Martin ★★★★★

"It's been a long time for me. A long time full of crazy people."

George A. Romero's masterpiece, and one I fear is in danger of slipping into obscurity due to its unavailability on streaming. (On top of that, its last physical release is a ten-year-old four-film DVD set from Lionsgate in which it's in rather poor company.) Romero fans will continue to seek it out, but until that's easier to do it will be a harder sell for the casual horror buff. Which is a shame because it's his most fully realized fear film, and one that puts a unique spin on vampire mythology.

A modern-day bloodsucker who lacks supernatural powers or fangs, John Amplas's Martin makes do with syringes to put his victims to sleep and razor blades to extract their blood. In fact, the blood drinking is the only thing "vampiric" about him. Garlic has no effect on him, he has no problem with crosses, and sunlight merely hurts his eyes. Right up to the end, Romero leaves it ambiguous whether Martin actually is a vampire or if he's just acting under delusions from growing up in a superstitious family from the "old country."

Arriving from Indianapolis in the depressed Pittsburgh suburb of Braddock with all of his possessions in one bundle, Martin moves in with his elderly cousin, Tata Cuda (Lincoln Maazel, dressed in a white suit making it looks like he just stepped off the set of The Amusement Park), who calls him "Nosferatu" and declares, "First I will save your soul, then I will destroy you." Their relationship doesn't improve from there. The film juxtaposes Martin's mundane daily life, working for his cousin delivering groceries and calling in to a radio station to talk to the overnight DJ, and his baroque fantasies, in which he imagines himself in period clothing, seducing beautiful women and being chased by angry villagers. Of course, these sequences could also be taken for flashbacks to his early life. (He looks to be about 20, but both he and Tata Cuda insist he's 84.)

The performances throughout are credible, but Amplas deserves special credit for his intense turn as the conflicted Martin, who maintains our sympathy even after we've seen him kill several people. Whether he's a vampire or merely sick in the head, he can't help being the way he is. And Tom Savini, doing his first film for Romero, provides the realistic bloodletting effects in addition to playing the role of Arthur, the inattentive boyfriend of Tata Cuda's granddaughter Christina (Christine Forrest, soon to be Mrs. Romero). Having proven his mettle, Savini would rise to the task of creating the astonishing gore effects in Romero's next film, Dawn of the Dead. And the rest, as they say, is history.