George A. Romero may be known as the Godfather of all Zombies. However with his amazing movie Martin, he managed to reinvent vampires in the same way that he reanimated zombies with his Trilogy of the Dead.
Abstract and arty, this low budget horror from 1977 written and directed by Romero plays with the genre more than most. It offers us a modern day vampire in the form of troubled teenager Martin (John Amplas), a complex character who kills to stay alive.
The story follows his life after he arrives to stay with his grand-uncle, Tateh Cuda (Lincoln Maazel) in the rundown town of Braddock, Pennsylvania.
Cuda, a devoutly religious Lithuanian Catholic fears and hates Martin for the monster they both believe he is. Hanging garlic and crosses, he forbids Martin from speaking to his cousin Christine (Christine Forrest) or from killing anyone in the town. However Martin’s appetite for blood is too much and soon he is out stalking a new victim.
With Cuda suspicious and Martin unable to live a normal life it’s not long before the pair clash, taking their relationship to a tragic climax that will alter both their lives forever.
Brilliantly directed and shot, Martin as a movie plays with vampire lore and tradition whilst toying with its audience, making sure that they are never entirely clear what is real or fantasy.
Romero achieves this by throwing in lavish black and white gothic flashbacks of Martin’s ancient past, seducing maidens and being chased by torch-bearing villagers – all of which seem completely incongruous to his methods of feeding, using a drug filled syringe to sedate his victims and a razor blade to slice their wrists.
This fantastic feature of the film also extends to Cuda, a man obsessed by Martin’s vampirism like an updated Van Helsing determined to control his family’s dark curse, all of which could be true or simply in his mind.
These elements are combined with the documentary style shooting and the very real violence making the film seem all the more real, like a vampire version of Man Bites Dog or Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer.
Martin is a movie with many themes, from the obvious growing pains of adolescents and sexual awakening to the derelict urban decay that surrounds the characters and has destroyed the city, giving it a rich texture brought alive by the excellent script and story.
The cast (all of which are relatively unknown) are perfect, with each performance played just right to not tip the scales of the movie into melodrama. John Amplas especially is both compellingly creepy and sadly sympathetic and this balance drives the film forward keeping the audience on the edge throughout.
Martin was notable as Romero’s first collaboration with special effects artist Tom Savini (who also starts as Christine’s boyfriend) and although the effects are excellently done, they are kept to a minimum heightening there reality and impact.
Fundamentally however it is still a horror film and a great one at that, with enough stalking scenes and scary moments to keep you firmly aware that this is the tale of a killer, be he Satanically supernatural or simply psychotically disillusioned.
Innovative and imaginative, Martin is one of Romero’s best movies and one of the most original vampire films out there.
It offers a twisted take on the genre with multifaceted themes and features, all of which remain as fresh and challenging today as they where when it was first released.
Martin is unsurprisingly in our Top 10 Vampire movies. To see the rest of the list click Here.