Review Date: February 13, 2005
Released by: Lions Gate
Release date: 11/9/2004
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
With Night of the Living Dead
, George A. Romero reworked a genre of the supernatural and turned it into something documentary-like in its theme and presentation. The voodoo-inspired original zombie films like White Zombie
and I Walked With A Zombie
both had fantastical plots and high-class picture. Night of the Living Dead
featured zombies that, instead of some magical spell, were simply revived from the corrupted nuclear state of the Cold War era. The whole thing was presented in a shoddy, verité like manner, making it seem all the more real. With Romero’s next big horror film, Martin
, he did a similar thing to the vampire genre. He removed it from its typically supernatural tale of a suave, ageless, bloodsucking count, and instead turned it into a sad tale of a ME generation loner who must use needles and razors to kill. Although initially overlooked, it has since become a classic. After Anchor Bay’s solid initial release of the film during the infancy of the DVD format, Lions Gate has since acquired the rights and has released this version, fit with new picture, sound and extras. Take out the garlic and lets give this a spin.
The film begins with a train, as people board and loved ones say goodbye. Nobody is there for Martin (John Amplas
) however; he boards alone. Although only young, he looks as if he has lived a thousand years, with his sunken eyes and his downward-turned lips. He is shy, awkward, and seeks to meet the perfect woman. He has problems connecting with people, and his method of intimate meetings with women is unconventional, to say the least. Martin drugs attractive women with a needle, and then drinks their blood. He thinks he is a vampire, although he possesses no vampiric qualities – he doesn’t even have fangs. Instead he uses razors, and without charm he must instead use injections to get women under his spell. Unlike the bitten in traditional vampire films, where they rise and become slaves to the biter, Martin’s victims remain dead, dooming him to a life of loneliness.
What’s worse is that Martin is traveling up to Braddock, Pennsylvania to meet his “cousin”, the elderly Cuda (Lincoln Maazel
). Upon greeting him, Cuda frankly informs Martin that first, he will save Martin’s soul, then he will destroy him. Cuda gives Martin a room in his rundown house along with Cuda’s granddaughter, Christina (Romero’s wife, Christine Forrest
), but Martin is instructed not to talk to her. Christina’s boyfriend, Arthur (Tom Savini
), complains about the lack of job availability in modern day America, and Martin very much agrees. He is stuck as a grocery delivery boy, uncomfortably bringing strangers their purchases. He lives in a world full of strangers. He does connect with one person though, the similarly lonely housewife, Mrs. Santini (Elyane Nadeau
). Although married, she is neglected by her oft-gone husband, and her and Martin soon get close. But in the pessimistic seventies, nothing good can ever last.
Martin starts anonymously calling a radio talk show, where he becomes a moderate celebrity for his vampiric exploits. Still, he is bolstered into nothing more than a Spinger-esque freak, further isolating him from the world. He kills other people on his grocery route, but eventually must face off in arguably the quintessential fight of the seventies: young versus old. Cuda, with his religious sensibilities and conservative strictness, seeks to squelch Martin’s liberal youth. The two finally face off, but like all exemplary seventies icons, Martin has lost long before the battle even commences. He’s an island, alone and distant.
is a smart, moving and intriguing revisioning of the age-old vampire genre. It came from a time, 1977, when modern day society was more interesting than anything fiction could conceive of. There was Vietnam, the counterculture, Watergate, the OPEC crisis and many other socially significant happenings in the decade. The seventies were so turbulent and unstable that in many ways it was tough to do any period pieces or anything that wasn’t consciously grounded in modern culture. The decade’s greatest horror films – Halloween
, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
, Dawn of the Dead
, and The Last House on the Left
- were all seeped in seventies culture, and so is Martin
. While at first it’s low budget may seem like a hindrance, it really becomes the film’s strength. Martin
is a film in and of its time, and with a documentary-like realism, it captures the decaying urban culture of a depression-ridden America.
The biggest difference between Martin
and older vampire films is the characteristics of location. In Nosferatu, the count brings with him a plague upon a sound society, but in Martin
, the plague is already there. The streets are ridden with pollution, demolished cars are strewn left and right, there are line-ups at the gas stations and black gang members (insulting as the stereotype may be) harass innocent civilians. “There are plenty of jobs available,” Cuda states to Arthur, but “there is nothing decent,” Arthur replies. Romero chooses to shoot several scenes outside to stress the rot visible on the streets in urban America. The dreams of the sixties had long subsided, and a country ravaged by war and disappointment was finally starting to show on the streets.
As bad as society is on the streets in Martin
, the decay is just as bad within the home. Both married couples in the film are adulterous and end up dead, while the dichotomy between young and old is even worse off. Christina has to eventually leave the house to be away from her grandfather, while Cuda vows to kill his own cousin. It is a lonely world that Romero paints, from the streets to households. Communication almost seems to be out of the question for Martin. Why talk when death is easier? “I’ve always been too shy.” Martin sheepishly admits, but in a world fraying at the seems due to a growing generation gap and a moving away from the church, Romero seems to say that connection is very much a thing of the past.
The fact that Martin slits the wrists of his victims is also telling of the time that Romero was trying to document. The typical vampire kills with a sensual bite. The teeth lustfully sink into the erogenous neck of the female, turning her into a newly reinvigorated woman. In Martin
however, the blood gathering ritual is much less glamorous. Romero chose razor blades and wrists no doubt because of their suicidal connotations. Indeed, there is even a woman in the film who takes her own life with that procedure. The bloodletting in Martin
is depressing and cold, all the romanticism of previous Dracula films sucked dry. Like Andy’s need for blood in Deathdream
, the drawing blood in Martin
is more a medical requirement than it is a sensual experience. Perhaps in a society as sad as Martin
’s, the razorblade murders are a blessing. An out from the rot that engulfs them.
Romero is able to sustain a remarkably sad and bleak mood throughout, from the black and white juxtapositions of Martin’s tortured childhood to Martin’s sad confessions on the radio. John Amplas does a fantastic job as the tortured titular hero, making Martin both hopelessly naïve and sympathetic all at once. Neither Amplas or Romero ever try to milk sympathy though, it all comes from the little things in the story. When Martin continually refers to sexual intercourse as “that sexy stuff”, he does it with such a sheepish naivety that it shows just how lost and innocent he truly is. The fact that Martin is such a likeable character makes the film all the more depressing. He comes from a society where breaks are few and far between, and loneliness is the equivalent of death.
Of all the great seventies horror movies, and Martin
is indeed one, this may just be the most depressing. Martin
is depressing is a beautiful way though, like a great Shakespearean tragedy. The outcome of the film is pretty much solidified at the start – it is still a vampire film – but there is something touching about Martin
. Donald Rubinstein’s haunting score, with its somber female operatic chorus and stark piano strings, has a timelessness that Morriconne at his best is able to capture. Martin
also deserves credit for the restraint that Romero shows in the ending. There could have been the pressure to turn the battle between Martin
and Cuda into a sensationalized climax like most vampire films, but this one is far more understated. It ends with a whisper, fitting to the overall lonely tone of the film. The streets stay ravaged, the relationships remain empty, and Martin remains alone. Like in Vietnam, there are never any winners or losers in Martin
, only victims.
is presented in a matted 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, and the framing of the film is questionable. Romero’s film was released in full frame 1.33:1 on the previous Anchor Bay disc, allowing for more headroom and space on the top and bottom. Although the film did indeed go theatrical, the full frame transfer is a lot less cramped. There are several scenes in this new transfer where foreheads are hidden by the black frame where they weren’t on the Anchor Bay disc. There are also some gore scenes, like the one to the left, where the bars have cropped out some of Savini's blood. It goes mostly unnoticed, but there are still some scenes where a full frame transfer would have been more welcome.
In terms of visual quality though, this new transfer looks much better than Anchor Bay’s. Immediately noticeable is how much more vivid the colors look. Romero laced the film with several exterior shots with some idyllic shots of flours of all colors, and they really come out in this transfer. The scene with Martin
and his girl in the high grass (below) is most telling of this new transfer, as the buds are actually visible, and deep, on this new transfer. The older transfer had a much smaller color palette, and even the faces looked muted. Saturation is also much better, with everything just looking more lifelike.
|Anchor Bay DVD||Lions Gate DVD|
The transfer is far from perfect though, as the 16mm roots of the film still show. The print is incredibly grainy, and it is obvious that the print has undergone some wear over the years. The print is laced with minor blemishes, and print damage like scratches and lines can be seen intermittently. Still, this new transfer looks cleaner than the film probably has ever looked, and framing issues aside, is a major step-up from the Anchor Bay disc.
While the video quality may be a big improvement, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix on this disc seems more a gimmick. This sounds largely like a mono track, with the rears getting virtually no usage, and directionality between the front speakers is entirely absent. Given that the film was shot on an extremely low budget, the audio stems Lions Gate would have to work with would probably be pretty shoddy to begin with. Given that this is a largely dialogue driven film, with sparse music or effects, it is no surprise that the 5.1 remix comes off as useless. There just isn’t much to do with this track…a simple mono track would have done the same job, and saved on disc space. Everything sounds fine, but it just sounds mono.
The Anchor Bay DVD was outfitted with a commentary by Romero, Savini and Amplas, and although that is missing from this DVD, a new one has been recorded with Romero, Savini, DOP Michael Gornick, composer Donald Rubinstein and producer Richard Rubinstein. Despite John Amplas’s absence, this newly recorded group commentary is a real treat. With all the participants reacting to each other in real-time, it comes off as a bunch of close friends just shooting the shit on the film, their lives, and their legacy. The group sound off on Romero’s talents, like his ability to edit in record time on old fashioned editing equipment, as well as the impromptu “let’s make a movie” style incorporated into the film. It becomes clear through the track that Romero’s easygoing filmmaking style inspires creativity and respect in all his co-workers. There is a lot of information shared, and just as many laughs. It is a great track.
The other major supplement is an all new featurette, “Making Martin
: A Recounting”, which features all the members in the commentary as well as Christine Romero and Angelina Buba, who was responsible for outfitting the Martin
house. It is an exceptionally produced documentary, intercutting heartfelt interview footage with some great supporting material, like the Cuda house as it looks today. Romero is sincere in calling Martin
his favorite film, and he is quick to give accolades to the rest of his co-workers. Michael Gornick has a nice anecdote on how he started his working relationship with Romero, and everyone else shares some nice stories. The only problem with the featurette is that it runs only 9 minutes. What is shown is great, but one can’t help but want more. Talking about how the film fared at the box office and how it built up a fanbase on video would have been a welcome inclusion. Still, it is a great 9 minutes that really synthesizes well with the new commentary.
The disc is rounded off with a brief little photo gallery with some good promotional shots, a creative little trailer with a newsreel-like narration by John Amplas, a few TV spots and a trailer gallery for other Lions Gate pictures, Saw
, The Final Cut
, Stage Beauty
, Ju-On: The Grudge
, and Dracula 3000
is an exceptional reworking of vampire mythology into modern times. It is a moving and somber portrait of loneliness in the disillusioned seventies. Lions Gate has put a lot of work into this disc, and it shows. The new anamorphic transfer looks great considering the age of the film, although some purists might complain about the matting of the full frame image. The extras are a real treat, with a new commentary and featurette that really does justice to this classic film. The 5.1 sound mix is nothing more than a mono track, but even still it sounds fine. Romero will always be known for his Dead
films, but in many ways Martin
is his most dramatically effective work. It is a testament to the power of low-budget seventies filmmaking, and a film that is not to be missed.
Movie - A
Image Quality - B+
Sound - C+
Supplements - A-
- Running Time - 1 hour 35 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- English 2.0 Stereo
- Audio Commentary with George A. Romero, Tom Savini, cinematographer Michael Gornick, composer Donald Rubinstein and producer Richard Rubinstein
- "Making Martin: A Recounting" featurette
- Photo gallery
- TV spots
- Theatrical trailer
- Lions Gate trailers