Five Favorite Things:: Martin (1977) By Ghastly1

George Romero, or as I like to call him: "the people's horror auteur" -insert clip of Rick from The Young Ones here- you're a very cool, switched on, hepcat if you get that reference, daddy-o- great guy, right? we all love him, don't we? Well, I am going to commit horror heresy here and state plainly that I don't care for him nor do I like many of the films considered cornerstones in horror made by the man. I like some of his films purely as entertainment. Overall, I don't think his oeuvre is deserving of the high regard and widespread lauding it receives; I believe that is a function of ideology, not merit. Gasp, shock and horror. 

I feel he is vastly overrated, and I give the examples of unwatchable crap like There's Always Vanilla and Season of the Witch, and nearly unwatchable crap like The Crazies, Bruiser and the later Dead films as evidence. Maybe you agree with me, maybe you don't; maybe you just need someone to say it for you. All that being said, there is one Romero film which does hold a great deal of interest for me and that film is, you guessed it, Martin.

Martin is a masterpiece of horror, not because it superficially treats of supernatural concepts like vampires or because it has murder sequences or what have you; all of that is incidental. It is a masterpiece because it is rooted in the fount from which springs horror, the true core of all horror, the horror of horrors; to put it in somewhat Lovecraftian terms, "the madness at the core of existence."

1. Martin is an example of something pretty rare; a horror character study.

Character studies I feel are something largely missing from film in general and horror in particular. I like slower paced films which focus on one character whom we get to know and care about, despite their actions.

Martin tells the story of a boy named Martin that has presumably been reared in an environment of utter insanity, to believe he is an 84-year-old vampire. Having been raised this way has not unsurprisingly resulted in pretty severe derangement on the part of Martin, who lacking fangs drugs women and slits their wrists in order to satisfy his sanguine addiction (pronounced in an exaggeratedly theatrical Peter Steele way- again if you know what I'm talking about, you're pretty cool, let's hang out).

2. Martin, ain't we all. There but for the grace of God, go I.

Now comes the Sturm und Drang. My fondness for Martin stems primarily from recognizing in the character of Martin, states I have experienced personally and I suspect others have as well; namely extremely intense feelings of fear, loneliness, isolation, alienation, hopelessness, despair and dread, as well as suffering familial abandonment, abuse, and interpersonal social rejection.

In my weaker moments, I feel exactly like him, hopelessly confused and introverted; barely able to function. John Amplas gives one of the most authentic portrayals of a uniquely modern human type that I have come across and I have to wonder how much of it was actually acting.

3. Hit me in the feels. Much sad. J'ai une ame solitaire.

The film is relentlessly bleak and sad to me, even cruelly so. Cruelty gets to me and as such the hints of past cruelty in Martin's life in little scenes and moments throughout, such as when Christina gets Martin the phone, are among the saddest and most effective that I have ever seen. The hopeful slightly confused and yet grateful look on his face at what is probably the first and only kindness ever shown to him on the part of another bring up things in me too terrible and wrenching to recall.

Christina leaving Martin alone in the house with Cuda is another because at that moment, Martin's fate is sealed, things can only turn out one way. They leave a desolate, sinking feeling in my stomach which I have never been able to shake. It is the crushing knowledge that despite any hopeful outlook one may adopt toward a reformation of one's life, however briefly, it is futile in the face of fate.

Martin is decidedly not a "happy film", to my mind it is an example of what is sometimes termed "depressive realism" and perhaps only depressives will appreciate, understand and connect with it fully. In that regard it is a big middle finger to the Hollywood happy ending cliché. I believe a key to understanding the movie is, when he said "There's no real magic...ever" he was talking more about happy endings than he was even supernatural powers.

4. Imagine a brotherhood of man... or some such happy horse shit.

It-rather unintentionally I feel- showcases the pernicious effects of the post-Vietnam, post-Great Society, Marxist "human love-in experiment" of the 1960's. The film shows the fallout of a total breakdown of what were once considered normal human interactions and connections. Through a gradual but steady erosion and retrogression, interpersonal, familial, societal and kulchur bonds are shown to become utterly deranged.

The characters are all depressed, lonely and restless, conditions I dare say more people experience, than are willing to admit. Conditions which persist and have descended to an even more acute stage, today.

Shot in a gritty, quasi neo-realist style the film also puts the effects of the deindustrialization of the so-called "rustbelt" on show, the town of Braddock becomes another character in itself and is shown to be another victim, suffering death and decay complementary to its human inhabitants.   America is dead, folks...

... and

5. Oh, Tainted Love.

It inspired my favorite Soft Cell song.

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2 years ago

Much obliged; thanks for allowing me to rant and rave and post my harangues on your site- I don't know if my attempts at humour come across or translate or whatever through text.
I like being able to discuss things and discussion gets very boring if all it is, is everyone agreeing with one another all the time. Martin is genuinely probably one of my top 10 favorite films of all time. There are probably films I like that other people think are shit-this might even be one of them-and they should say so and we should discuss because that is fun and the purpose of a comment section.
I was thinking that picture of his shadow on the blank, white garage door is symbolic; he is just a shadow, immaterial, a cipher that will appear, go unnoticed and then ebb.
I was also just now thinking how the trains in the film are symbolic of fate; Martin is on this "track in life" and even though it appears briefly he may be able to alter his course, there is no getting off this spur for him and he will inevitably arrive at his dead end destination.

James Lewis
2 years ago

Great post, Ghastly1. Martin is a stone cold classic. I think this movie, Dawn of the Dead, and Knightriders is an incredible string of films to be made by one person in a four year period. That trilogy of films says so much about America and Americans in the 1970s.

I remember the first time seeing Martin, I was very disappointed and confused. I was expecting Dawn of the Dead. After sitting down with the picture for repeated viewings, it's emotional force really hit me.

Brother Bill
2 years ago

I have to respectfully take issue with the characterization of "Season of the Witch"… although hampered by an obviously low budget, it's an ambitious and compelling film that hits, for me, a very specific sweet spot where late-60s/early-70s modern culture butts up against ancient pagan rituals and the supernatural (see also Simon, King of the Witches, or Dark Shadows). The scene where the young college professor tricks the older housewife into believing she's smoked pot for what was meant to be a harmless experiment in group psychology only for it to turn into an embarrassing confessional is one of my favorites in the entirety of Romero's canon.

2 years ago

Brother man,
I don't really criticize films for their low budget; the majority of my favorite films are low budget, including Martin. I may mention a film's low budget in passing but mainly to marvel at what someone was able to accomplish without all the money in the world.
I am actually far harsher on mainstream huge budget films as I feel with all the money they have for production, they have no excuse to be as bad as a class, as they are. I generally compare low budget films very favorably to their mega budget counterparts.
I overlook a low budget, but what I cannot overlook regardless of budget are things like political messages I am opposed to, plodding pace (not slow and atmospheric and well done mind you, but plodding, boring pace), poor delivery of dialogue/wooden acting, obvious, contrived plots, etc.
What I mainly criticize Romero's films for in general-including Season of the Witch-are the leftist political messages/themes, etc. baked into them and for which they are lauded as being deeper than I feel they really are.
My criticism of Season of the Witch is this; it's another "women's liberation" film, disguised as a horror film, which took a lot from Felllini's Juliet of the Spirits – a far better film- and some of John Cassavetes films. I am also completely "turned off" by psychoanalytical non-sense, which the movie is chock full of.
In addition to the leftist themes which I oppose, it had a plodding pace. It was painful to watch; I had to force myself to get through it.
I'm glad you mentioned Simon, King of the Witches; that is a film I think is far superior to SOTW and most of the other movies of the 60's and 70's dealing with the occult. Watch that instead.

2 years ago

Fantastic post, Ghastly1! I was already thinking about Martin after writing the post on The Amusement Park and reading your comments on that post, but after reading this, I must watch it again ASAP!

2 years ago

Thank you. It is genuinely a very good movie. I first saw it when I was young and couldn't make it past the beginning on the train; it seemed boring to me, but for some reason it always stuck with me. I then came back to it when I was a teenager, sat through the whole thing and was flabbergasted, it was like I was watching my feelings being projected on screen; the same thing happened to me with Taxi Driver.