By Kurly Tlapoyawa
Directed by George A. Romero
Cast: John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel, Christine Forrest, Tom Savini
Growing up a poor Mexican child, I cut my horror teeth (sharpened my fangs?) watching “Dialing For Dollars” on KOAT-7 hosted by beloved local weather guru Howard Morgan. Driven by an insatiable desire to quench my thirst for terror, I would race home from school to catch classic horror films starring the likes of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (not to mention kick-ass science fiction and Godzilla movies!). So you will have to understand that I’m a pretty tough nut to crack when it comes to vampire films. Quite frankly, most of them just ... suck. It takes a pretty solid effort to make a fan out of me. Luckily for horror freaks such as myself, the good people at Lions Gate have chosen to finally release a truly great, often ignored vampire mini-masterpiece on DVD. I’m talking about horror legend George A. Romero’s Martin.
Far be it from me to besmirch Romero’s skills behind the camera, but let’s face it: His non-zombie offerings have often proved to be less than stellar affairs. (Bruiser, anyone?) This simply isn’t the case with Martin. Originally released in 1977, the film follows our titular character as he grapples with the belief that he is a vampire. The only problem is he has no fangs, no powers and daylight and garlic have no affect on him whatsoever. But that’s part of what makes Martin so great--it recognizes the usual conventions of vampire film lore, but dismisses every single one of them as worthless. “There's no real magic,” Martin is fond of saying. “There's no real magic, ever.”
What there is, however, is a buttload of gritty psycho-sexual fantasies and a welcome absence of preening pretty boys decked out in frilly Victorian duds sipping blood out of wine glasses and bitching about being 400 years old. Instead, we get an awkward young man with a penchant for stalking attractive women, pumping them full of dope and sucking the blood from their unconscious bodies after slicing them open with a razor blade. Upon satisfying his bloodlust, Martin shows his ingenuity by making it all look like a tragic suicide. Clever kid, that Martin.
The film opens with young Martin Madahas arriving in Pittsburgh to live with his religious zealot of a cousin Tata Cuda (played in awesome over-the-top fashion by Lincoln Maazel). Cuda is convinced their family is cursed and that Martin is in fact an 85-year-old vampire. After welcoming Martin into his home, he proclaims to Martin that he shall give him his salvation and then kill him soon after--a sort of self-proclaimed Van Helsing to Martin’s Dracula. We get a glimpse into Martin’s psychosis via several intercut flashback sequences which may or may not be revealing Martin’s past as a true creature of the night. Or is it all in his head? This begs the question: Is Martin actually a vampire? Or is he just some lonely nutjob with a hard-on for bloody theatrics? In either case, it certainly doesn’t help Martin’s mental state that his cousin has hung garlic all over the house and constantly yells “Nosferatu!” at Martin every chance he gets.
Martin befriends his other live-in cousin Christina (played by Romero's real-life wife Christine Forrest) who thinks Tata Cuda is delusional. (Christina’s boyfriend is played by gore-master Tom Savini.) He also juggles his time between making deliveries for Cuda’s small market and calling a late-night radio show where he reveals his story to the DJ, using the pseudonym “The Count.” The DJ, of course, responds by making fun of him. The film is an extremely well-executed and engrossing character study into the mind of a serial killer who truly believes that he is a vampire--and it comes together perfectly. Much like other underrated “vampire” classics such as Ravenous and Near Dark, Martin is a truly unique film which turns the genre entirely on its head.
The DVD sports a beautiful 16:9 widescreen transfer from HD, a photo gallery, making of featurette and the original TV spots and trailers. Rounding out the extras is an excellent audio commentary from Romero himself (who even plays a priest in the film!), joined by Tom Savini and producer Richard P. Rubinstein. This is one vampire flick worth sinking your teeth into. (Hey, I tried to keep the puns to a minimum--I swear.) (Anchor Bay)
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