The sequel to George A Romero’s Night of the Living Dead shows that the zombie epidemic has gotten much worse and society is on it’s knees. Two television workers plan to escape with two SWAT team members in the TV station traffic helicopter in search of…whatever they can find that’s better than their current situation.
There is so much to love about this friggin’ film. The tenement opening scene (the shoulder bite was cut by the BBFC as was the exploding head), the way the film suddenly changes course completely as the four fly off in the helicopter, the scene where they land to fill up the copter with fuel (theres the taboo of zombie kids being shot here. Theres also the amazing scene of the zombie having his head decapitated by the helicopter’s blades) and then we get to THE SHOPPING MALL!!!
The mall is one of the greatest locations ever used in a film. Imagine having this shopping centre at your personal disposal with everything inside being free and your property. I love Romero’s social commentary regarding this. The dream of consumerism quickly rings hollow as do the images being conveyed within the advertising produced before the zombie epidemic. Within the extended cut of Dawn (which is just as good, if not better than the original theatrical cut of the movie) the female character Francine is the only person who wants to leave the mall when the topic comes up of whether to move on or not. The men state that they have everything they need here and so should stay but Francine says that the mall is ‘a rut. A trap’. Ans she’s completely right.
The zombies continue to come to the mall (Stephen mentions that ‘this was a big part of their lives’) which is a brilliantly wry observation by Romero. In this film the living dead have a very aesthetically pleasing blue tinge to their skin. Within the film the blood is redder than red making the film fully realise it’s comic-book vision. But it’s more than this. The film looks like a series of Pop Art paintings come to life. Andy Warhol had plenty to say about consumerism and mass production (his studio was called ‘The Factory’). It’s almost like he was art director on this opus.
But aside from all of the insights and allegories, this film is just great, great fun! The kills are innovative, disgusting and completely brilliant (Tom Savini returns to make-up and special effects duties and this film is probably the best demonstration of his work). Savini also stars as the members of a biker gang who try to take over the mall and seize it from the main four characters.
Wanna see a custard pie fight between bikers and zombies? Wanna see a zombie Hare Krishna, nurse and nun? Wanna see John Amplas (the lead from Romero’s earlier ‘Martin’) as a Pop Art Hispanic dude? It’s all in this film- and much much more.
I also love the character arc for Francine and the bromance between Peter and Roger.
Martin is by filmmaker George A Romero and was his favourite film from his oeuvre.
Martin is a young man who we see travelling by train to Braddock in Pittsburgh to live with his elderly cousin, Tata Cuda who seems convinced that Martin is the latest in a long line of vampires (‘the family curse’).
The film centres around whether Martin is actually a vampire or if he is just a very confused young man suffering from a severe neurosis and only commits his bloodthirsty acts because of a self fulfiling prophecy.
In fact the film constantly makes reference to Martin proving that there is ‘no magic’ in the world and that the conventions surrounding vampirism (many inherited from books and films) are untrue and so disproving the myth.
On the train journey over to Pittsburgh we see Martin sedate a woman, making love to her naked body before slashing her arm and drinking her blood. This very sequence shows how Martin accomplishes his ‘vampiric’ impulses. Instead of the well established tropes of hypnosis, fangs etc we see Martin use modern implements such as injections, chemical suppressants and razor blades. He has more in common with a rapist/serial killer than a ‘Nosferatu’. The woman as she is becoming subdued even refers to Martin as a ‘rapist asshole’.
It’s just before Martin enters his victim’s train compartment that he has a vision (in black and white) of how his prey will greet him- reaching out to receive him whilst looking beautiful and seductive. In reality when she is seen leaving the bathroom after being sat on the toilet, her face grotesquely covered in a green face pack and blowing her nose- the exact opposite of the vision Martin had just prior. Martin has a few of these visions throughout the film- are they actually age-old memories (suggesting that he is a vampire) or are they imaginings that he has gleaned from books and films but has confused with memories as part of his brainwashing?
There are other examples of Martin disproving the conventions of the vampire legend. When he arrives at Tata’s house he sees that there is garlic nailed to both Tata’s and Cuda’s granddaughter’s bedroom door. Martin rips this off and takes a bite into a clove to prove to his cousin that this myth isn’t real. He also takes a crucifix from Tata’s hand and rubs it against his own face to prove the same thing- ‘there is no magic. Not ever’.
After Cuda employs an older priest to carry out a makeshift exorcism, Martin appears in front of Cuda dressed as a vampire resplendent with cloak, fangs and make-up. He then spits out the plastic fangs and wipes the white pan-stick from his face to show that this is just a costume. Again, the reality disproving the illusion.
After interactions with people who treat Martin as a human being (the bored housewife he makes deliveries to, Tata’s granddaughter), instead of some kind of age old Dracula from ‘the old country’, he seems to curtail his bloody excursions and finds that instead of murdering he ‘just lets people go’.
Another aspect of reality that Martin observes is the truth beneath the illusion of the all-smiling American family that permeates advertising. It’s the couples in the film that have the most affluence and comfortable lives who seem the unhappiest and are either having affairs (the couple Martin invades the home of- only the female inhabitant of the house isn’t in bed with her husband) or completely alienated, misunderstood and unfulfilled (Mrs Santini).
Braddock also provides a harsh reminder of reality. It’s working class, shabby and down at heel. The once active steel mills that were the town’s bread and butter have long since closed down leaving a town to slowly die and rot.
Far from being the villain or monster of a horror film, Martin himself earns nothing but the audience’s sympathy. He’s more like a victim of circumstance, even when we see the crimes he commits.
As you can guess, theres so much to analyse and, in fact, cherish with this film. This is a film with many layers that presumes that it’s audience have the intelligence to make up their own minds as to whether Martin is a vampire or not.
I first saw this film when it was shown on Channel 4 here in the UK in the mid-80’s. It’s so poignant that it has stayed with me ever since and even with regular viewings it loses none of it’s charm, brilliance or innovation. In fact, with every viewing theres something new that I missed previously.
This may be a small budget film but it feels like Romero gained from this rather than letting it detract from the film and it’s production. Romero and crew just used their ingenuity to overcome any limitations and work around them and it works beautifully. Martin feels intimate and personal as a film.
Romero’s original cut of this film was significantly longer, clocking in at 2 and a half hours and was completely in black and white. Only one copy of this version ever existed and mysteriously went missing from Romero’s office many moons ago.
This film should be readily available on Blu ray but apparently there are, ahem, ‘rights issues’ that prevent a definitive version of this or Dawn of the Dead being issued on a restored Blu ray. Criterion or Scream Factory could give this masterpiece the treatment it richly deserves. Let’s hope these ‘issues’ are resolved soon so that these glittering jewels of the horror genre can be widely accessible and enjoyed further.
Another great component of the film is the soundtrack by Donald Rubinstein. A few years back this was reissued on CD and is currently on iTunes. The music is just as haunting as the film itself.
The pop group Soft Cell wrote a song (also called ‘Martin’) based on the film which is very faithful to the movie’s narrative and is just as brilliant as the film. There are even snatches of the film’s soundtrack used on the song. Check it out here.
Martin is a peach of a movie. In fact, it’s a masterpiece just like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead.
More great news today! Heres the press statement regarding the 4k premiere of Night of the Living Dead-
Press Release: NEW YORK, October 19, 2016—The Museum of Modern Art announces the addition of George A. Romero’s horror classic Night of the Living Dead to the upcoming To Save and Project festival in November. The iconic horror film, widely diminished by duplication due to infamous copyright issues, will have its world premiere in its originally intended quality, thanks to a painstaking 4K digital restoration by MoMA and The Film Foundation. Director George A. Romero will attend the world premiere on November 5 at 8:00 p.m. at The Museum of Modern Art to introduce the screening. Tickets for that program go on sale October 22. An additional screening will take place at the Museum at 7:00 p.m. on November 12.
Perhaps the most influential horror film of the last 50 years, Romero’s classic is also one of the most abused—subjected, because of its public-domain status, to well over 100 home video releases of deteriorated quality. The film has now been restored to its full, original glory by The Museum of Modern Art and The Film Foundation, working from the original camera negative, which was carefully guarded over the years by the members of Image Ten, the Pittsburgh partnership that originally produced it.
Night of the Living Dead has long been the subject of restoration discussions after a missing copyright notice upon its original 1968 print left it open to duplication and public rerelease. Recognizing its cinematic impact immediately, MoMA first acquired an original print in 1970 for its collection. Now, decades later, the Museum presents this important motion picture in its best possible state after a painstaking audio and image restoration.
“It’s an honor and a thrill to have MoMA restore and present a horror movie that I and a group of Pittsburgh friends created nearly 50 years ago,” said Romero. “After working closely with MoMA and the Film Foundation on this restoration, I know the meticulous work that has gone into creating this new restoration and I am excited to terrify new audiences and devoted fans with a version that returns our film to the quality we originally intended.”
“Our annual To Save and Project festival showcases the best new restorations of masterworks and rediscoveries of world cinema. George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead set the standard for horror, and the figure of the zombie in its myriad incarnations on screens large and small. Until now, however, it has been impossible to truly appreciate the film’s formal beauty and visceral power,” said MoMA film curator and festival co-organizer Joshua Siegel. “Our state-of-the-art restoration draws upon the best original visual and audio elements previously thought to have been lost, ensuring that audiences will be able to enjoy Night of the Living Dead as originally intended by its creators for generations to come.”
“The Film Foundation is thrilled that George Romero’s groundbreaking film is being restored from the original camera negative and track. We hope this will allow a new generation to experience the film and appreciate the elements that made it so innovative at the time, and give it continued power and relevance today. George Romero’s involvement in the restoration means that this version will be definitive, and the only one that truly reflects his vision,” said Margaret Bodde, executive director of The Film Foundation.
The film was restored by The Museum of Modern Art and The Film Foundation with funding provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation. The restoration was overseen by George A. Romero and Image Ten—most especially, Gary Streiner, Russ Streiner, and John Russo—with restoration work done by Cineric Inc, NYC, and Audio Mechanics, Burbank, CA.
Among its many influences, Romero’s film is credited with creating the zombie as we know it today: the reanimated corpse with a taste for the living, seen in everything from The Walking Dead to Shaun of the Dead. Despite its humble Pittsburgh working-class origins, exploitation genre ties, and inadequate handling by the original distributor, Night of the Living Dead has set numerous precedents for motion pictures throughout the world. It was the first film of its kind to cast an African American actor as the lead character based solely on the strength of his performance, and tramples widely held taboos of the time—from respect for the dead and authority figures to traditional family relationships and the narrative tradition of heroes surviving to the film’s conclusion.
Night of the Living Dead premieres as part of The Museum of Modern Art’s 14th annual edition of To Save and Project, an international festival dedicated to celebrating newly preserved and restored films from archives, studios, distributors, foundations, and independent filmmakers. Running from November 2 through 23, 2016, To Save and Project is organized by Joshua Siegel, Curator, and Dave Kehr, Adjunct Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art.
Tickets for all screenings are available two weeks prior to their screening date, beginning October 19. Tickets for the first screening of Night of the Living Dead will go on sale October 22.
Special thanks to Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan and Cindi Rowell for their assistance on this exhibition.”