JANUARY 15, 2010
During a recent screening of Knightriders (which I had never seen) I was embarrassed as a horror nerd to realize that I wasn’t sure what John Amplas looked like, as he was the film and I knew he was the star of Martin. I had started watching the film back in high school, but as was often the case with me, I fell asleep watching it and never went back to finish it (I used to go to school all day and then work all night at the mall, so sue me!). Of course, seeing Martin didn’t really help, since Amplas played a guy who was always in clown makeup in Knightriders, but hey, at least now I’ve filled two gaps in my Romero exposure.
It’s kind of sad that Romero can’t get a film off the ground these days unless it has zombies (and even those he can barely get released), because Martin (and Knightriders, for the record) are really unique and interesting movies, unlike pretty much anything else I can recall. Even though his zombie films are usually a little off the beaten path, they are still zombie movies with a lot of the usual zombie movie trappings. But with Martin, I had no idea where the movie was going even as it was winding down, and even when I was occasionally reminded of other films for whatever reason (Cannibal Apocalypse kept coming to mind; John Morghen’s character’s arc in that film was similar to Martin’s at times), it never felt like a direct response to a film that had come before. And more importantly in these days of remakes and ripoffs, I never felt like I was watching a film I had already seen a dozen times due to seeing the films that “paid homage” to it (you know, like if you see House of 1000 Corpses before you saw Texas Chain Saw Massacre). It’s its own thing through and through.
The great thing about the movie is that it never quite provides a definitive answer as to whether or not Martin is indeed a vampire. I lean towards no, but the film works even if you think he is (provided you accept that a lot of the traditional lore doesn’t apply here - i.e. he goes out in the sun and such). His flashbacks could indeed be flashbacks, or they could be movie-infused hallucinations. Or some sort of reincarnation memory (like, his ancestor WAS a vampire but he is not). I always enjoy these sort of interpretive movies, and I could see myself giving it another look in ten years and having an opposing theory. That said, since I DO think he was just a fucked up kid (and Romero says the same on the DVD extras), I think the movie could have used a scene of him watching a vampire movie. Certainly enough of them were in the public domain that it could have been affordable (even with this film’s pitiful 80,000 budget), and I don’t think such a scene would have been “too telling” or whatever. If anything, it would have helped the argument; maybe he was watching it to get ideas, maybe he was just amused by its depiction of his nature. Then again, the movie was once 160 minutes long (cut down to 97 minutes almost instantly; the “full” version no longer exists) so maybe there was a scene like it originally. Just seems odd, any “he’s just confused” theory will point out that these black and white flashbacks are the result of a kid having seen too many movies, but for all we know he doesn’t even watch TV.
I also liked how abruptly it ended, giving even American Werewolf In London a run for its money in this category. However, as is the case with many Romero films, there is a little coda of sorts that plays over the end credits, as we listen to the radio show that Martin frequently called during the film as the host wonders why he hasn’t called in. And we hear this over footage of his uncle burying the poor sod in the garden. Heh.
The DVD has some nice features, including a commentary with Romero, Tom Savini, composer Donald Rubinstein, and DP Michael Gornick. There are some gaps, which is odd as there are FOUR guys in the room, but it’s a good track with lots of great stories and anecdotes. I only wish Romero had done one solo or at least felt comfortable saying something that didn’t include the others, as the story and themes are hardly addressed at all. Technical talk makes up the bulk of the insight, so if you’re looking to know more of where he got the idea or why there’s a drug deal scene in the middle of the climax, you’re out of luck. You WILL, however, learn the pros and cons of certain cameras and editing systems. There is also a retrospective with the four men (where the hell is Amplas?), where Savini admits the blood looks awful (“like melted pink crayon”) and Romero talks about how depressing it was to see dying Pennsylvania towns in the 70s like the one where they shot the film. Then there’s an overlong trailer and a TV spot, and some other trailers for other Lionsgate releases (this is back before they would force you to watch them at the top of the disc). As I thought it was a barebones release, all of this stuff was a nice surprise, though I almost missed the commentary track, as it is buried in the setup menu. DVD designers - a commentary track is a special feature, and doesn’t belong in the set up page. No one looks in the set up menu unless they are watching the film and discover that the audio is inexplicably set to French mono.
What say you?