Oct 30, 2013

Martin (1976)

The older I get, the less tolerant I am regarding the films of ‘the people's horror auteur’ George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead), as nothing seems less cinematically unappetizing to me than ‘socially conscious’ left-wing horror films, which the iconic horror filmmaker is almost singlehandedly responsible for sinisterly spawning like an out-of-control monster as if it was one of his filmic zombies. Indeed, it has been nearly three decades since Romero even made a halfway decent film, with the troubled production Day of the Dead (1985) being the last film that he made that I could stomach without feeling like I was being bombarded with populist leftist celluloid flesheater feces of the superlatively superficially satirical sort. In fact, as far as I am concerned, Night of the Living Dead (1968), Martin (1976), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Knightriders (1981), Creepshow (1982), and Day of the Dead (1985) are the only Romero flicks that did not make me feel totally embarrassed by Romero’s calculating cinematic counter-culture redundancies. The director’s closest thing to an ‘arthouse’ flick aside from his totally unwatchable early celluloid abortions—There’s Always Vanilla (1971) and Hungry Wives (1972) aka Season of the WitchMartin aka George A. Romero's Martin aka Wampyr is also probably Romero’s most artistically and intellectually ambitious celluloid to date. In fact, Romero himself regards Martin as his personal favorite of his own films, which is a notable sentiment on his part considering he could easily cop-out and name one of his most popular and influential works like Night of the Living Dead or Dawn of the Dead as his fave. Although I would not describe it as his greatest film, Martin is certainly Romero's most subversive and ‘interesting’ work as a vampire flick that delicately deconstructs and distorts, mischievously molests, and radically reinvents the horror subgenre it pays a sort of reluctant homage to. Indeed, as a vampire flick that is lacking in romanticism and is mostly aesthetically revolting, decidedly dreary, and ultimately quite cynical, Martin is a rare bloodsucker flick for both people that love and loathe the subgenre. Clearly influencing homocore poof Bruce LaBruce zombie flicks Otto; or Up with Dead People (2008) and L.A. Zombie (2010) in its teasing thematic ambiguity in regard as to whether the protagonist is actually a member of the undead or not, Martin is a strikingly singular vampire flick in that the bloodsucking lead is a patently pathetic and decidedly dorky zit-faced teenage turd who could not even glamour a blind midget with Down syndrome if he tried, thus opting for drugging them college frat boy style instead and feeding on them while they are unconscious, thus taking all of the fun out of being a vampire. Featuring a vampire who, instead of living in an ancient castle, squats at the humble home of his granduncle—a pissed and perturbed yet articulate old fart who suffers from a murderous case of Sanguivoriphobia—in the postindustrial wasteland that is Pittsburgh, PA, Martin is probably the only bloodsucker movie where the vampire is a delusional fellow who has no fangs and slits his victim’s wrists with a razor so as to slurp up their vital fluids. A demystifying depiction of a degenerate pseudo-Dracula that simultaneously portrays Catholic ‘true believers’ as the most pernicious of perverted minds and a murderous teenager as misunderstood and angst-ridden young man who is a nasty and nihilistic product of his spiritually backwards background, Martin—arguably more than any other films of the horror subgenre—if nothing else cinematically significant, manages to suck all of the life out of the vampire mythos. 

 A would-be-Dracula wuss of a young man named Martin Mathias (John Amplas) is on a train heading from Indianapolis to Pittsburgh and since he is somewhat insane, he believes he is a vampire of sorts, so he injects some poor young lady with a debilitating dose of dope, slits her wrist, feeds on her blood, and leaves her to bleed out. Awkward as an ugly duckling on PCP, Martin is far from a suave bloodsucker and almost bungles his deranged date with the sexy stranger on the train. When Martin arrives in Pittsburgh, he is less than warmly greeted by an old man with a Lithuanian accent who looks like Colonel Sanders. Of course, the man, whose real name is Tateh Cuda (Lincoln Maazel), does not sell fried chicken (though he does own a butcher shop!) and despite his animosity towards the young man, he is Martin's granduncle. For whatever reason, crazed Cuda believes Martin is a true blue vampire and treats him as such, calling his nephew “Nosferatu” and covering his home with garlic and crucifixes. Since Martin’s family dropped dead and Cuda is his closest living relative, the boy bloodsucker has no choice but to stay with the mystical-minded maniac of a man who believes he is a supernatural creature from hell. Paradoxically, while Martin does his damnedest to prove to Uncle Cuda that he is not a vampire, fiddling with garlic and stating things like “There's no real magic... ever,” Martin has seemingly schizophrenic visions, which are depicted in luscious monochrome black-and-white, of himself engaged in imaginary classic Gothic vampire horror scenarios that ultimately involve him killing and sucking the blood of beauteous young women.  In one of these scenarios, Martin quasi-homosexually kills and drinks the blood of a man outside, yet hallucinates he is inside an old castle draining the blood of a young beauty in her bed. Believing that he is an 84-year-old bloodsucking creature of the night, Martin is playing a most dangerous game that could very potentially get him killed as his medieval-minded uncle has made the ultimatum to him that if he discovers he kills someone, he will personally drive a stake through his Nosferatu nephew's cold black heart. In between working at Cuda's butcher shop as a delivery boy and stalking unsuspecting young ladies, Martin calls into a radio DJ under the alias of “The Count” to set the truth straight regarding vampires (rationalizing there is no “magic stuff” as an excuse for his lack of fangs and hypnotic powers) and asking advice regarding ‘female trouble.’ Naturally, with his delivery job, Martin comes in contact with a number of sexually repressed women, but being quasi-autistic, he is incapable of asserting himself, despite the fact that a lonely lady named Mrs. Abbie Santini (Elyane Nadeau) is practically begging him to jump her bones. When Martin finally gets the balls to seduce Santini, he begins a lurid love affair with her that dries up his thirst for blood. After losing control and attempting to drain two bums of their blood, Martin is almost caught by the cops and experiences a temporary sense of relief, but, rather unfortunately, Santini, an alcoholic who is depressed by the fact that she is infertile and will never have children, ironically commits suicide with a straight razor and uncle Cuda blames his nephew for her death. Irked that his granddaughter Christine (Romero’s ex-wife Christine Forrest) has moved out of the family home and that no one shares his superstitious beliefs, Cuda keeps his word and drives a stake through Martin’s heart, ironically killing the boy for the one murder he did not actually commit. 

 With the original cut, which is now presumed lost, being at an epic length of 2 hours 45 minutes, Martin as it exists today is certainly not the film it was originally meant to be, yet it still manages to be one Romero’s most provocative and penetrating cinematic works, even if it is a rather amateurishly directed work riddled with accidental ‘jump cuts,’ outmoded wardrobes and mostly horrendous acting and forgettable actors. Set in an aesthetically revolting world of pollution-ridden factories as opposed to foggy ruined castles, nihilism as opposed to spirituality, and pansy proletarian blood-licking posers as opposed to aristocratic bloodsuckers, Martin is a modernist vampire flick where alienation, social and urban decay, mental illness, melancholy, the breakup of the nuclear family, and drug addiction is rampant and rightfully so as a truly and classically 'American' horror film that depicts the land of the free and home of the brave as it really is; a culturally and spiritually vacant multicultural nightmare plagued by vice and identity-crisis-stricken loner losers like antihero Martin. Undoubtedly, the antihero of Martin is a product of his zeitgeist and environment as an introverted psycho whose only source of solace is escaping into an imaginary world of suavely dressed bloodsuckers. Indeed, it is only when Martin starts a romantic relationship that his sanity begins to somewhat reach equilibrium, but ultimately he is a lost cause whose decidedly debilitating mental derangement wins in the end, so, in a sense, his death via a stake in the heart is a fitting way for the boy to go out. Aside from possibly Jonathan (1970) directed by German auteur Hans W. Geißendörfer and The Addiction (1995) directed by drug-addled American McGuido Abel Ferrara—both of which undoubtedly being better directed and more aesthetically pleasing works to Romero's revisionist vampire flick—Martin is indeed the greatest modern vampire flick. Not unlike David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), albeit in a less esoteric and artful way, Martin portrays post-civil rights urban Pennsylvania as a revolting postindustrial nightmare with a degenerating populous suffering from depression, alienation, and sexual dysfunction, thereupon one of only a handful of American vampire flicks that rises above the level of tasteless trash. Featuring a quasi-autistic lead whose MILF girlfriend backhandedly compliments him by saying, “That’s why you’re so nice to be around…you don’t have opinions” thus underscoring the lack of true personality many young American males suffer from, Martin is more relevant today than when it was first released, even if it is rather aesthetically outmoded affair, but then again, that is an innate trademark of George A. Romero’s greatest films. 

-Ty E

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