I don't know why I waited until now to check out Martin, one of the better-regarded non-Dead George Romero movies, but I shouldn't have waited so long, because it was a pure delight. Now, this is one of those movies in which it's really better to know as little as possible, so if you haven't seen it and are interested, you might want to leave now, and come back after you've seen it. Just know that it's a very off-kilter exploration of life with this very troubled young man who considers himself a vampire and kills people periodically, that it's very scary/creepy in parts, but also very funny and light in its way. It's a good horror night movie rental! Now go away, but if you don't, I'll still warn you when the major spoilers are going to begin.
We jump right in to this train, where Martin spots this attractive older woman getting on the train. That night, he creeps down the darkened corridor while everyone is asleep, steps into the bathroom and prepares an injection. As he does this, we hear only the sound of the train and there's just something about it I found very creepy. He bursts into the woman's room—but she's in the bathroom. When she comes out they have a LONG struggle, so long that the scene loses its 'shock' and becomes this odd character scene with her demanding to know what was in the injection, and him telling her not to worry, "I'm always very careful with the needle," and that it's all to make it so she'll be fine, and won't feel a thing. He then gets on top of her and rapes her limp body, a sequence that also takes an uncomfortable amount of time, then slashes her arm and drinks her blood, which is pretty genuinely horrifying. I love it when horror movies are able to modulate their effects like this, and aren't just 'scary,' but let the tone drift into areas that make the viewer really uncomfortable and curious.
So Martin arrives at this train station, where he meets Cuda, this older man in a white suit with white goatee, looking not unlike Colonel Sanders. They take another relatively long train ride, and one has occasion to notice how slow and lyrical the whole movie has been so far. Cuda is constantly hissing "Nosferatu!" at Martin, and not because that's what he's rented for them to watch that evening, but because he is convinced that Martin is a vampire, and has appointed himself to watch over him. When they get home, Cuda says "I will save your soul, then I will destroy you. Let me show you to your room." Don't you wish hotel bellhops had that sense of drama? Martin finds a bunch of garlic and crosses and such all over certain doors, is warned not to talk to Cuda's granddaughter, Chrtistina, and told that if Martin kills anyone in town, Cuda will kill him, no ifs, ands, or buts. Tuck that one between some synapses somewhere, because you'll be needing it again.
Now, Cuda considers Martin an 'imbecile' in the 'retarded' sense of the word, and it seems like he may be, given that he says nothing to the friendly advances of Christina—who doesn't seem phased by the way he responds to her chattiness by silently staring at her—but then he suddenly starts chatting casually with the introduction of a magic trick. Later we find out that Christina thinks Grandpa is off his rocker with all these crazy superstitions that Martin is a vampire. She is dating Tom Savini as Arthur, who seems considerably older than her, but whatever, I guess she's kinky.
SPOILERS > > >
So Martin has a job making grocery deliveries, and meets one woman who gives him a ride back into town, chatting all the way about her personal issues with the silent Martin, then asking him if he'd like to do some work around her vulva, I mean, the house. He accepts. He also meets this other woman at her home, who he greets with a sign that says he's deaf, and her husband, also there, and quite dismissive of him. He comes back and breaks into her house in a drawn-out and fairly scary home invasion, then sets up his injection in her bathroom. Personally, I'd have that thing ready before going in, as you can't count on that much bathroom time when invading someone's house—especially when they're HOME. Martin jumps in the room and—surprise! The woman isn't alone, she's having an affair! Martin ends up injecting the guy with the drug, then retreats to hide in the house, panic, and prepare another shot. The couple FREAKS, especially since the guy has just been injected with some unknown substance, and they can't call the police, because that would expose the affair. Pretty clever, huh? And it's extra scary, because they have no idea where Martin is. So the guy tells the woman, I think her name is Louise, to call information and get the number of a hospital. Well, suffice to say that Louise is not one you'd want to have to rely on in an emergency, as she has a lot of trouble dialing information, then promptly forgets the number, then—literally—spends the next few minutes poking aimlessly at the phone while mumbling incoherently. Not really good in a crisis, I guess. But guess what else—there are a few more clever surprises! This is one of the better horror showpieces I've seen in a while. Go George!
< < < SPOILERS END
In here we're getting B&W flashbacks of Martin pursued by crowds bearing torches, but I guess if I had to guess I would say that they aren't actual flashbacks, but Martin's imagination. Then Cuda makes him go to church on Sunday and you're like "Wait a minute—so this has all happened in less than a week?" Because I thought we were talking about months here. He does a little repair on the horny housewife's screen door and she is a bit sexually forward with him, then Cuda has this priest Father Howard over for dinner. Howard smokes and greedily takes the wine and cognac and eats especially heartily—it's hilarious—and then you find out later that Father Howard is played by Romero himself! In here Martin is also calling a radio call-in show, which works as an excellent expository device. Things continue, not much that's totally shocking, until we come to a rather abrupt, shocking and PERFECT ending. I will say no more!
I really liked it. I need to watch more of Romero's earlier, non-Dead work now… although there's not that much. I may also have to—I regret to say—re-evaluate Bruiser. But let's not make rash promises. Among the things that are working here is that John Amplas as Martin does look as though he is possessed, and does look as though evil thoughts are constantly circulating in his mind. I also like how the ambiguity is preserved all the way to the ending whether Martin is a vampire or not. If not, and I tend to believe not, the story becomes slightly more interesting, as you then have a story about a troubled young man who was perhaps made into a vampire by the people around him who believe he may be one. We only see Cuda [who I believe is his uncle], but never really find out much about his parents. Nevertheless, with Cuda, there's the whole question of whether Cuda is just insane. I also liked the whole level or suburban malaise to it all, with the many bored, horny housewives and smoking, drinking priests. And Romero, as usual, finds new and clever ways to set up scares. The length with which he holds scenes of attack or struggle also takes them past the point where they are purely scary or exciting, and takes them into an area where they become more curious and almost thoughtful.
So anyway, if you like rather odd little horror films that aren't afraid to edge outside of the strict definition of "horror," and you like bizarre, funny and scary movies about troubled teens and suburbanites bored out of their minds… Martin is for you.
Yes, especially if you admire Romero's Dead films, or just like horror that is offbeat and not afraid to explore unusual avenues.
VAMPIRE'S KISS is another movie about a guy who is going crazy, and his psychosis takes the form of him thinking that he's a vampire—in fact, it might have been inspired by this film.