There are two types of George Romero fans. First, there fans that love Romero's classic zombies films, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. But then there are the true fans of Romero – those that count films like Knightriders, The Crazies and Martin among their favorite films of all time. Now, if you're one of those true fans, you probably don't need to read this review – just skip to the part where I talk about the bonus features, as there's nothing here you don't already know.
Produced between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, Martin was one of several films that found Romero trying to establish his own unique voice as a filmmaker. Many hardcore fans of Romero consider Martin to be their favorite non-zombie film, while the director himself claims this offbeat tale of vampirism to be his personal favorite.
John Amplas stars as Martin, a disturbed young man that has been sent to live with his older cousin, Tata Cuda (Lincoln Mazell). It seems Martin is under the impression that he is a vampire. On the surface, he is a rather timid young man who borders on being socially retarded, but under the surface, Martin is a predator. Carefully stalking his intended victims, he drugs the unsuspecting prey, and then drinks their blood after slashing their wrists. All of this is done while Martin has very vivid hallucinations of his early years as a vampire. Or are these memories? You see, the problem is this: Not only is Martin convinced he is a vampire, so too are other members of his family, who have sent him live with his overbearing cousin. Cuda tells the young man, "First, I will save your soul, and then I will destroy you". Kinda makes your parents saying "when are you going to get a real job?" seem puny.
Martin is one of the single greatest vampire movies of all time. Romero has stripped away all the magic and supernatural mystery of the world of vampirism and shown us the sad reality of someone who thirsts for blood. Yet, when Martin experiences his fantasies of being the classical suave vampire, there is a brief uncertainty of how crazy he is. Or maybe it's just the audience's desire that these be memories instead of fantasies. Because if these are memories, Martin isn't that crazy and there is still some magic left in the world (even if it is supernatural, evil magic). But if these aren't memories, you are forced to ask yourself, "Is this what being a vampire is really all about?"
Vampire films have always been used as metaphors for sexuality and morality. Traditionally, vampires have represented such "social ills" as homosexuality or a lack of Christian based morals. This explains why the sight of the crucifix repels bloodsuckers – they go against God, and Christian beliefs, and therefore must be destroyed. While Martin embraces many of the sexual and religious underpinnings of classic vampire tales, those are just aspects of the larger tale Romero is weaving. In Martin, vampirism represents the awkwardness and disillusionment of youth – especially in post-Vietnam America. The film is about the growing cultural and generation gap in America, and, as in all of Romero's films, how lack of communication leads to destruction. In his zombie films the destruction is that of society, but in Martin, it is the destruction of the family. In fact, when the film starts, Martin has been sent to live with his cousin, sending a message that the traditional family itself no longer exists.
At it's heart and soul, Martin is a film about an alienated young man looking for acceptance. But it isn't just Martin that suffers from the need for acceptance and love. His other cousin, Christina (Romero's future wife Christine Forrest), in her twenties, suffers from some of the same problems as her younger cousin, including her inability to relate to cousin Cuda, even though she isn't a vampire. Christina's pathetic relationship with her boyfriend Arthur (Tom Savini) is potentially as destructive as the relationships Martin has with his victims.
Despite the lack of true supernatural elements, Martin is a scary movie. Set in the deteriorating community of Braddock, Pennsylvania, this is a bleak film with a dusty covering of despair. John Amplas is wonderful as the pathetically introverted Martin, who can only come out of his shell while in his fantasy world, or while phoning in to a radio talk show. Amplas gives Martin enough humanity that in spite of his murderous tendencies, he still manages to evoke sympathy.
Okay, here's the deal: I was under the impression that this version of Martin, which is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, was restoring the film to its proper format. But after hearing back from some other people, and doing a little research, I have found out that the Anchor Bay version that came out several years ago, and was presented full frame, actually featured the correct format. This new version from Artisan has been matted, with part of the image cropped. The picture was mastered from high definition transfer, and it looks beautiful, but this is not the way Romero intended the film to be seen.
Audio for Martin is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, a vast improvement over the Anchor Bay version, and helps to accentuate Donald Rubinstein's haunting musical score.
Anchor Bay's release of Martin featured an audio commentary by Romero, John Amplas and Tom Savini. If you already own that version, then you might not need to buy this version. But if you already own the Anchor Bay version, you may want to consider picking out this new edition, as it has an all-new commentary with Romero, Savini, cinematographer Michael Gornick, producer Richard Rubinstein and composer Donald Rubinstein. Not quite as nostalgic as the commentary on the Anchor Bay disc, this audio track still comes pretty close, while at the same time dealing with some of the technical aspects behind the production of the film. There is also a brief "making of" featurette, theatrical trailer, television commercial, and a gallery of photos. Normally I would not recommend buying a disc that you already have, but this version of Martin is reasonably priced, and hardcore Romero fans will want to have the new commentary.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]