Grindhouse Review: 'Martin'

“Martin” (1976)

Directed By George A. Romero

Starring John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel, Christine Forrest, Elyane Nadeau and Tom Savini

Meet Martin. He’s charming, clever, witty, loveable, shy and very misunderstood. To the naked eye he seems like a normal teenager growing up in the crumbling city of Pittsburg. But a dark disturbing secret lies behind his twisted angelic face, something that no one would ever expect coming from this willful young man.

He’s a vampire. Well, maybe.

From writer/director George A. Romero comes the dynamic gothic original that will make your skin crawl and make you suspicious about any of the neighborhood kids that are lingering around your streets.

When Martin (Amplas) goes to stay with his elderly cousin Cuda (Maazel) to rid him of his blood-crazed urges, Martin embarks on an odyssey that will challenge his soul and mend his heart as he encounters multiple individuals that slowly start to suppress his urges to a calm state where he becomes almost human. But, old habits die-hard when mankind’s nasty side begins to show its ugly face and alters his perception only to resurrect the dark cravings that dwell within his blackened heart.

Over the years, Romero has created a number of landmark horror films for the genre. Ever since he introduced us to his vision of terror with the 1968 cult classic, “Night of the Living Dead,” his perspectives have and will always speak to its audience in a shining light and rank among some of the very best pieces of cinema.

Romero’s “Martin” is a truly unique, one of a kind psychological thriller. It is a memorable journey from its disturbing opening sequence to its chilling conclusion.

The driving force behind the film’s premise is the question of whether or not our title character really is a vampire. Martin has no fangs, has no fear of the sun, in fact he actually uses razors and syringes to seize his victims. Yet, Martin has memories of an attack that apparently he did ages ago, and his cousin fully believes his young relative to be an evil creature.

Romero throws out all of the old fashion vampire conventions for this symbolic clashing of the ways. Romero’s direction is, as always, very nicely done with plenty of suspense, atmosphere and gruesome moments. Romero makes this drama stylishly operatic and adds an occasional moment of dark humor.

The cast is excellent, but it’s Amplas who really drives the film full steam ahead. He is a greatly sympathetic character, even as the film’s monster and hero all at once.

Although there are multiple aspects about this film that are wonderful and beautifully executed, one of the many things that attracted me to this film besides its original nature was Martin’s chilling introduction. Like a classic Hitchcock film, Amplas is introduced through visual action rather than dialog.

The film opens up with a train conductor yelling “All aboard,” over a black screen, then there’s a hard cut up from black to introduce the first victim of the film played by Francine Middleton (billed as Fran Middleton). Standing off in the background, watching in the shadows is Amplas. The female victim enters the train and is slowly followed. Here, we are not even 30 seconds into the film, and tension is already starting to rise.

As the opening minutes progress, there’s this long build up of Amplas scoping out the cabin where his first victim just retired to for the evening. After discovering there’s only one way to get into the cabin, Amplas then moves toward the men’s room where he loads up his kit of syringes, preparing to move in for the “seduction.”

At this point we’re now about ten minutes into the film, and we still don’t know who Amplas is as a character or even his identity. But, we do know that he’s about to make a drastic move.

Once again, the key gem that’s been missing in today’s horror films is suspense. I can go on for several hours on how today’s attempts fail when it comes to creating this aspect.

Here, it’s a little different. Instead of introducing all of the characters in the very opening scene, we have a very eerie and effected opening that’s built up in a matter of seconds instead of minutes. As I said before, I prefer the long build up, that way you can find your emotional connection to certain characters before anything happens.

But here we have the opposite. We have a very attractive female that’s minding her own business and is suddenly attacked out of nowhere by someone that looks harmless. If this was a Hitchcock film, there would have been a long build up to create some sort of anxiety and an actor that looks intimidating to set the mood. With all respect to Mr. Hitchcock, Romero uses the short approach to creating suspense and is able to create the same level of anxiety within a short period of time.

However, it doesn’t matter how wonderful and precious this film is; it did lose one of its stars due to the horrible blood that created the films effects and gore. With all respect to Tom Savini who is one of the films co-stars and lead special effects artist, the blood in “Martin” looked like melted crayons. It’s really hard to take the film seriously when the main fluid that keeps us alive as human beings looks like something that a kindergartner mixed up during the finger painting hour. Even in night scenes you can totally tell the color and texture does not mirror reality.

But since this is a “vampire” film that loosely falls under its formality conventions, the stage blood almost creates a fairytale atmosphere whenever you see the deaths within the films storyline. Although that still doesn’t give back the film’s full four-star rating, or even a half of it, I don’t think the fake blood really will matter when you witness this wonderful low-budget masterpiece that (in my opinion) is a lot more effective and realistic than the original “Dracula.”

Unlike any other work of the horror genre, “Martin” is a terrific low-budget masterpiece that is hauntingly effective, even by today’s standards.

Three out of Four Stars

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