Martin with Hypodermic Syringe

Martin with Victim

Cuda wields a crucifix

Corpse in bath

Martin at work

There’s a scene in MARTIN (1977) where an old man is chased down the street by a caped stalker with fanged teeth. When the would-be assailant catches up with his prey he reveals his attire to be nothing more than theatrical props. This scene neatly sums up MARTIN, if you are expecting another Hollywood vampire film forget it, this one screwed up the conventions and left you wondering - a full decade before Kathryn Bigelow similarly dispensed with traditional gothic iconography in her 1987 horror/western NEAR DARK.

The film begins with Martin boarding a train to Braddock, Pittsburgh where he is going to live and work with his elderly cousin Cuda. Whilst on the train he attacks a female passenger and drinks her blood. Martin believes he is actually an 84-year-old vampire compelled to drink the blood of humans in order to survive. Prior to attacking the woman we see the scene in black and white as he imagines what is about to happen; the woman seductively reclining in a negligee, welcoming his entrance as if in a Hammer film. In reality, when Martin attacks, the woman is wearing a face mask, and a struggle ensues before he manages to sedate her with a hypodermic syringe, slash her arm with a razor blade, and drink her blood. His modus operandi leaves his victim in what appears to be a suicide scenario. In the trailer Martin tries to explain his actions, and he stresses the humane nature of his killing method; “They don’t feel a thing”.

Martin’s twisted fantasy is further fuelled by Cuda, whose house is filled with old-world talismans like garlic and crucifixes; he is convinced that vampirism is part of their family curse and refers to Martin as "Nosferatu". He promises to destroy Martin should anybody in the town fall victim to one of his attacks. However, an affair with an older married woman seems to quell his thirst for blood, and we start to think that the killings could all be part of an over-active macabre and sexually frustrated imagination. All seems well, until tragedy strikes, Cuda springs into action, and the film draws to its inevitable conclusion.

Romero frequently switches to black and white shots to portray Martin’s recollections from the past. In contrast to the black and white photography used in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD to achieve documentary-like realism, the photography in MARTIN emphasises the unreal and dreamlike aspects of Martin’s imagination. Are we witnessing flashbacks to the old country where Martin was really pursued by torch-bearing crowds straight out of a Universal horror movie, or is this all in his mind? The film was shot on 16mm colour film and blown up to 35mm for theatres. Romero had originally wanted the entire prints to be made in black and white, but he was overruled.

Martin is played sympathetically by John Amplas (CREEPSHOW and DAY OF THE DEAD), co-stars include the real-life Mrs. Romero, Christine Forrest (DAWN OF THE DEAD, KNIGHTRIDERS, CREEPSHOW, MONKEY SHINES and THE DARK HALF), make-up wizard Tom Savini, and as an ineffectual priest, the director himself.

It is a genuinely disturbing horror film with powerful psychological undertones; the vampire is brought into the present day to explore themes of addiction, sexuality and obsession. The ‘vampire’ has much in common with the Goths who appear in Channel 5 documentaries discussing their blood-fetish through filed down teeth. It was Romero’s fifth film following his classic zombie outing NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), the largely forgotten THERE’S ALWAYS VANILLA (1972) and JACK’S WIFE (1973), and the deadly virus/corrupt government drama THE CRAZIES (1973). Although it was hugely underrated at the time of its release, MARTIN has now come to be accepted by many critics and horror fans as Romero's finest work to date. It is Romero’s favourite of all his films. In the short documentary that accompanies the film he fondly recalls the style of “guerrilla film-making” that was employed for the shoot, and how the whole production was one big family affair.

This 16:9 anamorphic widescreen release is an improvement on the previous Arrow release which was presented full screen, but the second disc seems somewhat empty, the Making Martin documentary running for only 10 minutes or so. But if you’re sick of the “Buffy” style nouveaux vampires, and would like something more original than Dracula in his various guises, then this is the film for you.

Features:

16:9 anamorphic widescreen
5.1 Dolby Digital
2.0 Stereo
Commentary with writer/director George A. Romero, special effects artist Tom Savini, director of photography Michael Gornick, and composer Donald Rubinstein
Making Martin - documentary
Notes on Martin by George A. Romero
US theatrical trailer
Original TV and radio spots
Poster, stills and gallery.