Criterion Prediction #161: Martin, by Alexander Miller
Director: George A. Romero
Cast: John Samplas, Christine Forrest, Tom Savini, Lincoln Maazel, Elyane Nadeau, George A, Romero
Synopsis: Martin, a disturbed young man, preys on unsuspecting people (primarily woman) in order to drug and kill them by drinking their blood. The troubled Martin claims to be an eighty-four-year-old vampire; however, he rejects traditional mysticism and consumes the blood of his victims without the advantage of fangs or supernatural powers. He’s immune to crucifixes and garlic. Is Martin a vampire in the modern world, or a deeply disturbed murderer?
Critique: Martin is a deeply unsettling film that is at times difficult to watch, but that’s the driving force that makes this overlooked film from horror maestro George A. Romero. When stepping away from the living dead, Romero proves himself an even more versatile talent whose revisionist tendencies and proclivity for expanding on the boundaries of the horror genre both pioneering and transgressive.
Like most of Romero’s features, Martin was assembled with limited resources, features a cast of unknown actors while eliciting frissons of unnerving fear against the naturalist backdrop of Pittsburgh, where the director resided most of his life.
The film begins by establishing its naturalistic bent. While on a train, our titular lead (played by the squirrelly but comely John Amplas) stalks and drugs a woman riding in her sleeping car, proceeding to slit her wrists to drink her blood. There’s no way to extrapolate any glorified romance here. Martin’s method of “feeding” is difficult, his struggle with the film’s first victim is prolonged, shot in plain sight with shouting and wrestling, our deluded prowler pleading with his victim “just go to sleep, just go to sleep.” Martin’s procedures are carefully planned out. He’s armed with his gear, and seeing him prepare for an attack is unsettling. Instead of fangs, capes, and traditional mysticism, Martin works with syringes (presumably) loaded with sedatives and razor blades. It might feel like Romero’s sojourn into vampirism will be a dour exploration. However, the grainy and unsentimental narrative is juxtaposed with fantastical interludes that appear throughout the film, where Martin is chased by mobs in a Victorian-eque past. Shot in a glossy monochrome, these sporadic diversions either serve as Martin’s delusions or his memories from a history where he lived as the seductive and romantic figure that is so often associated with vampire lore.
With the film’s ascension, Romero’s exploration of the character and his relationship with the world around him is both sympathetic and told with a chilling remove that offers a singular interpretation that could only be the product of the fertile and powerful imagination of a true horror auteur. Even with repeated viewings Martin is a harrowing experience with a jolting finale.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: For a film like Night of the Living Dead, its inclusion into The Criterion Collection was a no-brainer – public domain, cult favorite, and a genre-defining classic, Romero’s quintessential feature debut was a prime candidate for a spine number. While the fine folks who curate and acquire film rights for Criterion often win us over with renowned classics, they also surprise us with lesser seen, cult items that are remanded to an elusive status due to lackluster/scant distribution. Martin’s life on home video has been mostly scattershot, for years it was only available on an Anchor Bay DVD was in print for a short period. In 2010 Arrow Films released a Region 2 Blu-ray. Seeing as Criterion has opened the doors for Romero with their release of Night of the Living Dead, and the amount of titles that are released in Europe via Arrow Films prior to receiving a Criterion release is relatively common. If Shout/Scream Factory hasn’t picked this up yet, than the film should fall Criterion’s way.