Lionsgate // 1977 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // December 3rd, 2004
A vampire for our age of disbelief.
Poor Martin (John Amplas, Day of the Dead) can't seem to catch a break. True, he's been going on a rampage killing people and drinking their blood. But is that so gosh darn bad? All the guy wants is a little nookie ("without the blood and gore," as Martin puts it) with a hot to trot honey. Martin has gone to live with his grandfather (Lincoln Maazel in his only film role), a crotchety old man who holds a cross up to Martin's face and calls him Nosferatu. He also tells Martin that he shall save his soul, than destroy him, so no wonder why Martin seems so screwed up in the head. You see, Martin thinks that he may be a vampire -- and his taste for blood is almost insatiable. Growing up can be tough...especially if you believe you belong to the legions of the damned.
I was disappointed in George Romero's Martin. I can say it no more bluntly than that. I had somewhat higher hopes for the film, and it let me down. Romero's "Living Dead" movies are some of the best horror flicks ever made -- if ever there was a grandfather of zombie movies, Romero is it. Unfortunately, when it comes to vampires...well, Romero is a bit out of his league. That and the fact that this film looks like it was made on a budget of about thirty-six dollars in change.
Let me say that I understand why people may like Martin. The ideas Romero presents are interesting, if unfulfilled. Martin, played with horror masked in doe-eyed innocence by John Amplas (featured in four other Romero films), is a vampire. Or is he? Well...I'm not sure. We never quite know if Martin is really a raging bloodsucker or just a misunderstood kid who has lost his way in the world (and if it's the latter, this could almost be like an R-rated "After School Special"). His overbearing grandfather seems to think he's not only a vampire but evil incarnate -- during the course of the film he refers to him as Nosferatu a half a dozen times and looks like he wants to carve the kid's heart out with a wooden spoon. The reason the elderly grandfather thinks Martin is one of the undead is never really explained; only that a family curse has plagued Martin's descendants for generations. This idea is intriguing, but often feels half explored: too much of the film is spent on Martin wandering around, looking for victims to bludgeon, bleed, and drink from.
The performances range from decent to bad. Amplas isn't bad as Martin, though his personality is stifled underneath sometimes stiffly laced dialogue. Lincoln Maazel is often over exaggerated as Martin's almost old world grandfather, a man with a gruff exterior and an ever-rougher personality (he looks like a cross between Colonel Sanders and Burl Ives). Christine Forrest -- who married Romero shortly after meeting him on the set of this film -- fares slightly better as Martin's cousin/relative (I never fully grasped how they are related), though that's not saying much. Special effects master Tom Savini pops up as Forrest's love interest, though it's good he never quit his day job making heads explode and limbs decay.
Martin may go over well with fans of 1970s cinema. I, however, was often bored through its 90-minute run time. I can admire what Romero's aim was -- I just wasn't crazy about his execution.
Martin is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. My understanding is that Romero originally shot the film in full frame (as was presented on the original Anchor Bay DVD edition). Either way, this transfer isn't in great shape -- there are many spots in the film where dirt, scratches and bad lighting prevail. The colors often have a slightly washed out look and the black levels are only mildly solid. I guess this is the best Martin will ever look, considering the budget and preservation of the original negative.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and is only passable. While there are a few moments where the music kicks into the rear speakers, overall this is a front heavy mix. The original soundtrack has its limitations, and it shows. The mix is mostly free of hiss or distortion, save for a few moments when it was hard to hear the dialogue.
This new edition of Martin by Lions Gate features a few fine extra features. Fans will be happy with a new commentary track sporting George Romero, producer Richard P. Rubinstein, composer Donald Rubinstein, actor Tom Savini, and director or photography Michael Gornick. The track is a fine commentary featuring stories about the production, special effects, and pretty much anything else you'd want to know about Martin. Also included is "Making Martin: A Recounting" featurette that includes new interviews with Romero, Forrest, Savini, Gornick, Rubinstein, and others, a few TV spots, photo gallery, and trailer for the film.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary Track with Director George Romero, Producer Richard P. Rubinstein, Composer Donald Rubinstein, Actor Tom Savini, and Director or Photography Michael Gornick
* "Making Martin: A Recounting" Featurette
* Photo Gallery
* TV Spots
* Theatrical Trailer