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Review: Martin

This excellent review by Michael Elliott.

Some would call George Romero the greatest American horror director while others would label him a disappointment who got lucky with Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. No matter which side of the fence you’re on the one thing I’ve always admired is that Romero always stuck to his guns and did things he own way. Between the first two Dead movies Romero had a string of disappointments, which included the rarely seen There’s Always Vanilla as well as The Crazies and Season of the Witch. The year before Dawn was released the director did for vampires what he did for zombies and that film is the now cult shocker Martin.

Martin (John Amplas) boards a train headed for Pittsburgh where he is going to be living with his Uncle who plans on saving his soul before killing him. While on the train we learn why Martin is to be killed. That night he sneaks into the room of a young lady, drugs her to sleep and then slices her wrist open in order to drink her blood. Martin is not only a troubled young man but he also believes that he is a vampire but without the fangs, he must resort to other ways of seeking blood.

Martin is a film I first saw nearly ten years ago and I really didn’t care too much for it. Over the years I was somewhat shocked to see that many consider this the best horror film of the decade so I was looking forward to this second viewing. While I found the film slightly better this time around there were still many problems I had with the film.

Anyone slightly familiar with this film will know about the legendary 2 ½ hour cut of the film, which was cut down for theatrical release and has gone missing since then.

I’m not exactly sure what was in this longer version but I think viewing it that way would be the only way to get the full impact that the director was going for. Martin contains some brilliant moments but it’s quite clear that a lot’s missing here and that keeps the film from being a total achievement. What’s most interesting is Romero updating the vampire myths including killing off everything we’ve learned from previous films. Martin has no fangs, no beautiful women and the sunlight really doesn’t bother him.

The film moves at a snails pace but that’s not to say this is a boring film. The slow pace, like that in Dawn of the Dead, helps tell the story and lets us get to know Martin, his actions and those around him. It’s very interesting getting to know this troubled kid and how those around him react towards him. Some feel sympathy while others feel horror.

Romero takes his time in telling the story, which again, it would be important to see the longer version. Even in this 95-minute version, we get enough clues to keep us mildly entertained throughout.

The most fascinating moments are the actual stalk and murder scenes that Martin goes out on. The idea of a vampire having no fangs and having to resort to cutting wrists for blood works perfectly and adds all sorts of needed suspense. There’s a wonderful sequence where Martin breaks in on a victim only to be confronted by someone else. I won’t ruin the scene for everyone but Romero has a wonderful time playing the audience as well as the characters on screen. Another wonderful thing about the film is its atmosphere, which is able to make this appear like a classic Gothic tale. The atmosphere is thick throughout and really helps the pacing.

The problem with Martin however is that there is clearly stuff missing and the story here really isn’t fully explored, in this version at least. Towards the end of the film Martin begins to have a sexual affair with a woman and this here is sadly all too brief. I’m going to guess this is expanded in the longer version and I’m sure it is a very important moment so that the ending makes a bit more sense. Even the nutty Uncle is never fully brought to life and his beliefs in the subject are never really understood. There are other small characters that pop in that are never fully addressed.

This 95-minute version of Martin is fun to watch due to various brilliant moments but in the end I can’t help but feel we’re watching a bastardized version of a better movie. The producer’s needed a hit, they cut the film and sadly it appears the longer version is lost but as it stands, this longer version is perhaps one of the most important films that needs to be found. Martin works well but I suspect this longer version might very well be one of the greatest horror films ever made.


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