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Necessary Evil: Horror movie set in total darkness
Martin is a shy and awkward teenager, who just happens to believe that he's an 84-year-old vampire, forced to drink human blood for survival. Martin, however, doesn't have fangs, so he improvises by drugging his victims and slicing open their veins with a razor. He moves to small Pennsylvanian town to live with his aging cousin Cuda, who maintains that Martin is the bearer of a long-standing family curse. Cuda's granddaughter, Christina, calls bullsh*t on that and strikes up a friendship with Martin. But the question remains: is Martin just a mixed-up teen, or is he really a vampire?
Before the tripe known as the TWILIGHT series (and a year before DAWN OF THE DEAD), George A. Romero decided to do some teen vampire drama of his own with MARTIN, which Romero has stated to be the favorite film of his career. It was also the first time Romero and some effects guy named Tom Savini teamed up, and you know what happened after that. F*ck those sparkly wannabes, MARTIN treats vampire teens right.
Romero's best films have always centred on issues of human relations like the influence of commercialism or the loss of faith in government. In this case, MARTIN revolves around themes of lonliness and isolation, which tug at the heartstrings as well as develop characters. Martin is the most obvious example, being the shy, awkward 'teenager' who rarely says anything and is devoid of human contact. John Amplas' performance as Martin is made all the more awkward by his presence, which is both awkward yet threatening at the same time. Other characters take a while to flesh out, but once they get going, it's easy to see how they fit into the film's themes. Even the location of the film (a small Pennsylvania town) fits into the themes. It's the exploration of these themes that makes the film enjoyable, ironic as it may seem.
Another thing that hooked me on MARTIN was Martin himself. Noting Amplas' performance and the recurring themes, it's never explicitly stated whether Martin is really a vampire at all. The black-and-white flashbacks that Martin has at points in the film, for example. Are they past experiences of Martin's, fleeing from villagers and priests, or has the guy watched too many horror movies? The ambiguousness of what exactly Martin is continues throughout the film, right up until the final shot of the film. This, combined with the previously-mentioned, make for some fun times.
What's not fun (at least for some people) is the fact that the film misses out on execution at times. Most of the film revolves around Martin wandering around, interacting with people, looking for victims, etc. This goes right with the editing, which is pretty loose. Too loose, in spots. One moment we follow Martin after he gets chased by the cops for breaking and entering, the next involves the same cops in a gunfight with drug dealers at a warehouse that Martin fled to escape them. Also, in spite of Amplas, a lot of the cast's performances vary in quality, even from scene to scene. Some instances are easier to forgive than others, but it's kind of a downer.
Still, I enjoyed MARTIN. It's easy to see why George loves this film of his the most, and while it's not the gorebuster that his following films were, it's not one of those films. Rather, it's a sort of exploration of one guy trying to find his place in a society that's got some issues of its own. Plus, there's the whole blood-drinking thing. It's not for everyone, but as a precursor to films like NEAR DARK and THE LOST BOYS, it's great. And, as an alternative to the TWILIGHT series it's a godsend. Phone up your late night radio talk show, and ask for The Count.
Video: Given that Arrow Video (nice name, eh?) sent us a preliminary version of the DVD set instead of the final retail version, it wouldn't be fair to comment on the quality of the video. That said, the retail release features both the 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen (not the nicest, considering the film was made in fullframe) and 1.33:1 fullscreen versions of the film on the same disc. This is a R0 PAL DVD, so be aware of the 4% speedup.
Audio: Same deal, although the fullscreen version's Dolby Digital 5.1 track is really out of sync with the video, whereas the Dolby 2.0 Stereo track doesn't have that issue. Both the fullscreen and the widescreen versions of the film feature 5.1 and 2.0 mixes.
First up is a commentary track featuring director George Romero, Tom Savini, Richard and Donald Rubinstein and Michael Gornick, which is the same track found on the Lionsgate release of the film. This is one of those easygoing commentaries that features a lot of information on the film's production, Romero's talents as a director and editor and general good times.
Over on disc 2 is the Italian Cut of the film (which was titled WAMPYR), which is long-rumoured to have been edited by Dario Argento, and features a progressive rock soundtrack from everybody's fave Italian group, Goblin. Basically, this cut features some alternate scenes involving Martin scoping out the house, and the train sequence at the beginning of the North American cut being placed as a flashback, amongst other things. This cut uses the same 1.77:1 transfer, so expect to see some rather odd framing.
The next extra is ported over from the Lionsgate DVD entitled Making Martin: A Recounting. Clocking in at just under 10 minutes, this is still a great mini documentary on the film. Featuring interviews by everyone in the audio commentary, along with Chris Romero and set designer Angelina Buba, the doc covers bits of stuff that was left over from the commentary, but any time you get pictures of Tom Savini dressed as a vampire, it's worthwhile to check out.
Following that is a 20-minute long Documentary on George Romero, which is an English-subtitled German language documentary featuring behind the scenes footage from MARTIN and DAWN OF THE DEAD. Again, interesting stuff, but kind of awkward given the German coming from my speakers (reminds me of the documentaries on the ZOMBI DVD set).
Rounding things up are the film's US trailer, TV spot, two radio spots and a photo gallery. Unfortunately, we didn't get the following with our preliminary version that's included in the retail version: four sleeve art options, a double-sided poster, six poster art postcards and a collector's booklet.
Overshadowed by Romero's obvious successes, MARTIN is still a worthwhile addition to someone's library of vampire films (and better than anything Stephenie Meyer puts out). Having the Italian cut of the film is a nice extra, along with the great commentary and too-short documentary. If you can afford the import charges, go ahead and grab it.