Color, 1978, 94m.
Directed by George A. Romero
Starring John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel, Christine Forrest, Tom Savini
Arrow (UK R0 PAL), Lionsgate (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Anchor Bay (US R1 NTSC)
"Don't worry, I'm always careful with the needles," advises troubled teenager Martin to his female victim as he injects her with a sedative. In a dimly lit train compartment, he embraces her unconscious body and uses a handy razor blade to open her veins and drink her blood, modern vampire style. With this unforgettable opening, director George A. Romero reveals the same precision found in his previous studies of zombies (Night of the Living Dead) and witchcraft (Season of the Witch), though Martin finds him taking vampire lore into dangerously personal and devastating waters. Here the bloodsucker is an 18 year old en route to stay with his sternly traditional uncle, Cuda (Maazel), and his more progressive cousin, Christina (Romero's wife, Forrest). Cuda claims that Martin is actually over one hundred years old and is a traditional vampire who stalks the streets at night. First he will save Martin's soul, and then he will kill him. Martin doesn't take the old man's claims seriously and continues about business, wandering the streets of Pittsburgh and occasionally finding a hapless victim for nourishment. He even begins calling in to a radio talk show as "The Count" to discuss the problems of the modern day blood drinker. When Martin becomes sexually involved with a lonely housewife, however, his perspective on life begins to change.
The kind of film that horror buffs seem to adore and the general public completely shuns, Martin is a perfect example of Romero's personal expression as a filmmaker. The viewer is never completely sure about the true nature of Martin's identity, with eerie gothic flashbacks (in grainy black and white) serving as flashbacks or fantasies to reinforce the uneasy coexistence between past and present in his family. Romero's dark but undeniably effective sense of humour pops up when least expected, such as Martin's amusing nose-thumbing at his uncle's rabid claims and a nifty cameo by Romero himself as a priest who enjoys talking about The Exorcist. The violence is tastefully handled, with startling bursts of blood suddenly pooling out of characters who seem all too human. (The nastiest fate-- involving a twig-- is reserved for actor Al Levitsky, aka hardcore porn actor Roger Caine, during the film's most impressive suspense sequence.) The film's resonance is even stronger now, with some high profile confused teens and college students adopting quasi-vampiric lifestyles to fit into the goth lifestyle. It's clearly a dead end street, and anyone who thinks being a vampire is cool and trendy might want to take a good hard look at this film. Die hard Romero fans will be especially pleased to see his usual compatriots working on this film, including FX master Tom Savini also appearing as Christina's boyfriend and Donald Rubinstein providing one of his finest, eeriest music scores. (Note: the Italian version, Wampyr, was completely reedited and featured an alternate score by Goblin, who also rescored the Australian shocker Patrick around the same time.)
The first DVD from Anchor Bay looks very close to the old Thorn/EMI fullscreen (open matte) transfer. Colors are a little less saturated here, which causes less noise and bleeding in the picture, but the extra resolution of DVD makes it look even grainier and shows off the film's age and low budget origins to a sometimes disconcerting degree. It's not a bad presentation, but be aware that this film will never look too impressive. The limited range of the original audio recording is faithfully reproduced here, and like all other versions, it gets the job done. The commentary track with Romero, Savini, and Amplas is just as casual and affectionate as their other collaborations, and they offer plenty of anecdotes encountered during filming. Amplas obviously gets to participate in this track much more than his other appearances, and he makes for good company. Of course, the infamous original three hour cut of Martin which was mysteriously stolen from Romero comes up in the conversation, making one wonder exactly where it might have strayed off to for the past twenty-plus years. The DVD also includes the terrific original US trailer, which features some exclusive footage of Amplas explaining his plight directly to the camera.
An American reissue from Lionsgate earned the ire of some fans by reframing the film to 1.78:1, which isn't completely destructive but very odd and often annoying for those used to the older version. On the other hand, it has a decent new featurette with Romero and company, "Making Martin: A Recounting," along with the preexisting extras except for a different (but similar) commentary with the same participants. That's all carried over all well to the more expansive versions from Arrow, available in single and double-disc editions. The two-disc version includes a German doc on Romero and, best of all, the infamous alternate Italian version, Wampyr, which drastically reedits the film into a more linear format and completely replaces the soundtrack with a score by Goblin, most of which turned up on the albums Roller and Il Fantastico Viaggio del Bagarozzo Mark. It's a fascinating piece of work (presented in Italian with English subs and largely reconstructed with the video of the English cut), though in an odd hiccup, a crucial moment at the end of the film is repeated twice for no good reason!