Sunday, 24 February 2008

He's not Nosferatu; he's a very naughty boy

I'm going to try to not have this blog just be about men I want to jump...

...I'm going to fail.

First; the obligatory infodump. 'Martin' was directed by George Romero in 1977, made in Pittsburgh on 16mm, with a cast consisting mostly of Romero's family and friends, supplemented with a few local professional actors.

The eponymous Martin comes to town to stay with Tada Cuda, an elderly relative and his niece Christina (played by Mrs George Romero, Christine Forrest) in the rundown former steelworking community of Braddock, Pennsylvania. There's some indication that he might have been forced to leave his previous home, and it seems hard to believe that anyone would voluntarily move TO Braddock; the only people we see are old or unhappy, Christina's boyfriend (Special Effects legend Tom Savini) is leaving town to get work, and even the church holds Mass in what looks like a building site since they can't afford to repair the building (as if they didn't have enough problems, the parish priest is George Romero himself; smoking cigarettes, drinking and REALLY digging 'The Exorcist').

No-one really knows what to make of Martin. To Tata Cuda he's an 84-year-old vampire, who needs to be redeemed and then staked; to Christina he's a confused kid; to Mrs Santini, the lonely housewife he meets while making deliveries for Cuda's deli, he's a combination of sex toy and surrogate child. To the sarcastic DJ on the phone-in show he calls, Martin is 'The Count'; another late-night loser good for a few jokes. Martin, though, KNOWS that he's a vampire; we see him in black-and-white maybe-fantasies-maybe-memories as a puffy-shirted demon lover, seducing women and fleeing from torch-wielding villagers. In the here-and-now, Martin's not nearly so glamorous; delivering groceries, failing to make eye-contact, and occasionally drugging women and opening their veins with razor blades.

The classic missing-the-point question to ask about Martin he REALLY a vampire? Well, he'd say he was...and he does drink the blood of his victims...but this is a Romero film, and there's nothing supernatural here; Martin sleeps, goes out in daylight, has sex, doesn't have fangs or fear garlic, and is just as susceptible to being hurt as anyone. He does magic tricks, throws away Cuda's crucifix, and dresses up as Dracula (complete with plastic fangs and fancy-dress cape) to scare the old man.

My opinion on what he is, is that he's just a lonely, sad boy, with a troubled past. I'd say that he needs to get out more and get a woman, except that he does and...well, I won't spoil the ending if you haven't seen it, but things don't work out too well all round.

Now, Martin is played by John Amplas, who was in his late twenties at the time, though he looks about 19, and is every inch the Myspace cutie(can you tell I have a crush?), with his floppy hair, striped shirt, and faraway gaze; yes, who would have thought that George Romero, as well as inventing slow-moving zombies, alternative cinema and non-race-specific casting, also invented emo? He's an engaging actor with a convincing awkwardness and vulnerability that somehow makes you forget that Martin is technically a serial killer, and a predator on women. He appeared a few other films, mostly Romero's; in Knightriders as one of cinema's few non-homicidal-thoughts-inducing mimes, a few years later and a few pounds heavier in Day of the Dead, unrecognisable under a ton of makeup in Creepshow, and (not for Romero) as a backwoods fanatic in a sheriff's uniform in Midnight (one of the ever-popular stay-away-from-the-country-cause-they're-all-moonshine-swillin'
-inbred-psychos genre; that never goes out of fashion). I understand he does a lot of stage work and teaches theatre in Pittsburgh, and he turned 51 the day after I started writing this post; 25th February. Happy (belated because I'm a lazy slacker) Birthday John; I hope you know that you have a little corner of vampire film history, and you looked better in that puffy shirt than Tom Cruise did; Lestat be buggered...

Now, would I recommend 'Martin'? Not to everyone...I'd recommend it to you if you're in the mood for something a little slow, a bit different and with a melancholy atmosphere that will probably stay with you for a while. It's not especially bloody, and it does get a little bit unfocused and wandering towards the end, but if the ending doesn't hit you like a sledgehammer then...I have nothing else to say to you.

Martin Madahas: And that's another thing about those movies. Vampires always have ladies. Sometimes lots of ladies. Well, that's wrong too! You don't need all that.

Radio Talk Show Host: Ah,ha,ha,ha, you don't need that?

Martin Madahas: No, you really don't. I mean, if the magic part was real and you could make them do whatever you wanted to...

Radio Talk Show Host: Ha,ha,oh,yeah!

Martin Madahas: Well, that would be different. In real life, in real life you can't get people to do what you want them to do.

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