Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Martin

Here's another movie about an alienated young man and the living dead, but whereas Franceso Dellamorte applied ironic detachment and morbid humor to his battle with zombies in Cemetery Man, Martin Mathias (John Amplas) believes himself to be an 84-year-old vampire even though he looks to be 17. The result is the gritty and shocking Martin (1977).

Director George Romero famously turned the zombie genre on its head with Night of the Living Dead, replacing Voodoo slaves with rotting flesh eaters, and he does something similar here. The vampire here is not a seductive, alluring, supernatural creature of the night nor is he the threatening, foreign outsider. If anything, he's a scared, lonely, confused American teenager with sexual anxiety, an oppressive family upbringing, and a taste for human blood.

The film is an examination of a peculiar individual. Martin may be a vampire. Yes, he drinks blood, but sunlight doesn't kill him, crosses and garlic don't repel him, and he doesn't have any supernatural abilities or fangs. The opening sequence shows him on a train to Pittsburgh waylaying a female passenger with an injection of some kind of tranquilizer. Then, he slices open her wrist with a razor blade, drinks the blood, and arranges the room to make it look like she killed herself. Shortly after, he arrives in the town of Braddock and moves in with his much older cousin, Tata Cuda (Lincoln Maazel), an old world religious fanatic who vows to save "Nosferatu's" soul and destroy him.

It doesn't matter if Martin is really a vampire. What matters is he believes he is and so does Cuda. Everything that happens supports both interpretations. As Martin stalks his victims, Romero intercuts black-and-white footage of a suave Martin in period clothing being beckoned by seductive women in low-cut clothing who give themselves willingly. Those may be memories or fantasies, but either way, they're a stark contrast to the reality of what Martin actually does, which is rape and murder. These are not buxom sirens; they're terrified, everyday women who struggle and fight.

This image of the vampire is not a romantic, foreign interloper but a clumsy boy-next-door who is more confused than evil. Martin desires female companionship, but he considers himself too shy and alone to seek out, so he plays (or is) a vampire. This differs from the popular presentation of the vampire of the time; this movie came out roughly around the same time audiences were experiencing Frank Langella, Louis Jourdan, and George Hamilton as dapper, aristocratic Count Draculas. This inverse is reflected in the environment as well. Braddock, Pa. is not Victorian London; it's grimy, depressed, and falling apart. This is a town of drug dealers, homelessness, and unemployed, directionless people. Martin is just literally draining people.

Of course, Martin's derangement might stem from his oppressive family upbringing. As the would-be Van Helsing to Martin's Count, Cuda is a petty tyrant who uses religion to force his way. More than anything, he's behind with the times and prone to superstitions and outdated ideas, even going so far as to bring an exorcist to the house. Martin mocks him often for believing in magic. Whereas Martin is isolated by his shyness and crimes, Cuda is self-isolated; he doesn't even own a phone until his granddaughter Christina (Christine Forrest) has one installed. She represents the voice of reason in the movie, calling Cuda a hypocrite and declaring Martin needs help.

Just from those descriptions above, you can tell Martin is a violent, bloody film since our title character's rough methods aren't as clean as two pinpricks to the neck. Effects are by Tom Savini, who would later go on to do Dawn of the Dead and Friday the 13th. He's not as accomplished here as he would later be. The blood in particular looks like melted crayon, but the effects serve their purpose overall.

By reversing many of popular themes and images of traditional presentations, Martin certainly is a unique spin on vampire cinema. That is, if you believe Martin is a vampire.

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