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This George Romero film made in 1976, before Dawn Of The Dead, tells the story of Martin (John Amplas), a young man who thinks he is an 84 year-old vampire. Despite his belief, he knows he can’t change into a bat, the sun won’t turn him to dust and crosses and garlic won’t harm him either. He does however feed on blood and uses a syringe and razor blades to do so. He is forced to live with his extremely religious uncle Tateh Cuda (Lincoln Maazel) in Pennsylvania, who thinks Martin is an actual vampire. Now Martin must be more careful in finding victims as his uncle would just as soon put an end to his vampiric habits the old fashioned way.
As written and directed by Romero, Martin is a somber and disturbing tale of a young man acting out some deep issues under the guise of vampirism. Martin’s obviously has more grounded psychological problems such as being socially inept, homicidal and fearful of normal sexual contact. Romero daringly portrays the latter by showing Martin disrobe and lie with his unconscious female victims implying the need for far more than blood. Sadder still, is that his uncle knows of his homicidal tendencies and is so backwards in his thinking that instead of getting Martin professional help, he fills the house with garlic and crosses. Even when Martin enters an actual affair with a lonely housewife (Elyane Nadeau), he still seeks other victims for his needs. Romero creates a character that is tragic and creepy in Martin, yet also makes the young man underneath the pseudo-vampire oddly likable. The director also cleverly uses black and white flashbacks to portray Martin’s ‘memories’ of being a vampire, pursuing his victims and being pursued by angry mobs from some past time. It shows how deep-rooted Martin’s belief is as he has created his own backstory in his head. The film has a deliberately moderate pace and despite Martin’s heinous acts, the not too unexpected climax comes across as tragic and a bit sad. Martin, after all, is not a monster just a very deeply disturbed young man.
The cast all perform well, especially lead John Amplas who is able to make Martin creepy yet sympathetic and sad. There is a facet of Martin that is oddly likeable and Amplas gives him an offbeat charm despite the character’s homicidal and sexually deviate activities. Lincoln Maazel is imposing and authoritative as Martin’s old world uncle and the Van Helsing of this vampire saga. He is boorish and borderline abusive as he tries to deal with his ‘vampire’ nephew. He exemplifies the outdated thinking that hampers the treatment of the mentally ill, especially at the time this was made. There is also Christine Forrest, the future Mrs. Romero, as Martin’s sweet and sympathetic cousin, Christina, FX legend Tom Savini as her macho boyfriend and a cameo by George Romero himself as a priest.
While not discussed as much as his zombie films, this is still a very interesting film from Romero. It makes commentary on mental illness and the outdated treatment of it through it’s tragic lead character, who thinks he’s a vampire and his old fashioned, narrow minded uncle who agrees. It takes an interesting point of view as Martin is very practical about his vampirism to the point of admitting there is nothing supernatural about it. It has some very disturbing moments and some early examples of Tom Savini gore, but also makes it’s homicidal, sexual deviate a bit sympathetic as with proper care, there might be have been a good kid inside him that could have come out. Another example of Romero’s unique slant on a familiar tale.
3 and 1/2 razors.