Just before he went to work on his now infamous "Dawn Of The Dead," director George A. Romero created a movie that had vampirism as the central premise. Don’t expect a romantic gothic Transylvanian tale of count Dracula or one of his breed. Romero wouldn’t be Romero if he had ventured into those realms. Traditional fantasy has never been of much interest to him, but social commentary and expressionistic horror films are more down his alley. As a result, "Martin," the director’s most acclaimed film outside the "Living Dead" trilogy, presents itself as a disturbing and macabre modern day story that handles vampirism with a hint of drug-addiction, making it a truly harrowing experience to watch.
"Martin" is the story of a disturbed young man who selectively kills people and drinks their blood. Is he a vampire? Not in the sense that he has fangs and recoils from garlic or crucifixes, but in a way, he has the urge to drink his victim’s blood, and despite his attempts to break the curse, it seems to be essential for his survival. Over the years he has been around - the film suggest a lifetime of about 84 years for this young man - he has almost perfected his ritual, sedating his victims, slitting their wrists and then bathing in the spurting blood, drinking it.
One day, Martin moves in with his uncle Cuda, who knows about the vampirism and warns the young man that he will immediately kill him if he ever dares to kill anyone in their hometown. Afraid, bigot and yet in awe of the monstrosity he houses, Cuda always keeps an eye on Martin, but even he can’t prevent the inevitable. Martin goes out on more killing sprees, selectively picking his victims, until one day, the only woman he loves kills herself - the way he would have!
The biggest attraction to "Martin" is clearly its ambiguousness. The story is written and presented in a way that allows for plenty of interpretation - an element Romero deliberately installed in the film. While one person could see it simply as an updated version of a classic vampire story - the elements are unmistakably there - another viewer can easily interpret it as an involving commentary on drug addiction, identity crisis - both personal and sexual - the lust for sensation in our society and so much more. I believe every viewer will have made his very own and personal interpretation of the film when the end credits begin to roll, and the analysis may not stop there, as many threads from the film lend themselves for deeper thought long after you have actually watched the film. Part of this narrative and directorial excellence stems from many flashback sequences that Romero installed in the film in black and white. They take you back in time and suggest a past of the main character long before our time. The sequences, that are extremely eloquently incorporated in the film’s flow, offer rationale and explanations, but never uncovering the full truth, identity or other mysteries surrounding the story. In all, it makes for an exceptional viewing experience.
Anchor Bay presents "Martin" in a full frame presentation, which is the movie’s original aspect ratio as it was shot in 16mm film. Although matted, 1.85:1 widescreen versions of the movie are in existence, director George Romero states in the commentary track, that in the case of this particular film, he personally prefers the full frame presentation, as the entire picture has been composed to that ratio. Since the film has been shot in 16mm on a shoestring budget of about $270,000 over the course of six weeks, you can’t expect miracles. The film print is of inferior quality and contains quite a bit of noise. Since 16mm film does not offer the visible resolution of 35mm films or higher, the transfer sometimes lacks in detail.
To create a stable image for this DVD, the transfer has also been heavily DVNR’ed, which is a digital noise reduction, dirt and scratch removal process. Sadly it leaves artifacts behind, which are evident in occasional ghosting and noticeable lack of definition. The transfer has a good color reproduction, faithfully restoring the filmmakers’ neutral and natural look. Blacks are deep and highlights are balanced but never over-exposed. The compression is generally good, and mostly free of compression artifacts, although given the problems resulting from the noise reduction Anchor Bay the transfer may not entirely satisfy high end expectations.
The audio on the disc is presented as a 2-channel Dolby Digital mono track that is surprisingly well produced. Without much background noise, the tracks is clear and dialogues are always understandable. Interestingly, "Martin" ahs an almost silent-movie quality to itself. Dialogues are rare and usually focus on the essential to drive the story. To create a very unique atmosphere, Romero blends the visual starkness of his pictures with a void of sound at times that is then highlight by a compelling musical score. The score was written by Donald Rubinstein who perfectly takes Romero’s vision and cloaks it with sounds and music. There are numerous occasions where the music adds substantially to the experience and creates an eerie, almost teasing flair to lure viewers into the highly ambiguous story.
As a supplement, this DVD features a newly recorded commentary track with director George A. Romero, actor and special effects guru Tom Savini, and the movie’s main actor John Amplas. The commentary is extremely interesting and entertaining, although it is very non-technical in nature. For the most part the three share memories and thoughts of the movie and point out a lot of cameo appearances that are found throughout the film. Everyone who was involved in the film on some level, seems to have made an appearance in the film, and especially Romero is fantastic at remembering and pointing out all these people, including those who were just bystanders, pulled into the shoot on the occasion. Savini is relentless in actively trying to make sure information is conveyed on a variety of levels, ranging from the "five lights low budget", the minimalist special effects he did on this movie, to the acting, his "hair-hat" and many other fascinating details of the production, while John Amplas is contributing some exciting memories from an actor’s stand point.
If you consider yourself a Romero fan and you haven’t seen "Martin" you have to go and get this DVD. It is a film that is George Romero at his best, yet somehow also so untypical at times. It shows that he knows his craft inside out, and I found that especially the commentary track gives viewers a much better understanding for what he tried to achieve, and why things are so open for interpretation at times. The film’s presentation on this DVD may not be top notch, but there’s only so much you can do with 16mm material and a limited budget, and I still greatly enjoyed the movie on this disc.
Hey, and you, who stole that black and white reel of "Martin" from Romero’s vault, please, do film fans around the world a favor, and return it to where it belongs!