Posts Tagged ‘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

 

19
Nov
11

Land of the Dead: Eat the Rich

a Dirty Thought with The Primal Root

The year was 2004 when all those old rumors surrounding George Romero’s long awaited fourth installment in his Dead series began lumbering back to life. For over a decade there were fan boy speculations  about a “Twilight of the Dead” , which would be really awkward with the popularity of those Twilight flicks,  or some other such continuation of the series. It wasn’t until early in 2000/2001 that steadily these rumors began transforming into fact. Romero was planning a new entry in his beloved, legendary, film series.  My excitement could hardly be contained.

By June 2005 we finally had our long awaited fourth film, “Land of the Dead”.  After years of hoping, false starts and sketchy rumors, there I was sitting in a theater seat, ticket stub in my pocket, about to see what Romero had cooked up for his starving fans. And to tell you the truth, I was a little underwhelmed on my first viewing. I’m sure a lot of it had to do with how much I had built this film up in my head over the two decades worth of anticipation, but I just didn’t think it held a candle to the original trilogy. The message seemed scatter shot, the characters thin, and the dialog cheesier than skating rink nachos.  I left having enjoyed myself but also feeling disappointed.

Now, looking back on Romero’s Land of the Dead almost seven years later, and in light of current events here at home and on Wall Street, his fourth Dead film has suddenly clicked with me and it’s message, it’s purpose, has become very clear.

As Romero’s Dead series has progressed our sympathy has been manipulated and shifted over to the living dead.  The seeds were subtly  planted in Dawn of the Dead but it wasn’t until Bub showed up as the star zombie in Romero’s  Day of the Dead  (85) that we all began the empathize with what we had always seen as a monster. Bub  recalled much of his living memories and even expressed very human, very un-zombie like emotions despite craving oozy living flesh to munch on. There was still something there. Something human. And by the end of Day of the Dead Bub proved to be more human and possess a purer spirit than most the human characters that populated the film. And in that idea Romero brought us as close as we’d ever been to siding with the shambling, decaying, walking corpses. Hell, we even cheer for Bub by the film’s end when he exacts revenge over those who have wronged him.

In Land of the Dead Romero asks us to almost explicitly see ourselves as the Dead, who in this film represent the disenfranchised. Those who have been left behind  with nothing except the possibility of the wealthy, powerful, elite will send in their troops to take whatever they can get their hands on in order for the rich to have their Scotch, cigars and Pringles which I’m pretty sure I spotted  on route to Fiddler’s Green. When the zombie apocalypse happens we will all be longing for the comfort of a can of Pringles.

Fiddler’s Green is a high rise fortress, a kind of utopia, for the wealthiest of zombie apocalypse survivors to spend the rest of their days hiding behind it’s concrete walls wearing the finest of clothes, eating hot meals and shopping their lives away as they towerhigh above the dead who are kept out by the bordering river and strategically placed electric fences.  But,  outside of  Fiddler’s Green is another story.  Also kept out are those deemed unworthy. Other living survivors who, for whatever reason, aren’t worthy of living a life of protected, maintained luxury. Fiddler’s Green is surrounded by make shift shacks, decayed building, sick, tired, dirty and poor humans struggling to survive with no aid of any kind. Those who cannot live in Fiddler’s Green are given few choices: They are put to work as part of the new military force put together to protect the wealthy, manufacture and deal drugs, prostitution, gambling,risk your life as entertainment for the masses as a contestant in a makeshift game of death,  or you can try and survive on the streets. Good luck!

It’s a strange concept thing to imagine that money could mean anything at all after the dead pretty much take over the planet, but if you can put aside your disbelief, there is a very poignant message about the haves, the have nots, and those who are considered less than human as an insurgency rises among the living’s lower class aims to over throw the current power elite and replace it with a more communal government and the dead who have begun communicating, have had enough, join together, and strike back against their oppressors.Because when the power and the dead are placed side by side, there is very little difference besides one being full of warm flesh and blood and the other craving to sink it’s rotten teeth into it.  And as the living dead make their way to Fiddler Green, tear down it’s walls and begin ripping apart the entitled citizens cowering within, it’s impossible not to cheer for those who have been ignored, abused and left to rot beyond the cities borders.

I implore you to go back and watch Land of the Dead again while the memory of the bank bailouts we payed for, the economic crisis that ended in many of us being laid off, and the Occupy Wall Street Movement where peaceful protesters were beaten mercilessly is still fresh in your mind. No matter what demons, creatures or myths we create to symbolize our societal  fears and angst the greatest threat you and I shall ever face is one other. Specifically those who have been corrupted by power and greed.

Land of the Dead worked well as an allegory for Bush era 9/11 anxieties but also seems to fit just as well within our current situations here at home as the division between the classes continues to grow ever wider. In the film, the dead are easily distracted by fire works. As they explode over head in beautiful arrays of bright colors the dead cannot help but stop in their tracks and give these meaningless, momentary bursts of light their full attention.  One cannot help but draw a parallel between the dead’s mindless attention to these fireworks (AKA: sky flowers) and the appeal of reality television, celebrity gossip, and other such none sense we are fed and made to believe is important to our every day lives when there are far more important issues at hand. It’s easy to tune out and focus on the meaningless. The trick is, to get your eyes off the ‘Sky Flowers” and focus on what’s right in front us.  What actually matters.

Romero has a lot to say in Land of the Dead and, in the case of all important works, it’s all open to interpretation.  But when I watch it today I can’t help but see it as a very timely “revenge of the repressed” fable that is perfect for where we are as a society and it’s by no means a happy one. We can only hope that one day, maybe, a new society might come in, devour the old and give us something new and better.

Land of the Free or Land of the Dead?

Stay Trashy,

-Root




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