Posts Tagged ‘George Romero

24
Sep
14

George Romero’s Martin (1976) Reality Bites

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a Primal Root written review

“Do you believe God’s whole world runs by the laws of the few sciences we have been able to discover? Oh, no, Christine, there is more. But people are satisfied. They know so much, they think they know all. And that makes it easy for Nosferatu. That makes it easy for all the devils.” -Cuda, Martin

 

George Romero’s name immediately conjures up images of his iconic shambling, flesh eating “shoot ’em in the head” zombies, and it’s no wonder. Hell, the man’s spent the better part of a career spanning over forty years devoted to these walking dead flesh eaters who changed the landscape of horror cinema forever with movies like Night of the Living Dead (!968), Dawn of the Dead (1978) Day of the Dead (1985) and Land of the Dead (2004) among many other “Of the Dead” films and follow ups spawning countless unofficial ineffective sequels and lukewarm, forgettable remakes and also saturated the market for the past decade influencing everything in pop culture to the point I wish someone would just put a bullet in my head and end the unimaginative, cash-in, living dead hysteria that won’t seem to ever fucking wind down and die.

But to concentrate on the man’s most popular and commercially successful ventures is to ignore the bold and creative films he is lesser known for. Films like The Crazies, Knightriders, Creepshow,The Dark Half, etc. The man has made some phenomenal films outside the living dead canon he’s most known for, and I’d like to focus on what I consider to be among his most intriguing and underrated works, the independent vampire flick, Martin. 

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Martin tells the tale of a shy, quiet, troubled teenage boy who believes himself to be a vampire, in fact, he comes from a lineage of his family that other relatives believe is cursed with hereditary vampirisim.  We’re introduced to Martin (John Amplas) as he stalks a fellow female passenger on an overnight train to Braddock, Pennsylvania. As he stalks this average young woman back to her overnight cabin aboard the train, we watch as Martin imagines her waiting for him behind the locked door in a revealing neglige, seduced by his vampire charms, lusting for him and embraces Martin with open arms, allowing him to feast on her warm red blood.  What Martin imagines is presented in grainy black and white, like the classic Universal monster movies of the 30’s and 40’s, like Dracula or Frankenstein, before cutting back to the bright, technicolor of reality where Martin attacks the young woman in her cramped cabin. The reality is far from Martin’s dream scenario. He walks in to the sound of her flushing the toilet before she steps out with her hair up in a towel, wearing a well loved bathrobe, her face caked in beauty cream as she blows a huge snot rocket into a wad of toilet paper. When Martin attacks her, intent on doping her up with a well placed prick of his syringe, she fights back with everything she has, hurling obscenities like “FREAK! RAPIST! ASSHOLE!”  athim while struggling against his clutches. Honestly, Martin is a shrimpy looking dude, and I have a feeling she would probably kick his ass normally, but the drugs take hold and she passes out, thus, allowing Martin to slice her arm open with a straight razor and dine on her blood. That’s right, Martin has no fangs.

When the train reaches it’s destination Martin meets his new caretaker, his elderly cousin Cuda (Lincoln Maazel). Cuda is a devoutly religious and highly superstitious  man,  and believes completely in the old family legend that some members are cursed with vampirisim. Cuda takes the boy in with the hopes of saving Martin’s eternal soul before destroying the creature of the night for all time. As you might guess, Cuda has nothing but contempt for young Martin, addressing him as Nosferatu and even threatening to put a stake through Martin’s heart, killing Martin without salvation, if Martin harms anyone in his city. But it’s not long before Martin ignores these warnings, and sneaks off into the night to hunt and feed.

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From the very first frame, Romero, with the help of a haunting, beautiful score from Don Rubinstein and utilizing the fading landscape of Braddock Pennsylvania, imbues his film with a sad, bleak, disturbing atmosphere, one where the American Dream has run dry and the world is left to rot and decay. The mills have alls hut down, the local economy has crumbled, and everyone left is struggling just to survive. The tone is one of desperation as a population holds on to the dying old ways of their lives and existing in denial.

As Martin stalks and ambushes his victims, it becomes apparent that sex is not his concern at all. In fact, when he is propositioned by a female shopper he befriends at Cuda’s grocery store, he has no idea how to respond. Turns out, Martin’s still a virgin after all these years and has no idea what to make of this. The lure of sex seems to hang all about Martin, and his response to it comes off as confused, sad and out of place. When he finally does give in to the seduction, he comes away unfulfilled. This is not your typical lustful vampire.

What Romero has sought out to do with Martin is, much like he did for zombies in his 1968 horror milestone Night of the Living Dead , is to deconstruct the vampire legend and all of the conventions we as an audience hold to be law. Martin is Romero’s treatise that examines the myth of the vampire, (featured in black and white, either as fantasy or long ago memories of how being a vampire once was, this point is left ambiguous) and reality (shot in bright, bold, 1970’s color) de-romanticizing the vampire legend. Also being tackled here is religion and superstitious belief.

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Martin cannot stomach the reality he exists in, and instead, creates intricate fantasies (presented in grainy black and white) where he visualizes himself sneaking into a grand castle rather than some  sleazy 70’s bachelor pad, or striding into the arms of an eager lover rather than holding down a shrieking victim who just took a huge dump in the adjoining bathroom. He imagines himself into the romantic Hollywood reality of the movie vampire, the one that is so alluring. which might be why he’s so quick to state “There’s no magic. There’s no real magic ever.” several times in the film. Crucifixes, garlic, holy water, sunlight, the classic rules do not apply in reality. Martin has no fangs, he uses a straight razor. He has no powers of seduction, he must use dope to keep his victims from breaking him in half. This is not a world of magic and super human power, this is stone cold, un-romantic reality.

Still, Martin believes he is actually a vampire and must feed on the blood of the living in order to survive, just as Christians believe utterly and completely in the resurrection, Heaven, Hell, and the power of the holy spirit. Martin still places an importance in the canned icons of his belief system, “The Hollywood Vampire” but is intelligent enough to know he is only humoring himself with these fantasies and delusions. After one startling moment in the film where Martin scares the living shit out of Cuda by stepping out the darkness  wearing a cape, bares fangs and has a pallid complexion only to finally laugh at the old man and reassure him, “It’s only a costume.” Martin has been told all his life what he is and has come to believe what’s been drilled into his head from birth.  Martin longs to be one thing, but he knows he is something else and this knowledge is the essence of the film.

Martin also takes dead aim at organized religion, portraying it in vapid, empty terms. Romero himself plays a hip priest who insults the shitty wine his church serves at communion, doesn’t believe in angels or demons and loves the movie The Exorcist. And when Cuda calls upon an old school priest to ambush Martin and perform an exorcism of their own, it comes off as an old useless ritual and Martin simply walks away as the priest blubbers on reading from the holy text. But more disheartening than any of this is Cuda himself, a man so blinded by his own faith that he believes it is his divine right to wield life or death over his own flesh and blood. Cuda believes the vampiric curse and that it is his duty to destroy the evil, to murder his own relative in the name of God. This is the same mentality in religious hysteria that leads followers to murder doctors who perform abortion and claim to be pro-life but support capital punishment, to commit atrocious acts of violence in the name of your own personal lord and savior. It’s sick, it’s twisted and it’s wrong.

"It's only a costume."

“It’s only a costume.”

In the end, Martin is a film about the lies we tell ourself and the delusions we live every day. Those that we have been taught by those closest to us and those we tell ourselves simply to get by. Martin wants so badly to be a vampire he is willing to kill others. Martin admires the lore and power of vampires. How they are loved, feared and lusted after, all things that the shy, timid misfit feels he can never obtain.

Martin is a singular, gorgeous, and poetic take on the vampire horror film and it’s Hollywood lore. To date, I have never seen a more thoroughly unique and sweetly sad vampire tale.  This is the rarest of horror movies, one not about a horrible other, or even about the creature next door. No, this is subtle, ambiguous look at what makes monsters of us all. A look into the heart of the horror in our everyday human existence and the evils we are capable of inflicting on one another. Not only through physical acts, but through the power of ideas, belief and control.

I give Martin FIVE out of FIVE Dumpster Nuggets. If you ask me, this is Romero’s absolute masterpiece.

Stay Trashy!

-Root

 

11
May
12

Gorgasm: The Ultimate Climax

a Primal Root review

Over the course of my lifetime I’ve come to realize a man happens upon many milestones. Moments in this life that stand out above all others as life altering.  Experiences that leave you stunned, silent, and with the deep realization that you are a changed man and you…will never be the same again.  I had one such moment my sophomore year of high school when I trekked to Video 21 and, after an exhaustive blind search of the Cult section,  I emerged to head to the check out counter with a trio of films that were about to not only solidify my adoration for all things sleazy, cheap, low budget and trashy, but would also cast my love of this most despised of genres in bronze ensuring my love would last a lifetime.

Sorry, I realize that last part sounds like an add for Precious Moments Baby Shoe Bronzing. Stick with me.

I took home a trilogy of films written, produced and directed by Hugh Gallagher that I have grown to dub “The Gore Trilogy.” It’s a series of three woefully  inept, shot on video horror films that have no thematic connection besides the talent behind the camera and their creative penchant for finding new ways to use the word “Gore” in all their titles.  These films are Gorgasm (1990), Gorotica (1993) and Gore Whore (1994).

In the Trial of The Primal Root vs. Misspent Youth, your honor, may we enter into evidence Exhibit A.

Let it be stated, I had no idea what exactly I was walking into with this trio of grainy, poorly made,  laughably bad, sexually freakish videos, but I believe they are part of what shaped me into the demented Trash Cinema lover that I am today.  Now, well over a decade later, I feel it is time to once again take a look at Hugh Gallagher’s  video legacy and share the slimy, mind boggling oddities that make up “The Gore Trilogy”.

First up, Hugh’s directorial debut, the aptly named “Gorgasm: The Ultimate Climax”.

Our hero, ladies and gentlemen!

Our film begins with the rarest of horror movie standards, the opening soliloquies! Which has no real bearing on the story at hand other than introducing us to our eternally greasy, bug eyed, sports coat donning hero,  Chase played by Rik Billock, who I was shocked to learn has a rather impressive filmography that includes parts in films like George Romero’s Stephen King adaptation “The Dark Half” and the late Bill Hinzman’s “Flesheater”.  He shares such soul searching deep thoughts as “Religion prepares us for death. Why didn’t anyone prepare me for life?” from behind a lit cigarette, and gets so damned into his little diatribe that he nearly busts out into community theater style tears by monologue’s end.  Again, this is about a five minute spoken word performance right at the beginning of the movie that has nothing to do with ANYTHING that follows. Now this is how you reel an audience in!

Okay, well, maybe the opening title card is a better was to make sure your audience stays in their seat.

Oh man! they just gave away the whole plot!

Soon enough we are introduced to homicidal call girl and power tool enthusiast, Tara, brought to ever-loving life by fully stacked actress, Gabriela, who only has three other films to her credit after her leading role in “Gorgasm” and two of them reference anal penetration in their titles. Basically,  Tara is a high priced call girl who spreads her message through personal ads in scuzzy adult magazines offering “Gorgasm: The Ultimate Climax”.  What service does she provide, you ask? Well, for every dime you have, Tara will come over, tie you up, spin in circles while wearing cheesy Spencer’s Gifts style lingerie. She will then reveal her gargantuan breasts for you to ogle before she brutally murders you!

In fact, our first scene in the film proper is one such business transaction as she spins about, in what looks to be my Grandmother’s kitchen circa 1985, in front of a hairy, sweaty man bound and gagged to a lovely antique dining room table. Tara kicks it up a notch as she begins blasting her cassette tape of the obscure, high energy tune, “Sex Toy”, pops her melons out of the chute and cuts off her neglige with an apparently very dull butcher knife.  Her customer doesn’t seem to mind.

I feel good about myself!

He doesn’t even seem to mind when she begins slicing into his midsection with that big knife of hers, and when I say he doesn’t mind, I mean he doesn’t even flinch as the blade draws large drips of blood with each slash across the man’s chest and gratuitous beer belly.  In all honesty, the captive, paying client looks almost bored at this point. Shit, he doesn’t even register a reaction when Tara eventually approaches from behind,  drapes her ample rack around his bright red neck, like one of those Air Mall stress pillow deal, before hacking his jugular wide open! The fella’s head tips forward and that’s it! Gone! Scianora!  Obviously, money well spent.

Detective Chase, who works in a police station that was apparently built by the wood paneling commission of Illinois, is introduced to us officially as the bottom of the barrel desk dwelling detective no one wants to actually put on a case. Seems he’s more valuable to the force as a paperwork drone.  To his amazement, Sarge (played by mulleted and minimalist actress Paula Hendrix in her one and only screen credit) brings the case involving the throat slashing incident to his desk and asks him to take the lead! Chase is overjoyed until he’s informed it’s only until Detective Sanchez recovers from a cold or something. What I’m saying is that this is temporary. But this doesn’t stop chase from giving the case everything he’s got!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t make mention of the strange little subplot starring filmmaker Hugh Gallagher’s wife, Paula Gallagher, as Nicole, a woman whose boyfriend wants her to beat him up and sodomize him. She calls him a pervert, breaks up with him, and then plants her knee into his man bits giving him what he probably wanted, anyway. As he drops to the floor sobbing and nursing his jollies, she rushes out the door and back to work at the local Winn-Dixie where she seeks solace in co-worker and possible crypt keeper, Connie (Debbie Patterson). Nicole is convinced by Connie that she might just like kicking the crap out of her weasel of a boyfriend and by the time Nicole returns home she is decked out head to toe in fetish gear looking to enter her fellas fantasy kingdom.

Nicole gets a lesson in love at the local Winn-Dixie supermarket. They are the self proclaimed “Beef People”, after all.

Only she is too late! Her boyfriend has called up Tara and her Gorgasmic services which Nicole walks in on just in time to catch Tara in bed with her man and tearing meaty chunks out of his throat with an industrial weed whacker (!) Now, Nicole could have totally escaped this scenario as Tara is so caught up in her work she doesn’t even notice the near-naked, towering, leathery skinned blonde woman who just walked into the room. Sadly, Nicole trips over the weed whacker chord thereby alerting Tara to her presence.  It is only after a very close call with the Tara and her weed whacker of death in the bathroom that Nicole goes for the escape only to trip over her super woman stilettos and sealing her fate. Tara gets down to the nitty gritty and starts choking a bitch.  What really makes this scene work is how Tara tells Nicole how she gets paid “good money” to do this and NOT TO WORRY! “I won’t charge you for this.” This plot thread is worth mentioning because it is never brought up again. The crime scene is never discovered and no one even talks about it. Then again, you look at the police force we’re dealing with, and it’s hard to believe that this is a plot hole.

The Porn Industries’ Seedy Underbelly Welcomes You! In fact, this guy might be my favorite character in the whole movie. No lie.

Chase’s investigation takes him to the seedy underbelly of the porn industry in Hamel Illinois as the detective follows leads to understocked adult stores for lengthy montages of his shopping spree, grotesque XXX film producers who seem to have some form of Downs Syndrome intermingling with  Tourettes, and even to the blood-drenched aftermath of one of Tara’s “Gorgasm” get togethers. One of the better ones, too! This is the aftermath of her most Jigsaw-esque slaying which involved a rope attached to a garage door opener and then tied around some asshole’s neck. At the scene of the crime Sarge calls this  “A brilliant device.” Lady, it’s a garage door opener and a rope. Come on.

What a magnificent device! I’ve never seen anything like this! This woman’s a GENIUS!

During this murder sequence Tara opens up to her next victim and openly discusses her deceased husband who was a”beautiful” man and enjoyed being pushed to the very limits of pleasure and pain. However, it’s a one-sided conversation as her victim is gagged and cannot respond at all to Tara’s sad story of how her husband liked to be whipped repeatedly and have his balls stomped upon. The typical story of star-crossed lovers. In fact, Tara even as a creepy dummy she keeps suspended from the ceiling of her lair of sexual evils that she talks to and calls “sweetheart”. She also practices her lashing skills on the thing.

Don’t think for a second Tara doesn’t have a softer side, though. A hidden part of her personality is revealed in a sequence that comes out of left field in which Tara drives out to a sewage retention pond near a busy overpass to bask in the sun and frolic in nature amongst the rusty discarded beer cans and crunchy used condoms. She spots a rotting romance novel as she gazes over an abandoned, rotten motel, and reads a passage about tender, gentle love that moves her to pick up a red-faced, mulleted youth and fuck him in a motel room. Now that’s romance! Anyhoo, she whips out the hooters, kind of gets near him and then backs off only to break his neck and fondle his dead penis. I guess the lady knows what she likes.  Highlight of this scene, and the reason I even brought it up, is when the actor playing the seduced youth hops into bed he unintentionally bashes his noggin against the head board with an audible “CRAUNCH”. He can’t play it off, let’s out an anguished “ARRGGHH!” before rubbing his head in pain, and then settling down for the loving he’s sure is coming right around the corner. I’m sure this guy just reeks of Miller High Life and Slim Jims.

I don’t feel “brain damage” is much of a concern in this guy’s case.

Just as Chase is making some headway on the “Gorgasm” case he is pulled off of it as Sanchez has fully recovered from his slight cough and Chase swears he will make them all pay! Yeah, the only people who will be paying is the audience who must endure a slow motion dream sequence of his in which he wears a super tiny black pair of underoos and seduces a handcuffed Tara in his living room before slugging her in the face.  Out of all the visuals in “Gorgasm” the only one that haunts me is seeing Chase nearly nude and trying to be sexy while coated in a thing layer of perspiration and nicotine, his thinning blonde hair in greasy disarray and his bugged-out eyes starring into my soul. I’ve seen countless horror films and, to my dismay, this is the image that’s haunted my nightmares for over a decade.

Enough about me, Chase decides to take matters into his own hands, contacts Tara through a personal add, and sets up a “combat” date where only one will leave alive. Of course Tara is totally down with this, but how they both know the dress code of this engagement without ever discussing it has me wondering if this movie has a very subtle supernatural underpinning to it.  How else do you explain Chase wearing a camouflaged  shirt & slacks combo and Tara showing up in a fetching matched camou bikini? Really, what better way to blend in with a middle class suburban living room? Maybe they both just have similar fashion sense? Either way, I guess it illustrates just how similar these two characters are. Or something…?

Tara and Chase: A lot alike? I see two BIG differences right off the bat.

They lock eyes, Chase draws his gun, Tara draws her machete, and the combat is on! Immediately Tara loses her top so she has to spend the rest of the chase bouncing her large breasts all over the screen as she runs from the equally floppy Detective Chase. Tara runs for the garage to hide which leads to one of the funniest moments of the entire film. Chase, gun in hand, slowly walks into the garage, hand first, now knowing Tara is hiding right next to the door on the opposite side with her trusty machete raised high above her head.  In a split second Chase loses both his weapon and hand to the evil call girl! He soon passes out as his nemesis stares him down, no doubt figuring out her next move…In the end, it takes both characters to a fate neither one could have seen coming. Although the audience probably did. Let’s just say there are some mind blowing reveals and guns going off in the place you’d ever want them to go off.

Shock? Pain? Or does he smell Alpo?

Let’s just say, by the end of “Gorgasm” there are no clear winners. Hell, there’s really no clear nice guy or bad guy! Everyone is up to no good. I suppose, in some strange way, Tara is not really the villain of the piece. She’s kind of an anti-hero, I mean, sure she kills people in hilariously gruesome ways but it’s what her clients want! I mean, she’s running a business, yes?  Someone wants their head ripped off by a spinning topless woman? So be it, I say!  The customer is always right.

Can’t say she didn’t get a little head during her killing spree. HA! Be sure to tip your waitress…

“Gorgasm” is a fucking TERRIBLE movie. There is nothing good about it. From the  “acting” to the cinematography, writing, and gore effects absolutely nothing in this film works!  I mean, there’s a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of Gabriela’s tits on display but those breasts are probably the only thing of any quality note.  Still, as I’m sure you all know,  quality does not always determine watchability! Despite its near infinite flaws, “Gorgasm” still manages to be hysterical, exploitative, cheesy, and pretty damn entertaining. It’s a slice of the trash cinema pie that’s more of an acquired taste than most. Those who can enjoy films such as Troll 2 and Samurai Cop would probably be the core audience for this kind of flick.

Tastes like lime!

“Gorgasm”, the first entry in Hugh Gallagher’s Gore Trilogy, is probably the weakest entry but still manages to deliver on the lame-o unintentional hilarity and the sleazeball tits and gore. Not even a cult film, more of a forgotten, never was sort of nada flick, “Gorgasm” is one for the hardcore fans of all things Trash. Be warned, this flick is not for the faint of heart. It’s almost unfathomably bad, but for a certain group of us, it’s the most wonderfully perfect kind of bad imaginable.

Soon to come, The Primal Root’s review of the Second Entry in Hugh Gallagher’s Gore Trilogy, “Gorotica”!

Stay Trashy!

-Root




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