6/15/09

The Grab Bag: George Romero's Martin (1977)

As I reach down into The Grab Bag this week, I’ve come up with a film by one of Horror’s most influential directors, George Romero. Before going back to the Zombie well with 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, Romero made this flick about a teenage vampire, and he didn’t even make him sparkle in the sunlight. I know, crazy stuff, but that’s what you get when you’re dealing with a kid like…
Martin (1977) starring John Amples, Lincoln Maazel, Christine Forrest, Elyane Nadeau, and Tom Savini. Directed by George Romero.

Martin (Amples) is a troubled young man, and perhaps he is a vampire. He moves in with his Uncle Cuda (Maazel) who is obsessed with the family curse of the Nosferatu, and Cuda promises to save Martin’s soul and then destroy him. On his own, Martin begins to try and live a normal life, and soon find’s himself involved in an affair with a married woman. His bloodlust begins to subside, but as the pressures of life begin to wear on him, can he keep his vampiric nature in check.
The Bugg Picture

This is the way to make a film about an adolescent vampire, so Catherine Hardwick sit up and take notice. Martin is a troubled young man, and he may or may not be an actual mythical vampire, but either way he has a taste for blood. It is only after he has a sexual awakening in the arms of his married lover that he begins to overcome his bloodlust. This is quite the heavy metaphor for struggles that disaffected young men go through in their adolescence, but I think it is quite effective. While most teenage boys do not resort to drinking blood, they do struggle with their self image and the pressures that family put on them.

Now I don’t think that most families would pressure young men into becoming vampires, so let me take a step back from the deeper end of the film, and let’s take the characters for face value. For my money, no one was more entertaining in the flick than Lincoln Maazel as Cuda. Strutting around the sets in his white suits, he is the very picture of a man obsessed. In some ways, he is the Van Helsing to Martin’s vampire. It’s an over the top performance, but I really enjoyed each moment he spent on screen. John Amples embodies the conflicted Martin perfectly, and he is the very image of the awkward adolescent. When Martin claims to be 84 years old, I laughed. I knew guys like this when I was younger, they could talk to ghosts or control fire or do magik (yes, always with a ‘K’). I interpret Martin as a young man caught up in his fantasy world to such an extent that he has hurt people and taken lives.

I have to devote a whole paragraph here to our Lord and Savior Tom Savini. Tom did it all on this film, the first he had a chance to do with his friend George Romero. Not only did he turn in an excellent acting role as an asshole boyfriend, he also did the stunts, special effects, and makeup on the film. While Romeo’s terse direction adds to the suspense and mystery of the film, it is Savini’s movie magic that makes it all come to life. The opening scene where Martin attacks a woman on a train is disturbing enough in it’s brutality, but when you add in the razor cutting her arm (which was trimmed back to avoid and ‘X’ rating), then the film goes from merely dark to the pitchest of blacks. Throughout the film, we can see the flourishes of Savini’s style which will come to full effect in 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, but it is truly wonderful to witness the first pairing of Savini and Romero.

This was also the first pairing of Romero and cinematographer Michael Gornick who would work with George on four more films. Martin has a dark look that benefits its dark subject matter, but more strikingly, the film has a sense of real life. The people look real; the settings look real, and all the actions they undertake look very, very real. This non-glossy look is surely partially due to the low budget of the film, but as the events unfold, it fits the film perfectly. Martin is not a bite you on the neck and wear a cape vampire, he’s a normal looking boy who
extracts blood by cutting his victims open. So making the film feel real matches. While the events are fantastical, they are not so out of this world that it could not happen, and the gritty reality laid out in Martin only drives this home.

While Romero’s name is mostly synonymous with the zombie, I think there should be some room when praising him for his take on the vampire. Martin is a very original film that still has the same impact on the audience that it would have in 1977. I sure wish in this era of Twilight that we could get some more reality back into the vampire myth. I just hope they don’t remake Martin. They’ll make him handsome, smooth, sensitive, and totally devoid of any real meaning.



Bugg Rating

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for reviewing this - interesting read. I have owned this movie for months, because Romero said it was his favorite movie, but have never watched it. Now I will.

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  2. This movie has always made me kind of nervous...I want to see it, but I'm also afraid it might a little too dark and depressing (and, as we know, I like my horror light and stupid). Anyway, my curiosity is peaked, and away to Netflix I go...
    -Billy

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  3. Indeed an original and underrated vampire flick. One of my favorites.

    I don't think I ever realized that Romero was in the film as a priest.

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  4. Somehow I stumbled upon this blog and happened to find your review both humorous and insightful. Martin is one of those movies i've come to revisit every two years or so, and I agree that it has aged pretty well considering the modest bugdet used in the first place.

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