoulish apparitions which go bump in the night.