George Romero Tribute: A Look at Martin (1978)

On Sunday 16th July 2017 it was revealed by Peter Grunwald, producer, that George Romero had passed away in his sleep following a short battle with lung cancer.

Understandably the world of horror cinema went into shock. In the hours following this announcement there was a huge outpouring of condolences and love for George. Social media, websites, newspapers and more all covered the story, adding to the growing display of shock Mr. Romero’s passing has caused. It is a testament to the man, both as a director and a person, that his passing has caused fans to unite in a display of devotion to the godfather of the zombie film. 

Infernal Cinema was no different to showing shock at the terrible news and this article is no different to the hundreds of tributes his death has brought about. The work of the director has had a great influence on this writers life,as it has on millions the world over for decades. Starting with the Dead trilogy in my teens I began to devour his other, non-zombie, works and discovered he was capable of much more than directing the dead.

It is because of this urge to discover more movies by George that I found and fell in love with what is more one of my favourite films: Martin (1978).

Having heard that it was quite unlike his other output and eager to devour more of his work following my falling in love with his work, Martin at first took me by surprise. Less visceral and ‘in your face horror’ than his other works, it wasn’t until after a repeat viewing that I started to see more at work in Martin than meets the eye. Each time I have viewed it over the years since that first viewing I discover or learn something else. This only adds to its value as well as increasing my admiration of the abilities of Romero. I genuinely believe it is his best work, George himself felt it was his best effort too.

The following is about that film, with some detail to certain plot plots. It is intended for those that have at least some knowledge of Martin, so will concentrate on aspects that those same people will be aware of. For those that don’t know of it, seek it out immediately. You won’t regret it.

The beginning.
The initial attack scene sets it all up perfectly. He is scared, frightened, can’t over power his victim, she mocks him, he pleads with her. He is compelled to do this yet doesn’t have enough faith in himself to do it, so drugs his victims to make it easier. The irony is that he is so ineffective that he finds the task difficult regardless. The language he uses not only makes him sound like a desperate wimp (which he is) but it implies he has done this before. He knows he could potentially be a failure and has planned in advance ways to stop this: sedation. It’s quick and effective, with him removing anything he deems unpleasant from what will be for him very pleasing.

“It won’t hurt, I’m good with needles!” he cries. It’s something that he will repeat throughout. The fact he does this as he clearly isn’t good with needles adds to the characters feckless nature. He reassures people about injecting them as he struggles to even get it near them. It could also be seen as a metaphor for sex: the syringe is a phallic symbol. He is fine thinking about doing it, but when it comes time to actually use the needle on a victim he is clumsy, nervous and fumbles to achieve the end goal. With the needle it is to penetrate the flesh, much like he would like to penetrate his ‘ladies’ in other ways.

Insanity in the family.
Is he mentally ill and convinced he is evil, or does he just so happen to be evil anyway? The ambiguity that sometimes creeps into proceedings paints him as both. His being brainwashed and believing it, as well as the inferiority issues he has when attacking people, hint that he may be suffering from a mental illness that is worsened by his circumstances. At one point it is mentioned that insanity runs in the family, does it also extend to Martin? Romero makes it clear what the answer is.

Parody or Not?
Is Martin a parody of the vampire genre or a post modern attempt to do something different with it? Throughout there are indicators for both sides of the argument. Martin is mocked when calls into late night radio to talk about it. He also mocks the whole idea himself when he dresses as Dracula to scare/criticize Tateh and his vamp paranoia. The scene ends with Martin shouting “It’s just a costume!” Of course, Romero then brings real horror to proceedings with the grim moments of Martin subduing his victims for blood later on, his lust for blood not being a parody.

Magic tricks, it’s a trick on him that he is a vampire. “There is no real magic” speaks Mart while looking at old Tateh. The line is said with some venom by young Martin towards the loony OAP. It is clearly a line loaded with meaning about Tatehs attempts to convince all that the innocent boy is an actual vampire. The behaviour of Martin as he carries out his attacks is, in a way, a trick. The sedation, the blades and his imagining (in black and white) of being a bloodsucker all add up to equal his illusion of being a vampire.

When it is talked of Martins alleged past it is all shown in black and white. Not only does this age the footage but it could perhaps be Romero taking a dig at the fantasy and story of a vampire that has been around for some time. As we see, Martin and his fate are very difficult and complex. Yet in the eyes of Tateh and, eventually Martin, it is simple black and white. The viewer, of course, knows it is not as simple as that.

Guess Who?
The director has a brief role in his feature, as the laid back Father Howard. Interestingly he refers to another priest who has cancer and is unaware if he is even alive any more. Tom Savini, master of the gore effects on many George titles, also has a role.

In Closing.
As a vampire feature this is something else, something that stands out from the work of George and from the over saturated genre that it resides in. John Amplas as Martin is unlike the evil bastard Dracula cliche that had became common place by the late seventies. The doubts about him actually being a vampire, instead of a clear cut answer, make the story more interesting. The lack of over the top blood sucking scenes and a Gothic setting (hello, Hammer horror), replaced with a shabby and rundown town setting, adds a sense of realism.

Mr Romero has passed away, yet he will live in on in works like Martin as well as The Crazies, Day of the Dead and more…

Thank you, George.