George A. Romero, 1978
Starring: John Amplas, Elyane Nadeau, Tom Savini
A young man named Martin sedates a woman on an overnight train and slits her wrists in order to drink her blood. Martin believes he is a vampire and must do this in order to stay alive and quench his unholy thirst. It seems that Martin’s family in Indianapolis has died and he is traveling to Braddock, Pennsylvania to live with his suspicious granduncle, Cuda, and young cousin Christine. Cuda earnestly believes Martin is a vampire and promises to stake him through the heart if anyone in Braddock is found dead. Martin is forced to travel to Pittsburgh to find new victims, but begins his first affair with an older local woman in Braddock. After the woman kills herself, Cuda believes Martin to be responsible and prepares to punish him by staking him through the heart...
Allegedly George Romero’s favorite of his own film, he wrote, directed, and edited this very personal, unique film that deserves a wider audience and better reputation. Martin is very low budget, but makes the best of a number of real locations around Pittsburgh and Braddock, Pennsylvania. Supporting cast members were made up of Romero’s friends and family members, which is a bit rough, but John Amplas gives a compelling, memorably strange enough performance to distract from any bad acting or stilted dialogue. Amplas went on to work with Romero several times, including appearances in Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Knightriders, and Creepshow. Martin also marks Romero’s first collaboration with make up artist Tom Savini. Though Savini crafted the minimal amount of blood, gore, and violence depicted in Martin, he also appeared as Christine’s deadbeat boyfriend.
Martin is connected to Romero’s more popular films with a heavy, sometimes awkward dose of social commentary and satire. It seems that he tried to retread and further develop the themes of suburban anguish from Season of the Witch. In that, he definitely succeeded, as Martin should be counted as one of his classics, whereas I found Season of the Witch to be an interesting attempt, but mostly a failure. In that film, the protagonist comes to believe she is witch, though Romero never confirms or denies this.
Romero’s use of vampire lore is interesting and borrows some elements from other films, such as Larraz’s Vampyres. Martin is not a classic vampire. He has no fangs and must use knives or razors to get blood. He’s not affected by sunlight, garlic, or crosses. His flashbacks - or possibly flights of fancy - are divided from the regular film with black and white scenes and it is unclear whether his vampirism is real or imagined. Martin is the opposite of what we think of as a vampire; he’s cowardly, weak, socially awkward. His floundering attempts to subdue women interestingly make the film feel like a bleak slasher or thriller at times.
This dreamlike, poetic film is about suburban isolation and the blurred lines between humanity and monstrosity, fantasy and reality. Martin comes highly recommended and is available on DVD. As with Dawn of the Dead, there was a version of Martin edited for European audiences. Known as Wampyr, it has a Goblin score, but is generally only available as an Italian dub.