I think I like MARTIN the best out of all George Romero’s films because despite its age it still holds up one of the best modern takes on the vampire genre (even though the titular character only thinks he’s one) and is about as uncompromising as it gets from beginning to end.
It’s also an extremely hard to watch film if you’re squeamish about a few things like needles, fresh razor blades and blood, but everything clicks on multiple levels and there’s a powerful payoff at the end that offers up a bit of slyly amusing social commentary common to Romero’s work. If all you know about vampires is that tween sparkly Twilight crap or even the used to be interesting before it went into fairy fantasy crazyland True Blood, this one will stake a claim in your brain as soon as you meet the titular character doing his version of the bloodsucking thing he needs to slake his thirst…
It’s quite clear from the opening sequence where he assaults, drugs, molests and drinks from a pretty young woman during a night train ride that Martin (John Amplas) isn’t a “real” vampire at all. He’s a really disturbed teenager whose rather unsettling vampire fantasies have taken hold of his complete being. He thinks (and has vivid dreams of) himself as a vampire, but Romero’s chillingly matter of fact direction, the solid acting from the principals and Tom Savini’s realistic gore effects remove any gauzy romantic notions vampirism has as Martin’s assault/serial murder/rape tally increases. Outwardly, he’s a shy, introverted type until he feels the urge to feed and the film very succinctly sets up an opening that shows the other side of his personality in full effect.
Martin’s uncle, Tata Cuda, is on to his shenanigans and tells him flat out that he’ll kill the “Nosferatu” if he feeds on anyone in the town they’re headed to, but you know the kid won’t be able to resist his urges at all. There are flashes of hope dropped in thanks to Martin’s meeting a few people he can actually have conversations with including a DJ on a local radio station who makes him a minor celebrity and a cute young gal who’s a pleasant diversion from the madness. But we came for madness and Romero delivers the goods in some realistic and horrific murder sequences.
What makes Martin’s sprees so gut-wrenching is the element of surprise he uses (which works well enough in his mind), actually fails in practice. His victim at the beginning isn’t as compliant as he thought and later on, a woman he stalks from his job as a grocer’s delivery boy has some unexpected company when he arrives to dine
with on her. This kill (or kills) play out as Martin thinking fast (but still a bit awkwardly) once his plan goes south and with two bodies instead of one as a result. Oddly enough (or not so oddly enough if you know Romero’s work), humor is another piece of the puzzle that makes the film click. There cop chase sequence is a hoot (gore and all) and that Martin is eventually undone by something he had no part of save to have struck up an acquaintance with someone terribly depressed make for some head-shaking chuckles about luck and how random it all is.
I’ve always loved the closing sequence because it adds finality yet still leaves question lingering in the air. But not from the viewer who gets what’s taken place at all. It’s another final joke that the would-be Count is sorely missed by more people who’ve never seen him in person (or know what he’s done) want to believe at least a tiny bit in the fantasy he’d been bringing to them on a nightly basis. Well, at least the ladies have one less thing to fear in this movie’s dreary city, that’s one thing for sure…