Studio: Lions Gate
Film Length: 95 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Mono
Retail Price: $14.95
Some would call George Romero the greatest American horror director while others would label him a disappointment who got lucky with Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. No matter which side of the fence you’re on the one thing I’ve always admired is that Romero always stuck to his guns and did things he own way. Between the first two Dead movies Romero had a string of disappointments, which included the rarely seen There’s Always Vanilla as well as The Crazies and Season of the Witch. The year before Dawn was released the director did for vampires what he did for zombies and that film is the now cult shocker Martin.
Martin (John Amplas) boards a train headed for Pittsburgh where he is going to be living with his Uncle who plans on saving his soul before killing him. While on the train we learn why Martin is to be killed. That night he sneaks into the room of a young lady, drugs her to sleep and then slices her wrist open in order to drink her blood. Martin is not only a troubled young man but he also believes that he is a vampire but without the fangs, he must resort to other ways of seeking blood.
Martin is a film I first saw nearly ten years ago and I really didn’t care too much for it. Over the years I was somewhat shocked to see that many consider this the best horror film of the decade so I was looking forward to this second viewing. While I found the film slightly better this time around there were still many problems I had with the film. Anyone slightly familiar with this film will know about the legendary 2 ½ hour cut of the film, which was cut down for theatrical release and has gone missing since then.
I’m not exactly sure what was in this longer version but I think viewing it that way would be the only way to get the full impact that the director was going for. Martin contains some brilliant moments but it’s quite clear that a lot’s missing here and that keeps the film from being a total achievement. What’s most interesting is Romero updating the vampire myths including killing off everything we’ve learned from previous films. Martin has no fangs, no beautiful women and the sunlight really doesn’t bother him.
The film moves at a snails pace but that’s not to say this is a boring film. The slow pace, like that in Dawn of the Dead, helps tell the story and lets us get to know Martin, his actions and those around him. It’s very interesting getting to know this troubled kid and how those around him react towards him. Some feel sympathy while others feel horror. Romero takes his time in telling the story, which again, it would be important to see the longer version. Even in this 95-minute version, we get enough clues to keep us mildly entertained throughout.
The most fascinating moments are the actual stalk and murder scenes that Martin goes out on. The idea of a vampire having no fangs and having to resort to cutting wrists for blood works perfectly and adds all sorts of needed suspense. There’s a wonderful sequence where Martin breaks in on a victim only to be confronted by someone else. I won’t ruin the scene for everyone but Romero has a wonderful time playing the audience as well as the characters on screen. Another wonderful thing about the film is its atmosphere, which is able to make this appear like a classic gothic tale. The atmosphere is thick throughout and really helps the pacing.
The problem with Martin however is that there is clearly stuff missing and the story here really isn’t fully explored, in this version at least. Towards the end of the film Martin begins to have a sexual affair with a woman and this here is sadly all too brief. I’m going to guess this is expanded in the longer version and I’m sure it is a very important moment so that the ending makes a bit more sense. Even the nutty Uncle is never fully brought to life and his beliefs in the subject are never really understood. There are other small characters that pop in that are never fully addressed.
This 95-minute version of Martin is fun to watch due to various brilliant moments but in the end I can’t help but feel we’re watching a bastardized version of a better movie. The producer’s needed a hit, they cut the film and sadly it appears the longer version is lost but as it stands, this longer version is perhaps one of the most important films that needs to be found. Martin works well but I suspect this longer version might very well be one of the greatest horror films ever made.
VIDEO---The film is shown widescreen (1.85:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 TVs. Hooray for Lions Gate for finally releasing a horror film in widescreen? Perhaps not. It’s quite clear that Romero prefers this film to be viewed open matte (4:3) but we can debate all day about this situation. The previous release from Anchor Bay featured an open matte transfer so if that’s the way you want to view the film then you’ll have to spend quite a bit of money since that version is now out of print. As with Kubrick, even though Romero preferred 4:3, some fans don’t care and want the image to be like it was in theaters, matted of course and that’s what we get here.
In the commentary track Savini and Romero point out a few scenes where the matting hurts the image but overall I thought the matting looked quite nice. None of the cinematography in the film is that “great” so it doesn’t appear we’re missing too much except for a few foreheads that are cut off in a couple scenes. There’s one death scene where the matting interrupts some of the gore but other than this scene, nothing else looked too bad.
I got a screener for the original release way back in 2000 but never got a chance to review the entire thing so I’m going to be honest here and say I haven’t seen that version. However, I think I remember enough of it from skipping around the film to say that this transfer is a bit better. One thing to remember is that this came very close to being a lost film, which is something people should consider when judging the video quality. Another thing to keep in mind is that this was shot 16mm so that explains some of the grain that appears on the print.
Outside of the expected grain, the transfer appears better than the Anchor Bay version, which as I remember, was full of digital artifacts, which were quite distracting. The transfer here is free of any artifacts and I didn’t notice any edge enhancement thankfully. Colors were fairly good considering the history of the film. A few lines appear throughout the film but overall I was quite pleased with the transfer.
AUDIO---We get a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix as well as the original Mono track. The Mono track is pretty good, although there’s a fair amount of hiss heard in the background. Dialogue is clear throughout and easy to understand while the music score sounds quite nice. The 5.1 mix isn’t anything too special and pretty much sounds exactly the same as the Mono with the exception of a few scenes. Dialogue sounds the same between the two tracks, although the 5.1 does offer a bit more range in the sound effects, especially the stuff on the train. The music score also packs more of a punch but the hiss is easier to hear on the 5.1 track, especially in the quiet moments.
EXTRAS---Once again Lions Gate outdoes the Anchor Bay disc, which is quite shocking but I’m certainly not going to complain.
Audio Commentary---The audio commentary features director George Romero, make up artist Tom Savini, producer Richard Rubenstein, cinematographer Michael Gornic and music composer Donald Rubenstein. This is a new audio commentary track, which is a joy to listen to. The guys seem to be having a blast going back over the history of the film and they are all constantly talking and laughing. Romero goes into detail about the production of the film as well as the original cut and his ideas of shooting the entire film in black and white. The producer is also fun to listen to and he also talks about why he cut the film and why he didn’t want it shot B&W. As usual, Savini goes into detail about his makeup work and once again reminds us what he did in Vietnam. This here certainly goes up there as being one of the best tracks I’ve listened to.
Making of Documentary---This here runs just over nine minutes and features interviews with all the guys involved in the commentary. This featurette is rather nice because we get several behind the scenes photos including one of Savini dressed up as the vampire. There’s also an interesting segment where we go to the house used in Martin and see what it looks like today. We also get a brief interview with the woman who owned the house then and now. Most of the talk is leftover stuff from the commentary track but this is still worth watching.
Finally we get a photo gallery, which contains just over 30 photos. The theatrical trailer is included and the interesting thing about this is that it features a few changes from what appears in the film. In the film, the flashback sequences are shown B&W but they are in color for the trailer. A TV spot is also included, which is nice. There’s also a trailer gallery, which features trailers for Saw, The Final Cut and Stage Beauty.
OVERALL---The film itself is a rather interesting one that I’m sure will get better on repeat viewings. Even with the controversy surrounding the aspect ratio, Lions Gate has delivered one of the best discs of the year especially considering you can find this for around $10. The commentary track alone is worth that much.
Release Date: Out Now