Though the vampire genre has almost certainly played itself out in contemporary culture thanks to our current tween-funded fixation there was once a time when vampires were beings whose behaviours had to adhere to stone set traditions; they had to be immortal, religious, unseasoned and certainly un-tanned and it was into this universe that George A. Romero released Martin a film that takes those tropic traits and throws them aside as a simple punch-line. It was a very transgressive film at the time, traversing as it does the borders of both genre and social mores. The film’s biggest boon though is not that it still holds up now but that it is still shocking and subversive today.
Martin, the film’s titular protagonist, is a vampire and we are told this from the get-go like it ‘aint no thing, and apparently the one thing that we’ve never understood about vampires is that they are actually no different from ourselves, or at least no more different than you are from your neighbor. It’s all smoke and mirrors, all voodoo blown up by priests and old-wives – like Martin’s elderly cousin who is accommodating him on the condition that once he saves the boy’s soul he will kill him; he’s no more magic than that card trick your Uncle always attempts. The only thing that the many movies and novels have gotten right about these beings is the fact that they are forced to drink blood, seemingly as a way of staying young.
What really makes Martin interesting though is the way in which he goes about getting this blood. He haunts women, always pretty women, like a textbook sadist before drugging and draining them of their life-force. His method leads to a lot of close encounters and the film makes the most of this with some very clever action scenes. The closest comparison I can make is to Dexter, a show which must have been inspired in no small way by this movie, so close are the two lead characters. Martin is also awkward and unable to connect with those around him on an emotional level, though instead of adopting a charming mask like Michael C. Hall’s character he plays a simple-minded mute.
There is some interesting material to be found in the sections dedicated to his social interactions, or rather the lack of, but for every plot line that pays off there is one that takes up a chunk of the films meek running time and then dissipates into nothing. I don’t think that these elements of his home-life should have been excluded completely because what they add to the overall psychological profile is pretty important but I could have done without the daughter sub-plot. Mainly because there are a number of other interesting angles hinted at that otherwise go unexplored in favor of the family line: late in the film Martin makes a phone call to a late night talk-back program and apparently becomes a sensation, there is a great sociological point to be made in here and perhaps a thrillingly tense scene as the authorities catch on but both are missing in the final film; similarly there is a quick series of shots that suggests a link between vampirism and the vegetarian agenda, showing as they do the way in which humans kill beasts and rob them of not only their blood but also their flesh for sustenance, in order that we survive longer. This latter point, combined with my current reading of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos has given me a great idea for a story and so I will always love the film for that.
Another lack that I noticed during the film was that of ambiguity, my friend Marcey makes positive note of it in her remarkable Romero retrospective (LINK) but personally I didn’t see it. There is great potential in here for the film to push and pull the audience around the issue of whether or not Martin is truly a mythical beast or if he is just some psychotic man ; maybe I’m just too trusting but when the film tells me that a character is a vampire I believe it until the worthwhile evidence to the contrary begins to build up and it didn’t here.I did appreciate the ambiguity in the cousin’s role however, he is so well painted as the film’s villain that it’s not until long after that you realize, crazy or not, he was hassling a known serial-killer and is a kind enough man besides. The depth of mythology was also missed but I understand why going into that would have contradicted the film’s subversion; it set out to break the barriers, not to build new ones a mile down.
I also acknowledge that a lot of what was missing in the movie may have been because of the money, this is after all a remarkably cheap looking production, and so I understand why a lot could not be included here but nevertheless I crave it. What we are given though is all very good stuff and as good a sign as any that Romero really can work well outside the zombie genre. So instead of sucking up to Stephanie Meyer or Sookie Stackhouse this weekend why don’t you all pour yourself a vintage vino and put this on, because I tell you, vampires age well too.