Synopsis: From director George A. Romero comes a dynamic gothic original. Martin is a misunderstood young man who happens to be a vampire… maybe. The sun really just bothers his eyes a little, garlic and crosses have no effect, and he has no fangs. He also doesn’t have any vampiric powers, which makes acquiring blood an extremely harrowing experience for all involved.
eyelights: its core conceit.
eyesores: its shoddy editing. its opacity.
“It’s been a long time for me, a long time full of crazy people.”
I don’t know what to make of ‘Martin’. The 1978 motion picture, which George Romero claimed to be his favourite of all his films, of all the classics he’s made, is an unusual tale of vampirism.
It tells the disturbing story of a young man who believes himself to be a vampire, ritualistically anesthetizing beautiful women so that he may have sex with them and then drink their blood.
He’s basically a creepy rapist.
Martin doesn’t have the usual weaknesses of traditional vampire lore; he doesn’t have fangs or transform into a bat, and he’s not weakened by garlic or religious symbols, nor does sun harm him.
He does, however, believe that he’s 84 years old – and immortal, so long as he feeds regularly. This belief is reinforced by his uncle, Cuda, a believer who shouts “Nosferatu” at him compulsively.
The old man, who sports a goatee, dresses in a pristine white suit and walks with a cane, claims that vampirism is in the family lineage and that three of their nine known vampires remain alive.
Cuda swears to Martin, whom he’s invited to stay with him, that he will save his soul before destroying him. Martin seems unfazed by this, as he’s been the target of xenophobia for his whole life.
But why would the old man invite him to stay? Why would he offer him a job in his small grocery store? And why would Martin even accept? If he’s 84 years old, doesn’t he have other things to do?
Doesn’t he have a life?
These questions are never really answered.
The only things that are properly established are Cuda’s warning that he’ll kill Martin if he hears of any vampire-related deaths and that Martin is very shy, feels lonely and is socially-awkward.
What soon becomes clear is that Martin is probably not actually a vampire, that he’s mentally ill. In fact, as he begins an affair with a lustful housewife on his delivery route, he begins to stabilize.
He even loses his vampiric focus, can’t feed, feels himself slipping.
It seems that he needed to transcend his social anxiety to fulfill his desire for a deeper connection. Really, the whole vampiric fantasy was a cop out for him to get a semblance of what he craved.
Meanwhile, Cuda’s grand-daughter, Christina, who also lives with him, says that dementia runs in the family. She accuses her grandfather of being so afflicted, of fostering this fear of vampires.
She thinks he’s out of his mind.
But is that truly the case? Or does he know something that she doesn’t? Are all the black and white flashbacks of Martin’s past experiences merely delusions that reinforce his current beliefs?
It’s not clear.
All we know for sure is that Cuda truly believes what he says and he intends on purging the evil in his bloodline, first by exorcism, and then by more extreme means. Martin’s life is at risk.
‘Martin’ is an interesting character study, but it’s not much of a horror film. It’s also not entirely coherent. Of course, it’s said that the original edit was 160 minutes long and Romero had to cut it.
Sadly, that long version is forever lost.
But it’s quite likely that the picture would have made a lot more sense in its full version. As it is, it’s an interesting tale that poses thought-provoking questions but stumbles in answering them.
It also falls completely apart in the third act, forcing Martin to take completely unlikely risks (for added tension?) and delivering a staking that is so fake that it should be in a blooper reel.
‘Martin’ isn’t a bad film, but it’s hard to imagine why Romero cherished it so. It deconstructs horror lore, societal ills and mental illness in an intriguing way, but it falls short in its delivery.
I wish that we could see the original, full-length version.
Alas, it will never be.
Nota bene: The picture was so low budget that Romero got everyone he knew, including himself, to show up in the picture in bit parts – and, as was the case for his spouse, in secondary parts.
It’s a treat for fans of Romero’s work.
Date of viewing: Sept 3, 2017