Martin is George A. Romero film that he made right before he embarked on what is probably his masterpiece, Dawn of the Dead. It was made for an impressively low-budget $100,000, and of course all shot in Pittsburgh. It reinvigorated him as a filmmaker after a rough patch after The Crazies during which he did some sports documentaries and the O.J. Simpson vehicle Juice on the Loose. Perhaps the most interesting thing he made during that time was The Amusement Park, which was basically a PSA about the dangers of elder abuse that he made for the Lutheran Society.
This was his only entry to the world of vampires—of course Romero is essentially the creator of the modern zombie film, and he must have thought he should try his hand at vampires at some point too. It’s really a character study of Martin, a young man who is an outsider, and who believes himself to be a vampire. Is he a genuine vampire or is it just something in his head? That’s the main question of the film. He ends up with his elderly and hostile cousin, a Lithuanian Catholic, who treats him horribly and refers to him as “Nosferatu” throughout.
On that side, it’s fairly successful. It’s probably Romero’s most downbeat and depressing movie, without the thrills of his zombie films. But John Amplas, one of Romero’s stable of local Pittsburgh actors who he worked with frequently in the 1980s. It definitely has its fans, but I think it’s held in higher esteem than it deserves.
Part of my problem with the movie is that you can tell pretty straight off that it’s a somewhat compromised movie. There was a lot of conflict between Romero and producer Richard Rubinstein. Romero wanted the film to be in black and white—there are still some black-and-white scenes that are sort of fantasy dream sequences in Martin’s mind. He also had planned for there to be a voiceover from Martin, which I actually think would have helped. The original cut was about an hour longer, and it shows—the edit feels a bit haphazard, and that keeps it from really working for me that way it does for some other viewers. It’s a good film and one that I respect, but I just haven’t fallen in love with it—there are quite a few people who think it’s Romero’s best film, which I find kind of baffling. Apparently Romero found it to be his own favourite, along with Knightriders (which I prefer).
There are some good sequences—some of the vampiric stuff is an interesting take on the world of vampires, with a more realistic look at what a vampire could be than the usual Dracula-based concept. I definitely like the decaying, post-Vietnam Pittsburgh that the film depicts, as it’s quite an evocative set for the story.
This 4K Blu-Ray restoration can be purchased as a box set with both UHD and Blu-Ray discs and the film’s soundtrack, or the discs separately. Extras abound, including two archival audio commentaries, one with with Romero, Amplas and actor/make-up effects artist Tom Savini, and one with Romero, Rubinstein, Savini, cinematographer Michael Gornick, and composer Donald Rubinstein. There are also two new audio commentaries with film historians Travis Crawford and Kat Ellinger, a lengthy new documentary, Taste the Blood of Martin, plus an archival making-of featurette; an interview with Rubinstein; a 1974 short from cast member Tony Buba, J Roy – New And Used Furniture; trailers, TV and radio spots.