Starring John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel, Christine Forrest, Tom Savini
Directed by George A. Romero
Before there was Dawn of the Dead, which more or less cemented George A. Romero as a horror director to be reckoned with, there was Martin, a very small-scale and very different kind of vampire movie, and one that was quintessential Pittsburgh indie filmmaking in the 70’s.
Back in June of 2000, Anchor Bay released a version of Martin on DVD that everyone thought was going to be the best we would ever be seeing. I mean, sure it’s Romero, but it’s a little-known film that didn’t do too spectacularly upon its theatrical release (though it did win the favor of many critics), so why would anyone want to go for more?
Because as horror fans, we always want more, that’s why.
Martin is a 17-year-old boy that’s been told his whole life that his family suffers from the curse of the Nosferatu and that he is a vampire. He’s gone to live with his crazy cousin, who believes this more passionately than most, and treats him upon entrance to his home with garlic-clad doors and crucifixes everywhere. This serves to quickly dispel all the myths about vampires right out of the gate, as Martin shows his cousin they’re all just “magic tricks” and he is not a vampire.
Well, actually in a way he is. The opening scene of the movie sees him stalking a fellow train passenger on his way to his cousin’s, drugging her and having sex with her unconscious form, then drinking her blood through means of a razor cut along her arm. In doing this, we see that while Martin may not be the typical Hollywood vampire, he’s sure got some issues that need working out.
The highlight of the film (besides Romero as a priest and Tom Savini as a very young, clean cut man) is the performance by John Amplas as the titular troubled teen. He’s not a pro with dialogue, but his physical awkwardness and the menacing look he manages to bring forth when necessary are quite impressive. On the commentary and in the “Recounting” featurette, Romero remarks many times that to this day he couldn’t see anyone doing a better job in the role, and I tend to agree.
This Special Edition release from Lions Gate features a new 16:9 Widescreen transfer from High Def, meaning it’s the best looking version of Martin that will likely ever be released. Seeing as how it’s a low budget film from the 70’s shot for about $250,000, I wouldn’t want it to look any better than it does here. A lot of the charm of Martin has to do with the era in which it was made and the guerrilla filmmaking Romero & crew utilized to make it happen.
Other features include “Making Martin: A Recounting”, an all-too-brief (not even 10 minutes total) remembrance from Romero, Savini, and Christine Romero (George’s now wife, girlfriend at the time of shooting). They’re always an entertaining bunch to listen too, which makes the briskness of the feature that much more frustrating. Still, it’s better than nothing at all so I suppose complaining about its length is a bit nit-picky.
Then there’s a commentary track with Romero, Savini, producer Richard R. Rubinstein, cinematographer Michael Gornick, and composer Donald Rubinstein. Initially this seems a bit packed for such a small movie, but hearing all these guys chatting about a movie you can tell they had a blast making is enough to inspire any indie film director to get off his ass and make something. Richard Rubinstein comes off as the quintessential producer, as he does in all his on-camera appearances from this to the Dawn of the Dead: Ultimate Edition and beyond, constantly talking about the money side of things while everyone else is on the creative end. Instead of being boring, however, it only serves to add a new level to Martin that will hopefully also serve as a slap in the face to said indie director that just because you make a movie doesn’t mean you’re going to be rich. It’s hard work and these guys had what it took.
All in all, this is a great release for an under appreciated gem. It’s not a movie for everyone, but I know that its significance to the genre has only increased as the years have gone by, and with a release like this I don’t see it dying out anytime soon. I only hope this far superior cover (the Anchor Bay one was Insta-Headache) and the promise of a different kind of vampire film will encourage new viewers to give it a chance and see that Romero can do more than just make the dead walk.
Martin: Special Edition
(Lions Gate Films)
Directed by George A. Romoero
Commentary by Romero, Tom Savini, Richard & Donald Rubinstein, and Michael Gornick
“Making Martin: A Recounting” (9m 40s)
4 out of 5
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