James Gracey's Blog: Behind The Couch
When he initially came up with the idea for MARTIN, George Romero intended it to be a spoof – an out and out comedy, poking fun at the conventions and bony clichés of the vampire flick that been hammered home by movies put out by the likes of, well, Hammer. When he began writing the script, Romero soon realised that addressing vampire movie clichés and conventions could be done in a serious matter. In doing so, he eventually wrote an unsettling, dark and strangely tragic film about an insecure teenager who believes he is actually an 84-year-old vampire. The key to MARTIN, is that we never know if the titular character really is a vampire, or just a really delusional, mentally unstable and confused young man with severe psycho-sexual hang-ups.
Seriously undervalued by audiences and critics at the time of its release, MARTIN slyly subverted the haggard conventions of the vampire myth and pretty much reinvented the vampire movie genre with its gritty realism; in its wake came films such as The Addiction, Let the Right One In and Twilight (just kidding), in which vampirism was utilised as a metaphor to explore complex concepts such as addiction and obsession.
As is Romero’s usual custom, the film contains hefty social commentary, depicting the fragmentation of the family unit, hereditary dysfunction, generation gaps and how old ways and draconian customs threaten to stunt the growth of society.
Subverting the usual custom of vampires as irresistible sexual beings, Romero presents Martin as something of a sex pest; a rapist with latent necrophilia. His burgeoning relationship with bored housewife Mrs Santini (Elyane Nadeau) sees him confess to being too shy to do ‘sexy stuff’ with girls when they are awake. He longs for reassuring human contact, but is essentially crippled by his own repression.
The narrative is interrupted frequently by black and white inserts that may be flashbacks, or romantic, gothic flights of fancy Martin has conjured to affirm his notions of vampirism. These inserts resemble what audiences in the Seventies were used to when viewing a vampire movie. Typical traits, recognisable conventions and imagery, are all on display: flaming torches, brandished crucifixes and breathless, nightdress-clad, candelabrum-wielding buxom beauties.
The matter-of-fact approach to violence is also quite shocking and perhaps in keeping with horror cinema at the time. Romero approaches it with startling realism (aside from the obviously very fake blood); there is no glamour or style in the depiction of a young man struggling with a woman in a small train carriage attempting to inject her with tranquilisers so he can slit her wrists and gorge on her blood. Scenes like this play out queasily, claustrophobically. As the eponymous anti-hero, John Amplas provides a sensitive performance that sits uneasily with the atrocious acts he carries out throughout the course of the film.
MARTIN is a one of a kind vampire film, and this writer’s favourite Romero movie. The director is credited with reinventing modern horror cinema with Night of the Living Dead, and it is my opinion that he reinvented the vampire in this tale of repressed sexuality and obsession. Vampirism is a metaphor for mental illness. Or is it?