Back before vampire’s started sparkling like semen-glazed doughnuts and sucking a certain portion of the male anatomy, George A. Romero produced a vampire film unlike any other. Gone were the fangs, the repellent effects of garlic and crosses, the aristocratic charm. Here, we have a vampire for the modern age. A vampire that could very well live right next door to you. Welcome to the world of Martin.
Martin (John Amplas) may or may not be a real vampire. But he does like to drink blood. He uses hypodermic needles to inject his victims with a sleeping aid and a razor blade to slit their wrists. He can also only make love to women after they’ve been drugged. And he experiences flashbacks of persecution. Or are they mere fantasies?
Moving from Indianapolis to Braddock, Pennsylvania, Martin moves in with his uncle Cuda (Lincoln Maazel), a superstitious old man who refers to Martin as “Nosferatu,” hangs garlic on his door and is a devout Catholic. Cuda promises to save Martin’s soul before destroying him. Despite knowing his uncle is onto him, Martin continues to kill and drink blood. But after he begins an affair with Mrs. Santini (Elyane Nadeau) and discovers he can make love to her without drugging her, his desire for blood seems quenched. But is the love of one woman strong enough to keep this vampire in check?
Not only is Martin one of the best vampire films, it’s also one of the best horror films out there. Romero really nailed it on the head with this one. While the plot is rather loose (Romero spends a lot of time with Martin exploring his life in Braddock), viewers will be drawn in by the proceedings, constantly trying to figure out whether or not Martin really is an 84-year-old vampire or just a young kid with a sickness (he refers to himself as both in the movie). Martin gives no easy answers, instead leaving it up to the viewer to decide for themselves.
John Amplas is phenomenal as Martin. Watching him, I was reminded of serial killer Richard Trenton Chase (“The Vampire of Sacramento”): though looking like a healthy 20-something, he has a sickly aura about him – much like one would expect a real vampire to have. (I wondered whether or not Romero could have been inspired by Chase and his killings; research showed Martin was written and released before Chase’s killing spree.) Amplas also has a certain innocence – the way he refers to sex as “sexy stuff” – and world-weary cynicism about him, no doubt on account of his being persecuted by his uncle and, possibly, those from the past. Anyone who has suffered alienation on account of how they are will no doubt completely relate to Martin.
The small town of Braddock was actually a decaying town as depicted in the film. This helps lend a wonderfully bleak atmosphere to the proceedings. This is accented by Donald Rubenstein’s score, which swings between melancholic and weird. The despair emanating from Martin is the genuine despair of people who’ve lost all hope and happiness. They’ve simply given into their fate.
Martin is one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in some time. Everything about it is perfect, from the performances to the setting to the tone. While Romero will most likely be remembered for his Dead films, Martin is an excellent slice of his filmography that deserves to be watched and appreciated for the exceptional film that it is.