‘He could be the boy next door…’
Romero has claimed that it’s the favourite film he has made and over the years it has grown in stature amongst both fans and critics to become one of his most respected works.
The film tells of a young man, Martin (played by John Amplas, also in John Russo’s Midnight), who travels by train from Indianapolis to Pittsburgh to stay with his closest living relative, his deeply religious and suspicious Grand-Uncle, Tateh Cuda (Lincoln Maazel, who never acted again but did live to the ripe old age of 106). Whilst on the train Martin attacks a female passenger and after drugging her, drinks her blood with the aid of a razor blade.
Through a series of dream-like imagery, there is the implication that Martin is a real vampire, though his methods of attack are rather more unconventional than standard vampire films. Cuda is duty-bound to take Martin into his home but treats him with disdain as he recognises him as an 84-year-old vampire from ‘the old country’ and uses far more traditional methods to protect himself and his family – in particular his grand-daughter, played by Romero’s wife, Christine Forrest – from strings of garlic to religious icons, all of which apparently have no effect.
Martin continues to terrorise locals and strikes up an affair with a local woman, during which period it becomes increasingly difficult for him (and us) to separate fact from fiction as his status as ‘the undead’ wrestles with the fact that this could simply be a confused, angry, alienated youth. The film reaches a climax as the old and new worlds collide and Martin and Cuda have one final meeting…
Made on a tiny budget of only $80,000 and filmed entirely in Romero’s base in Pittsburgh, has some of the best-written characters in any of his productions and though the blood flows relatively freely, relies far more on story-line for shocks and drama than many of his better-known films.
Budgetary constraints meant Romero cast many of his friends and family in the film; as well as his future wife, there are also appearances by Tom Savini (his first film with George as effects man but also appears as Christine’s boyfriend), sound engineer Tony Buba, future director of Creepshow 2, Michael Gornick, producer Richard Rubinstein and George himself as a priest, amongst others. Lead actor, Amplas, can consider himself unlucky that the film did not lead to more significant work in the future, his performance is powerful and enigmatic, despite it being his first screen role. He went on to have blink and you miss it parts in Dawn of the Dead and Creepshow and slightly longer parts in Knightriders and Day of the Dead.
Although Romero claims that the final film is the closest realised work to what he envisioned, the film was originally 2 hours 45 minutes long, a significant amount longer than the final cut of 95 minutes. Much, if not all, of this, was filmed in black and white. This version is considered lost, damaged beyond repair in a flood at Romero’s production offices.
The highly regarded jazz score is composed by Donald Rubinstein, brother of the film’s producer. It has since been given an official CD release. In Italy, the film was re-scored by the Italian band, Goblin, the end result being reminiscent of their work on Dawn of the Dead.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES and MANIA
“The movie is a sad, eerie excursion into dead-end teenage isolation. Martin, both the movie and the character alike, detail what can happen when an adolescent succumbs to real darkness and horror.” Mike “McBeardo” McFadden, Heavy Metal Movies
“Much of the film’s power stems from its unfashionable ideas about teenage wish fulfilment and how young people respond to images of horror – Martin desperately wants to believe that he’s more than just another messed-up kid, his inner life depicted in a series of grandiose, hauntingly beautiful monochrome tableaux. As he did in his ‘Living Dead’ movies, Romero keeps the horror grounded in nasty, messy reality: this is also a film about American poverty, and its unexpected consequences.” Time Out
“A neglected winner from Romero (Night of the Living Dead), it contains some exciting and suspenseful sequences, while never losing its wry sense of humor.” Videohound’s Complete Guide to Cult Flicks and Trash Pics
In the UK, Martin was awarded an ‘X’ certificate by censorship body the BBFC on 1st February 1979 and distributed by Martin Films Ltd/Miracle Films.