4 October 2011

Clarky's Review: Martin

Last Thursday was Ally's second choice of the season, and he brought Martin for our viewing pleasure. This was a film that I had been eagerly anticipating ever since I heard about it. I didn't know much about it, except that you are never sure whether the titular character is a vampire or not, which I thought was a fascinating idea for a film.

The film opens with an uncomfortable scene where we witness Martin attacking a young woman on the train. The film doesn't pander to it's audience and jumps straight in to this strange event, leaving the viewer wondering - what the hell is happening. There is an eerie perveseness to the proceedings, that permeates through most of the film.

I have to say that I didn't immediately warm to the film. I thought that it was at times interesting and provocative, but that it missed the mark on some occassions, and overall on first viewing it left me a bit flat. However, as I started to think about the film more I realised how beautifully crafted this film is, and how it works on many levels. Most notably, it allows the viewer to discern as to whether or not Martin is a vampire. It certainly seems to present plenty of evidence (for both cases) yet neither of them seem mutually exclusive at the same time. 

Depending on your viewpoint it is my belief that you could easily argue that Martin is a vampire, however there is also sufficient evidence to suggest that he isn't. This is the crux of the film, and I have to admire both George A Romero for crafting such a delicately and beautifully paced film, but also John Amplas for his understated, yet terrific performance as Martin. His performance holds this film together, and you are drawn into his world (a feat that is not easily done considering he is a murdering vampire!).

Being a teenager and a vampire are not too different, they are both on the fringes of society and spend their time lusting after sex / blood. There are many parallels to be drawn between the two and this is where the film succeeds. This is also the focal point of the film, therefore I am going to argue the case for Martin being a vampire (For) and for him being a loony, murdering teenager (Against), in order to try and determine my own opinion, and to question other viewers thoughts. 

For)         Martin clearly drinks the blood of his victims. This is the very definition of a vampire.
Against)  He may drink the blood, but he never actually bites his victims, as you would expect.

F) As noted by Martin it is cleaner to use the needles and razors on his victims.
A) He uses the drugs and razors as he is not a real vampire. Its fair to say that both attacks, on the train and on the housewife, are not straightforward affairs. 
F) This does allow him to cover up his murders however as suicides - not as easily done with bite marks in the neck.

F) Martin is constantly complaining about the depiction of vampires in movies, and how this is not what they are like (in one scene he even parodies this himself dressing up like a vampire and scaring Cuda).
A) Of course vampires aren't really like Martin, he is not a vampire. His arguments also allow him to circumvent many of the superstitions that are often associated with vampires. Martin even states that there is no magic in these things, therefore how could he be a vampire?

F) Martin is about 70 years younger than his cousin, who is convinced that he is a vampire.
A) Whilst it is unusual to see two cousins with such a disparity in age, it is not impossible. There is also plenty of evidence to suggest that Cuda himself has started to lose the plot, including the fact that if he does know about the "family curse" and vampires then why is he so scared to see Martin looking like a traditional vampire if they don't look like this in reality?

F) We see black and white flashbacks of Martin as a younger man and he claims to be 84 years old.
A) Again, this could be an elaborate back story that Martin has convinced himself of in order to justify his actions to himself. The majority of these scenes seem to be focussed on a young girl and have a sexual connotation to them. Again, furthering the argument that he is just a mixed up teenager who is so withdrawn and isolated that he has created this imaginary world for himself.

My initial reaction is that Martin was not a vampire, however I certainly questioned this based on the numerous points above. In the end I still don't believe that Martin is a vampire, however there is plenty of scope to argue the case that he is, and the fact that both cases can be argued shows how well put together this film is. 

However, as I noted earlier, my original perception was that there were a few missteps and missed opportunities. One of the instances of this was where Martin ended up killing the housewife's extra marital partner, and drinking his blood. Up until this point I thought that Martin was carrying out his killings primarily to satiate his carnal desires. He is a teenager, and like all teenagers is obsessed with sex. As he is so shy and awkward, I assumed that the ritual of drugging the women and drinking their blood was rife with sexual connotations. Indeed, the earliest vampire stories appear to be an allegory view of sexual expression, with the bite itself being a metaphor for rape - entering someone else's body against their will and changing them forever thereafter (it's interesting to note that Martin never actually bite's one of his victims).

So when he killed the man, this through me off kilter as Martin seems to be obsessed with sex. Upon reviewing the film, and as detailed above, this is just another move by Romero to further muddy the waters. It seems to further the case for Martin being a vampire rather than just a disturbed teenager. When Martin does eventually have sex, with a married woman, although the build up is protracted Romero's post coital shot is only on screen for a matter of seconds as she lies heaped upon Martin. This shot is so tragic, and ordinary looking, that it quickly demolishes any of the romanticism that Martin may attach to sex, just as Romero's film does for the vampire by showing us how cold blooded the deaths are, and by having a lead character who is so uncharasmatic and ordinary. Especially in comparison to the normally charming and magnetic vampires typically seen in vampire movies, such as the original Universal Count Dracula played by Bela Legosi. 

Romero is clearly well versed in vampire lore and is constantly referencing this. Setting the scene for the viewer by placing garlic and crosses around the house and keeping mirrors covered up. All in an attempt to settle the viewer before he pulls the rug from under our feet and totally defies our expectations as he rips apart the vampire rule book!

In conclusion, whilst I didn't think this was a particularly great film at the time, I am glad that I saw it and it is certainly an interesting film, and unlike any other vampire film I have ever seen. A true original and definitely worth checking out. I have to disagree with Martin, there is a little bit of magic here.


  1. Interesting review can't say I agree with it but I like the review.

  2. Really different take on the film. I agree with most of what you said about the interesting ideas, I just felt the 'magic' was severely lacking.


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