This fresh take on the vampire genre from George A. Romero is an interesting idea. Martin is a troubled young man who goes to live with his elderly cousin in a conservative Pennsylvania neighbourhood. He suffers from some kind of sickness which leads him to murder and his uncle believes he is a vampire.
The film opens with Martin on the train, he goes to the bathroom and carefully prepares a syringe then picks the lock of a young woman's cabin and breaks in, injecting her in order to put her to sleep. Once she can no longer defend herself he strips them both and cuts her arm with a straight razor, drinking the blood.
When Martin arrives at his cousin Tuda's house it is clear Tuda knows about his proclivities, he calls him Nosferatu and lays down the rules for him staying, he fits a bell on Martin's door and forbids him to kill anyone putting him to work as a delivery boy. The old man has garlic strung on his door and Martin angrily eats some and touches his cross telling the old man there is no magic. Tuda's granddaughter disapproves of all the vampire talk and suggests the possibility that Martin has simply been driven mad by a superstitious and religious family.
This ambiguity about the nature of Martin is central to the film, he shows none of the traditional mystic signs of being a vampire, he walks around in the daylight, is unaffected by garlic or crosses and he injects and cuts his victims rather than biting them. However Martin clearly believes he is a vampire, he claims to be 84 years old and has frequent flashbacks or fantasies, filmed in black and white, which show him in the traditional gothic style usually associated with vampirism.
Martin is unable to control his bloodlust for long and he embarks on a frightening attack upon a woman in the neighbourhood, undeterred by the presence of her lover he simply attacks them both, drugging the man so he can attack the woman without interference.
Romero's direction is typically effective, making the most of the dilapidated neighbourhood and drawing us into Martin's bizarre life. Although there is a sexual element to Martin's attacks and of course violence neither are dwelt upon and the blood in the film is sparingly used. The horror comes from Martin's uncontrolled impulses and the way his family and the wider community are unable to help him with his delusions, in fact their reaction serves to further embed his fantasy world. He is a deeply lonely person, an emotion which is echoed by the decaying city around him and the haunting musical score.
Martin's chance to connect comes in the form of a lonely housewife, Mrs Santini and Tuda's granddaughter, Christina, both show concern for him. He has sex with Mrs Santini, his first time with the woman awake and without him killing her at the end. Christina stands up for him, admonishing her grandfather for his treatment of Martin but then she leaves and his new found emotional connection is limited to Mrs Santini. The grounding this provides seems to prevent him from killing; he starts to have trouble choosing victims, he worries he will make a mistake and be caught. The film builds to a powerfully affecting finale.
The film is well acted all round but John Amplas as Martin is clearly the star of the show and he gives an excellent, understated performance. Lincoln Maazel is good as the cantankerous old Tuda and Tom Savini makes an early appearance here as Christina's boyfriend Arthur. Romero himself has a cameo as Father Howard, the local priest.
Romero has said in interviews that Martin is his favourite of his own works but he resolutely refuses to adhere to a single explanation of what the film is about, preferring people to decide for themselves. As with all great art it is open to interpretation and all the more interesting because of that. Whatever the case this is a clever and haunting film which lingers in the memory and an interesting experiment with the boundaries of the vampire genre. Martin is far more disturbing than a caped count with bloody fangs.Short Review
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