George Romero's "Martin" opens rather ingeniously with a scene taking place on a train. It is there that we meet the titular protagonist Martin (John Amplas); a handsome but nearly inanimate young man who we learn believes himself to be a vampire. That is why in some of the most shocking, provocative establishing frames known to both man and cinema alike; he partakes in the stalking, drugging, and murder of a woman aboard the train. Martin has a needle that he injects into her flesh that contains fluids that shall circulate through her body and in no time put her to sleep, so that he can slit her wrists and drink the blood pouring directly from the wound. She will die in her sleep when the rest is lost.
Martin exits the train and enters the station of Braddock, Pennsylvania. He is greeted by his grandfather Tada Cuda (Lincoln Maazel), who also thinks Martin is a dangerously depraved blood-sucker and creature of the night; but allows him to stay at his place for the time being regardless. But if Martin really is a vampire, Grandpa Cuda is prepared; Martin's room is rigged with bells (to ensure that Grandpa knows whenever somebody enters the room) and garlic hangs from every door in the house. Oh, and there's mirrors too; because Cuda sees himself as the classic vampire hunter. He's convinced that Martin is an evil being who must be stopped; and that his shy nature is merely deception.
It's clear that Martin is not only troubled and down-right odd on the inside; but also on the outside. His social skills appear to be strangely underdeveloped for a person of his age, and for that reason, he vows never to make new friends during his stay. However, this proves more difficult than one could imagine; given that Martin's thirst for blood might call for some typical socialization amongst the town residents as well as the others with whom he shares the house with. Just one of these people is Cousin Christina, who cooks for Martin and becomes his one and only friend. However, Cuda is the man of the house; and what he says goes. This means that if Christina must leave in order to secure her "safety" given the possibility of Martin being a violent creature; then she must leave, and that is that.
By day, Martin works at his grandfather's grocery store and makes deliveries for the old man; and by night, he hunts. Martin finds it truly difficult to control the two very different lives that he's attempting to uphold. In one of them, he must conform to society and live the life of a typical young adult male working minimum wage; and in the other, he must be quick, bold, and fearless. In a sense, both lives are given the chance to intertwine when Martin meets a beautiful, lonely housewife who often requests his presence for the sole sake of company. They strike up a romantic relationship that could prove dangerous if Martin cannot locate his next victim alternative to the housewife in a sufficient time span.
"Martin" is often regarded as one of the director's finest works as well as a classic in the realm of vampirism cinema for a plethora of reasons, but I think above all, people like it so much because it's different and unique. It was made back when Romero hadn't made his masterpiece of the living dead, "Dawn of the Dead", and was still living off the success and the initial revulsion (which has since turned into praise) that was garnered when he made his break-out feature film, "Night of the Living Dead"; so in that sense, it was made when Romero, just like Martin, was still an anarchist, a daring visionary...a rebel. I don't think I've seen a vampire story told quite like this; or a vampire written with as much depth and admiration as the titular Martin. Aside from being unique stylistically, digging deep into the depths of the film might prove beneficial. This is the second time I've seen the film, and only now am I drawing certain thematic conclusions to why the film counts as great cinema.
For one thing, Martin sees his thirst for blood as a mental illness; so the film itself is a metaphor, or parable, for the mental illnesses that more commonly exist - such as pedophilia, Bi-Polar Disorder, and others. Seen from this angle, I think the film gains a power different from that of any other Romero film - good, bad, or ugly - from the past, the present, and the future. "Martin" proves that, unlike many directors working in the genre that attempted to prove themselves a successor to his stylistics, Romero was a visionary and saw the world in all its horror, beauty, and ironic wonder. "Martin" is a vampire movie about real human beings plagued by delusions and visions of things considered otherworldly; as well as pasts that are anything but memorably merry.
Tom Savini's gore effects are outstanding. I'm told that the film was made on a low-budget; but the mastery of Savini's talent is that he's been known for doing so much with so little (he also has a supporting role in the film as the romantic partner of Christina). The scares in "Martin" are indeed mostly induced by the blood and gore; although everything else is brought on by thought as well as the realism of every situation. If Martin is not indeed a vampire - and the film makes it very clear that he most likely isn't, but rather a misunderstood man that society labels as a monster for his peculiarities - then he's a delusional psychopath, and just like the film's poster suggests, he could be the boy next door. How can one ignore such a thought?