There’s an old, tired cliché that goes, “they don’t make them like they used to,” and, for the most part, they don’t. But in the case of George A. Romero’s 1976 vampire-character study, Martin, they never made them like this—and never will. Martin is one of few truly unique films; and, when placed within the scope of its genre, it becomes all the more unique. With Martin—much like with Romero’s take on the zombie—Romero revolutionizes the cinematic vampire. Unfortunately, Martin’s impact, while heralded in the small genre circles, failed to receive the mainstream status and influence of Romero’s Dead series. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Martin is Romero’s ambiguous take on the vampire. While Martin, and most of his family believe he is a vampire, the film offers a few elements that leave room for interpretation. Through breaking all vampire conventions—death by sunlight, the biting and sucking of blood, irritation from holy water, crosses, and garlic—and the inclusion of Christina (Christine Forrest) who introduces the idea that Martin is under the spell of a familial hysteria, the audience is left with the question: what is Martin.
An independent film in the truest sense—with Romero writing, directing, editing, and even operating as cinematographer for part of the project—Martin remains as elusive as the film’s titular character. Yet to receive a Blu-Ray release, and with all current DVD copies out of print, Martin can be quite hard to come by; unless of course, you are lucky enough to live near Nitehawk Cinema. Borrowing a print from Joe Dante’s archives, Nitehawk Cinema kicked off their “Bite This” series this past Monday, with a special 35mm presentation of Martin. In addition to the 35mm presentation, the sold out crowd was met with a funny, charming after-session Q+A with Martin himself, John Amplas. Moderated by Fangoria managing editor, Sam Zimmerman, the Q+A spanned Amplas career working side-by-side with Romero.
“Bite This,” a month-long midnight series at Nitehawk Cinema, will present New Yorkers with five of cinema’s most interesting and beloved vampire films. “I had the idea a few years ago, you know just the name ‘Bite This,’ and I wanted to do vampire films that were influenced by the originals but all had a unique, different take on it,” explains Nitehawk Cinema programmer John Woods, “[Martin was perfect to open with] because it is a great vampire movie, but it is also a great character study. It’s really unique and that is why it is perfect for this series.” In addition to Martin, Nitehawk Cinema will be showing prints of From Dusk till Dawn, Near Dark, The Hunger, and Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre. While each film offers a different twist on the age-old tale, Woods looks most forward to the film that will close the series, Nosferatu the Vampyre. “I’ve never seen [Herzog’s Nosferatu] on a big screen. To remake that movie—I mean it is as iconic as it gets; if you seen it or not, you know the image of Nosferatu (1922)—for him to do that with Klaus Kinski, and to be as successful as it was, I thought was pretty incredible.”
While each of these five films breaks with vampire folklore in different manners, they are all tied together with a reigning theme: sexuality. The vampire has always been linked with eroticism and sexuality. From Bela Lugosi’s romantic Dracula, to the female vampire films of Hammer, later Jess Franco’s sexploitative take, and culminating in contemporary works like True Blood and the Twilight series, eroticism is ever-present. Woods describes that the connection to the erotic was recognized from day one, explaining, “for kids, it is two kind of things that you don’t really have much experience with, that are big parts of life, in one thing: dying (or not dying) and having sex, being intimate. All five films in the series address [eroticism] in different ways.”“Bite This” continues this Friday and Saturday with Midnight Screenings of Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk till Dawn.