Written by: Giuseppe Rijitano on June 22nd, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: USA, May 1977
Director: George A. Romero
Writer: George A. Romero
Cast: John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel, Christine Forrest, George A. Romero, Tom Savini.
DVD released: June 28th, 2010
Approximate running time: 103 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Widescreen anamorphic 1.77:1 & 1.33:1 4X3 Fullscreen
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: English Dolby Digital 5.1 & English Dolby Digital stereo & Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Subtitles: English (on the Italian cut only)
DVD Release: Arrow Video
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £15.99
Creepy awkwardly shy 70’s teenager Martin (John Amplas) is sent to live with his elderly cousin Tada Cuda (Lincoln Maazel) in a small town called Braddock in Pennsylvania. Cuda believes that Martin is actually an 84 year old vampire, a cursed member of his own family that must be kept in check by those who share the secret and still believe in the old traditions. Martin however mocks Cuda’s faith and ‘magic’. He does not conform to Cuda’s idea of vampirism, he has no fear of daylight, garlic or the crucifix and appears to have no supernatural powers whatsoever. Whatever the truth may be, one thing is certain; Martin is a cold-blooded killer who stalks and murders young women, slashing their veins with a razor and drinking their blood. Is this compulsion psychological or physiological then? And what will it take to stop him?
A hugely enjoyable subversive spin on the vampire genre and arguably Romero’s best film (the man himself has cited it as his personal favorite). Despite being somewhat dated by it’s 70’s setting and at times amateurish production values the story itself remains original and compelling, substantially more so amidst the current popular climate of reluctant bloodsuckers be they in teen vamp flicks or HBO taboo busting sexaholic form. Not a shot of this film is wasted, the original cut reportedly ran at just under 3 hours and the 90 minutes we are presented with are tightly edited to perfection. Scenes of murder that might have been simply exploitative in the hands of some other hack are transformed by Romero with a vein of jet black humor running through them to chilling effect. Take the first murder on the train for example; Martin fantasies in dreamy black and white images that when he opens the compartment he will be met by the beautiful woman he has been stalking beckoning him willingly into her bed. Instead he finds her in a drab nightgown, face smeared with a green cream facemask, blowing her nose as she steps out from the bathroom. Her reaction to Martin and the ensuing scuffle is just as tragically hilarious; “you freak rapist asshole”! Stripping away all the vampire lore and magic that we know so well and replacing it with an almost documentary style grubby realism of the kind that worked so well in the 70’s (for the likes of Cassavetes, Scorsese and De Palma especially) draws us in and helps us empathize with Martin and want to understand his motives. Are the black and white sequences flashbacks, memories? Or simply fantasies of a deranged mind? John Amplas’ performance is excellent and really does carry the movie to the extent that all the behind the scenes filmmaking talent in the world won’t help you if your lead actor is lousy. His performance is quirky and offbeat but never off-putting and balances the shy child-like aspects of Martin’s nature with his graceful dangerous homicidal streak commendably.
Anyhoo, this is a 30 year old flick with quite a cult rep plus it’s been readily available on DVD in numerous releases for years now so chances are you’ve seen it or at the very least heard of it already so enough praising, let’s have a look at what this latest release has to offer;
The anamorphic and fullscreen transfers are pretty much the same quality wise; fine but not great (color saturation varies) as you might expect given the 16mm source, it looks like the same ‘HD-mastered’ source as the US Lion’s Gate and previous Arrow releases. The film was shot fullscreen and that’s Romero’s preferred ratio for this movie so that’s the one to watch, the widescreen transfer is slightly softer and suffers from some edge enhancement but more importantly tends to cut off actors mouths in close-ups and in one instance completely cuts out a bullet to the forehead! Both the 2.0 and 5.1 audio tracks are clean and clear with little real difference between the two given the nature of the soundtrack.
The main extra of this release is the full Italian cut of the film. Renamed ‘Wampyr’ and featuring a funky score by frequent Argento collaborators Goblin. This cut of the film has Italian audio and optional English subtitles. I was wary of wasting my time with this little oddity but I’ve got to say this turned out to be a really interesting experience. The film has been re-edited so that certain events happen in a different sequence, some aspects have been completely removed (this cut runs 10 mins shorter than Romero’s), etc. Combined with the Goblin synth score in place of Rubinstein’s moody music it’s like watching a completely different movie, an inferior one to be sure but still entertaining for fans.
An audio commentary featuring George A. Romero, Tom Savini, director of photography Michael Gornick and composer Donald Rubinstein. This is an excellent little track featuring lots of friendly and informative banter, reminiscing about the production, cast and crew, anecdotes and a fair bit of laughter from all involved.
Making Martin: A Recounting – a 9 minute talking heads piece featuring director and crew remembering their experiences of working on Martin. Features behind the scenes photos and some recently filmed location footage of a few of the sites used in the film.
A European documentary about Romero – This is a 23 minute featurette in which Romero is interviewed while filming on the set of Dawn Of The Dead, he discusses all the films he had made up to that point and his experiences of filmmaking in general. German audio with English subs.
A photo gallery and a couple of interesting radio spots, a TV spot and a theatrical trailer – both featuring exclusive footage of Amplas as Martin.
Special mention must go to the lovingly crafted packaging of this release. No less than 4 alternate DVD covers are included, a double-sided poster, exclusive collector’s booklet with an introduction to the film by Romero, a set of 6 collectible original poster art cards and it’s all housed in a nice slipcover thingy.
If you don’t own a copy of this film already this is the one to get and even if you do it’s well worth double-dipping.