Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 has us thinking of vampire alternatives.
George Romero’s 1977 vampire riff Martin stars John Amplas as a young man who believes he’s a vampire, though not the bats-and-fangs kind; Amplas needs sedatives and razor blades to drain the blood of his victims. The movie follows the boy’s banishment to the outskirts of Pittsburgh, where his elderly uncle Lincoln Maazel takes Amplas’ “curse” seriously, using all the ancient methods he can muster to keep his nephew’s evil in check. Meanwhile, Amplas lusts after the women he encounters at his day job, and spends his nights calling in to a local DJ, who turns “The Count” into a minor radio celebrity. The family tension eventually comes to a head when Amplas succumbs to his murderous urges, and his uncle becomes a full-fledged vampire hunter. But throughout, Romero leaves open the possibility that either Amplas, Maazel, or both are delusional, and that much of the bloodletting in the movie is imaginary, or at least explicable as something other than vampiric.
By the time Romero made Martin, he was a decade removed from the release of his first big hit, Night Of The Living Dead, and about a year away from the release of his next hit, Dawn Of The Dead. Romero had settled into a career as a maker of arty, low-budget cult films, and in the years since has often claimed Martin as his favorite from that era. At the least it’s one of his most personal, with the crumbling Pennsylvania locations and the open skepticism about classic vampire genre tropes fitting Romero’s general predilection for bleakness and stark realism. As much a mood piece about urban decay and the absence of real magic in the world as it is a conventional horror film, Martin is disturbing on multiple levels, and serves as a potent distillation of Romero’s vision of a world divided into predator and slightly scarier predator.
Availability: Martin is currently out of print on DVD in the U.S., but copies are still available fairly inexpensively from the usual online resources.