Studio: Laurel Entertainment Inc.
Starring: John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel, Christine Forrest, Elyane Nadeau, Tom Savini
Directed by: George A. Romero
Running Time: 95 min.
Synopsis: A boy named Martin stays with his cousin who believes he is a vampire and sets out to save his soul and then destroy him.
George A. Romero is mostly known for the Dead series films that he has made throughout the years, but there’s another film that stands out he has directed that is closely up there with Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. That film is the 1977 vampire film, Martin. Now this is no run of the mill vampire flick. Just as Romero did his own take on zombies, he gives us a different interpretation of the classic creature of the night. First time I saw this film was twenty years ago and it still remains a favorite of mine.
Shot in 1976 in a small town, Braddock, Pennsylvania, right outside of Pittsburgh and on a small budget, Romero was directing his fifth feature film, which happened to be about a young man named Martin, who is a vampire, or is he? The film has a great opening where it’s set on a train and Martin (played by John Amplas) is seen eyeing a young woman who is just coming aboard. After that we see a shot of the train exiting and the title of the film appears with this haunting music playing. It’s a great opening shot that sets the tone for the next scene and for the film, that we are off on a mysterious and perhaps frightening journey.
We really don’t know too much yet in the beginning. Martin is on the train getting some things ready, like placing some type of drug into a syringe and then he seeks into the woman’s cabin that he’s been eyeing and attacks her. Besides injecting her with the syringe it doesn’t seem he wants to harm her. He even tells her that as he tries to hold her back from escaping that he doesn’t want to hurt her he just wants her to sleep. The drug kicks in and the woman is unconscious. Martin then takes off her clothes and his and begins to have sex with her. After he is finished he takes a razor blade and cuts the woman along her wrist and arm and begins to drink her blood. After he is finished he cleans up the room and makes it look like it was suicide when they find the dead woman.
When Martin gets off the train he is met by his granduncle, Tada Cuba (Lincoln Maazel), who looks like an angel with white hair and bread and all dressed in a white suit. The two travel back to Cuba’s house where Martin will stay. The two don’t say anything to each other on the journey to Cuba’s home. Once at the house, we get a better understanding what the film is about and what Martin is. Cuba with an evil glare says to Martin “Nosferatu” and then “Vampire”. For centuries Martin’s family has been cursed with some of their family members being Vampires. Martin is one of them and according to him he’s 84 years old and needs blood to live. The other vampire traits like sleeping in a coffin, or can’t be out in the sunlight, or crosses, that’s all stuff just in the movies. Although Cuba believes in all of that, Martin tries to tell him that stuff is only magic and won’t hurt him. We also don’t know if Martin is really a vampire or just a mixed up kid whose family brainwashed him since he was a child into thinking he was a vampire.
Cuba is to look after Martin for a while, then save his soul, and then destroys him. In the meantime he helps his Uncle at his deli. Martin is at first very shy and pretends to be a little slow, but once he befriends someone he opens up and you realize that he’s smarter than he looks. Martin spends most of his time talking with his cousin, Cuba’s daughter, Christina (Christine Forrest, Romero’s future wife) on how they can’t stand Cuba. He also tries to figure out how to get some blood and from whom. He starts to target housewives at the super market for his next victims. He becomes involved with one lonely housewife, Abbie (Elyane Nadeau), who breaks him out of his shell and Martin also calls up a local radio show to talk about being a vampire. Martin tries to lead a normal life, but he can’t deny who he is and he preys on his victims to get blood.
This is a brilliant film from Romero and one of his best. Even though it is a horror film, it is mostly a drama and an excellent one at that and still proves to be a creepy thrilling horror movie. Romero develops the characters greatly and Amplas does an excellent job playing the lead. The character of Martin is very sympathetic and you feel for him and what he has to go through. He doesn’t want to go out and kill, but has to in order to survive. Also, it’s a very original way to do a vampire film without the typical clichés. Even after the end of the film you still don’t know if Martin was really a vampire. They are flashbacks that are in sepia tone that show Martin from the early 1900’s drinking a woman’s blood and has a lynch mob chasing after him. These things could have happened or it’s just something Martin thinks that happened to him in the past. Amplas also does a great job when he’s not saying anything and his body language or expression tell the story. The character almost has some traits of Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, but more quite and timid at times. Amplas performance is the reason to watch this movie and he does an excellent job.
Romero also captures the time in which the movie takes place with the backdrop of a once booming working area in Pennsylvania now turned into a jobless town. Most of the buildings around looked run down and everyone complains about there’s no work there and if they want work they have to leave the town. The setting is very grim but real. Also the lonely housewife is relevant to the time, where the woman is sick and tired of just being the happy housewife to her husband and wants to be her own independent person. Many of the characters represent this throughout the film.
Some other things that stand out to me in the film are just the overall editing and photography of the film. The music is very good and captures the tone of the film. There’s good editing when they show Martin present day stalking one of his victims then they parallel that with flashbacks of Martin from the early 1900’s chasing after one of his victims then. They also do a good job with using silhouettes in some shots. One is when Martin is sitting on the roof outside his room at night, which is a really great shot, and the other is when Martin is having sex with one of his victims while she’s unconscious and they have a close-up shot of him gently kissing her on the forehead and then on the lips. These shots are very well done and are major stand outs in the film. There’s a great scene where Romero pays homage to the 1931 Dracula, where Cuba is walking home at night in a thick fog. Martin starts to follow him dressed in a Dracula get up and begins to scare him. Cuba freaks out and tries to warn the evil sprits away. Martin just laughs at him and shows him it’s just a costume and only did it to mess with him and show him there’s no magic like in the movies.
Martin is one of Romero’s best and a great film to check out if you haven’t seen it all ready. It’s an excellent character piece and a stylish film. Also, look out for cameos from Romero who plays a priest in the film, producer, Richard P. Rubinstein plays a husband to one of the housewives, and Tom Savini who plays Arthur, Christina’s boyfriend. Savini also did special make-up effects and some stunts in the film. This is also the first film that Romero and Savini worked on together. Martin is a unique vampire tale not like any others and it is very highly recommended.