Now, how does the song go? "No Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones in 1977". Well, some of you may be tempted to add vampires to the list when considering George A. Romero's Martin. Here, the titular character (played by John Amplas) is a young man who becomes a victim of his deranged uncle Cuda (Maazel). Forced to work in Cuda's store and placed under a night-time curfew, Martin is befriended by cousin Christine (Forrest), who spends her time railing against Cuda's outdated beliefs and dealing with her unreliable boyfriend (fx supremo Tom Savini). Cuda believes Martin is one of nine family members marked by the curse of Nosferatu: a theory substantiated by his predeliction for female flesh and blood. As Martin slowly gets into character, he exhibits a greater degree of confidence when dealing with his (mostly) female victims, and becomes a regular caller to a late-night radio chat show, claiming he's an 84 year-old vampire. As the body count increases, Martin begins to harbour very real doubts regarding his ability to continue evading the law.
So, where does fantasy end and reality begin? Romero's film is peppered with stark monochrome flashbacks showing Martin being welcomed by his victims and hunted by those who wish him dead.While it's open to debate whether these are replays of past events or simply feverish daydreams, the latter seems far more likely, given the somewhat (intentionally?) fractured staging of some of the scenes.
Romero originally pitched a running time of 135 minutes for this film, which leaves us some 40 mins adrift for this truncated version. Unfortunately, the gaps show. Martin's relationship with an attractive older woman (Nadeau) simply cries out for extended screen time, making his transformation from a virtual necrophiliac into a capable lover seem more like an eleventh-hour re-write, rather than a considered character development. Similarly, Cuda's meeting with a priest schooled in 'the old ways' and their subsequent attempted exorcism are too close together to really gel, and leave one yearning to see the director's original cut: a disconcerting state of affairs, because there are moments when Martin comes very close to representing Romero's best work. The opening scene where Martin creates terror on the tracks - attacking a young woman (Middleton) in her train carriage - works wonderfully well, combining past and present by imaginative use of the flashback device. Martin's encounter with an unfaithful housewife and her lover scores even higher, with Romero stoking up on suspense and letting the scene run to a dramatic conclusion. This particular set piece, coupled with a scene in a children's playground, is the flip side of Carpenter's Halloween, but coming several months earlier: one can't help but wonder what would have happened if Romero's film had enjoyed the same breaks as Carpenter? Martin VIII: 'Blood On The Net'? Maybe not, but this slow-burning account of mental illness and its cause and effect remains an important work. If the hugely under-rated Jack's Wife is Romero's feminist film, then Martin explores the male psyche with just as conviction.
Arrow's Region 2 DVD is a huge shot in the veins for those who missed out on Anchor Bay's Region 1 disc (now OOP). Although Arrow's disc does not include the Romero/Amplas/Forrest commentary track, it remains an absolutely essential purchase for any self-respecting Romero buff.From a presentational viewpoint, this is the best looking version of Martin I've seen though it's never been a film that's stood out in terms of eye-popping colour. In 2003, there's still a grainy look to the film ( due to the photography, rather than any failing with the disc) but colours look a lot more stable than we're used to.
Arrow have also included a 14 minute documentary - with German audio and English subtitles - which contains footage from Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead, The Crazies and Martin, together with Romero's thoughts on the aforementioned films. While we don't learn a great deal that's new, it's nice to watch Romero at work on his Dawn set and the picture quality of the clips offer a nostalgic glimpse of life before DVD. Also included are a couple of radio spots, and the splendid original theatrical trailer shot from a different perspective than is normally the case for these '3 minute wonders'.
Romero's legendary 3 hour director's cut - stolen from him many years ago - will likely never be seen, leaving us with an uneven film which, nontheless, does hit the heights on several occasions. Maybe it's best to let the 'real' Martin rest in peace and attempt to make sense of what's left.
[The new DVD release from Arrow/Fremantle includes 16:9 anamorphic widescreen along with commentary by Romero, Savini, director of photography Michael Gornick and composer Donal Rubinstein. A Making of Martin documentary along with notes by Romero, trailers, posters and stills gallery is also included]
American writer/director and one of the most influential figures in modern horror cinema, whose ability to write strong scripts and characters match his penchant for gory chills. The Pittsburgh native began his career directing adverts before making Night of the Living Dead in 1968. This bleak, scary classic ushered in a new era of horror film-making, but Romero struggled initially to follow it up - There's Always Vanilla is a little-seen romantic drama, and Jack's Wife was butchered by its distributor. The Crazies was a flop but still an exciting slice of sci-fi horror, and while the dark vampire drama Martin again made little money but got Romero some of the best reviews of his career and remains the director's personal favourite.