Review: Martin (1977)

Review: Martin (1977)

George Romero takes a stab at the vampire genre, with mixed results

I’m a huge Romero fan, at least when it comes to his zombie flicks.  I never knew, however, that this legend of horror had taken a shot at making a vampire movie.  This flick, named Martin, was made in 1977 and looks every inch the 70s horror film, from the fuzzy photography to the bad haircuts to the “just say your lines however” style of acting that was popular back in the day.  The end result may not be what I would consider a classic of horror, but it was definitely ahead of its time.

The basic story follows the titular vampiric character, Martin.  We start out with Martin on a train, and he’s hungry.  Upon finding a suitable victim, he attacks to feed.  This isn’t your typical cliché vampire story, however.  Martin has no fangs, nor does he have super powers or the usual weaknesses that are attributed to the vampires of legend.  Romero makes an effort to humanize the character as much as possible, so Martin must rely on a needle filled with (slowly acting) knock-out drugs and his meager physical strength to subdue his victims.  His feeding style is a little odd, preferring to strip his victims and himself down and lie with them while he drinks their blood.  The entire thing has more than a few uncomfortably rapey undertones.

When Martin arrives at his destination, we find out he’s staying with his granduncle.  His granduncle, however, happens to indulge the idea of cleansing Martin of the vampiric curse and then sending him to hell.  So Martin must live in this unfriendly house, all the while balancing his vampire nature against the needs of being human. 

Over the course of the story, we see Martin hunt some more.  One particular hunting scene reminded me so much of the way they portray things on TV’s Dexter that I have to wonder if the producers of that show were Romero fans.  These scenes are where Romero really shines.  The hunts are tense, realistic and not colored in any way to seem either lighter than they should or more brutal.  Romero’s sense of realism in the fantastic is his strong point and here it comes through well.  This all goes out the window during one of the final scenes when a crazy shoot-out occurs that leaves everyone but Martin dead.  But that’s another one of Romero’s trademarks, that over-the-top action that flies in the face of realism while gifting his audience with plenty of blood and guts.

The entirety of the film follows the main character as he attempts to fit in and do human things, all the while trying to convince people around him that his “condition” isn’t really a big deal.  Martin finds a girlfriend, becomes a popular guest on a dial-in talk radio show and deals with his troubled family.  Martin’s story is a human story, despite the killing necessary to keep himself alive.

My biggest issue with the film was the pacing.  The movie comes in at just over an hour-and-a-half and the original, uncut version was supposed to be around two hours and forty-five minutes long.  The slow pacing during the first half and the jumpy second half are apparent contrasts.   I don’t know if I would have sat through another hour of this film, but the extra time may have fixed some of the problems I noticed.

Another issue I had was the lack of wisdom in Martin’s character.  When the story picks up, he’s been alive for 84 years.  Even though he looks young, 84 years of life will give you more than enough learning to get around lots of life’s little problems.  Some of this translates well, such as his skill in hunting, while at other times it seems like Martin hasn’t talked to a single person in all his time.  Whether that is a clarification that was left out due to the massive cuts or otherwise, I could not say.

And as the story of Martin comes to a close, the movie ends in that 70s-popularized fashion of quick brutality.  I never really enjoyed the 30-second resolutions that they loved back then, so I’ll just step back from being critical on that one.

All-in-all, fans of Romero will be pleased with Martin.  It contains all the things that make a Romero film memorable, albeit without the zombie hordes.  It was a thoughtful vampire flick back before people classified vampires as being worthy of humanistic traits and I’d put money on the fact that it influenced many filmmakers that made vampire films after it.  Give Martin a watch, but make sure you stick through the first half’s slow pacing and to the meat-and-bones of the picture.