Review: George A. Romero’s Cult Vampire Horror MARTIN

4 out of 5 stars

Writer/Director George A. Romero will forever be associated with zombie films. After all, he did kick-start the never-dying horror sub-genre with 1968’s The Night Of The Living Dead before cementing his status as the ‘Dad of The Dead’ with 1978’s hugely influential follow-up, Dawn Of The Dead. Romero crafted an interesting career in horror away from zombie movies – the most notable of these films is 1977’s Martin. A film that was caught-up in the UK’s Video nasty kerfuffle in the eighties, Romero often referred to Martin as his favourite film. While it may lack the visceral thrills of some of his other work, it’s easy to see why the filmmaker would think so fondly of it. 

The film stars John Amplas as Martin, a young man who believes that he’s a vampire. He kills for blood, covering his tracks by making each death look like a suicide. He moves to Pennsylvania in order to live with his with his Van Helsing style elderly cousin, Tateh Cuda (Lincoln Maazel). Tensions between the two soon arise because Cuda is also of the opinion that Martin is a Nosferatu. Cuda uses crosses and garlic in an attempt to keep his relative at bay, but these have no affect and he simply mocks him. He tries to keep his blood lust at bay, but soon Martin‘s thirst becomes too much. 

Ditching the vampire genre’s usual velvet draped gothic trappings and setting the film in the rundown Pittsburgh suburb of Braddock, Romero updates the vampire mythos for the 1970s. Yes, it firmly sits in the horror genre, but Martin is also an intriguing psychological drama. The driving force behind the narrative of Romero’s film is posed by the question – is Martin really a vampire? It’s something that isn’t really answered by the film and it’s up to the audience to come up with their own opinion. He could simply be a troubled young man who takes pleasure in killing and uses the vampire story to ease his conscience. 

There are beautifully realised monochrome sequences which appear to be set in the past, but again Romero makes sure that these are ambiguous – they could be read as flashbacks from decades past or as part of Martin’s delusional fantasy.  By stripping away the supernatural aspects of the vampire mythos, Romero is able to focus on the dramatic elements and the character moments. This is greatly helped by John Amplas performance as Martin. It’s a complex and haunting turn, one which really keeps the audience guessing as to Martin’s true character. 

Shot for a ridiculously modest budget (under $100,000), Martin’s low budget aesthetic and real locations helps add to the realism, while Donald Rubinstein’s score incorporates angelic choral notes gives the film an underlying melancholy. 

It’s not necessarily scary, but there’s enough dripping blood to keep horehounds happy. Ultimately, Martin works because of George A. Romero‘s attempt at applying something new to the genre which had apparently run its course in the post Hammer horror era.  

Special Features

The ever increasing popularity of streaming means that physical media is becoming more of a collector’s medium – and this means distributors must pull out all the stops to make their releases standout so they appeal to those who are willing to part with their hard earned cash. And no label out there pulls out the stops quite like Second Sight Films. The company has stacked their Limited Edition 4K UHD and Blu-ray of Martin with an amount of bonus features which will make collectors go weak at the knees. 

The release features a 4K scan and restoration of a 35mm dupe negative which was supervised and approved by Director of Photography Michael Gornick. It comes from two vintage commentaries from the late George A. Romero. One features star John Amplas and co-star and makeup effetcts guru Tom Savini, while the other also includes Richard P Rubinstein, Tom Savini, Michael Gornick and Donald Rubinstein. Another commentary comes from film writer Travis Crawford and another from writer Kat Ellinger.

There’s also a documentary called Taste the Blood of Martin, a feature-length look at the making of the film, which also serves as a tour of the films locations. The piece is a little unfocused, but loaded with information. 

You also get a new interview with composer Donald Rubinstein, a vintage making-of documentary, the obligatory trailers, TV and radio spots as well as J Roy – New And Used Furniture – a short film by Tony Buba which features many of the same locations as Romero’s film. 

In a word this release of Martin is Fang-tastic.