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Martin (DVD)

Though justly famous for his trilogy of pointed, socially resonant zombie films (Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead, Day Of The Dead), Pittsburgh-based director George Romero's career includes some unjustly overlooked, zombie-free titles. Between Night and Dawn, Romero directed three horror films, each featuring his distinctive mix of suspenseful direction and political consciousness. Two of them, the little-seen '60s allegory The Crazies and the even more obscure, unabashedly feminist Season Of The Witch (a.k.a. Jack's Wife), made their delayed video debuts two years ago, further bolstering Romero's reputation as a true auteur. Now, the third and best, 1978's Martin, is premiering on DVD. Set in a Pittsburgh suburb economically devastated by the recession of the '70s—and psychically devastated by the decade in general—Martin concerns a young man (John Amplas) who believes himself a vampire, a conviction the film takes steps never to confirm or deny. Though he needs the help of razorblades, needles, and other man-made accoutrements, Amplas finds ways to live as a vampire in modern society, arousing the suspicion of a deeply religious uncle (Lincoln Maazel) and achieving local celebrity as a caller to a radio talk show. A sort of Dracula filtered through Taxi Driver (which was filmed the same year), Martin touches on any number of post-Vietnam ills (urban decay, drug addiction, crises in faith) without overstatement, allowing for a deeply considered exploration of horror's ability to comment on society, a sort of belated answer to Peter Bogdanovich's Targets. At the same time, Romero still forces Martin to work as strictly a horror film, albeit an eccentric one in which the violence has an uncomfortable plausibility, starkly contrasting Amplas' romanticized black-and-white vampiric fantasy life. Shortly after Dawn, Romero directed an equally eccentric fusion of myth and modernity, 1981's Knightriders. Re-creating Camelot on motorcycles, Romero transplants the King Arthur story to a traveling Renaissance fair that uses bikes instead of horses. Renamed Billy and effectively played with high seriousness by Ed Harris, Knightriders' Arthur figure presides over a society that, like those in many of Romero's other films, teeters on collapse. Dedicated to living by a code of honor, Harris watches helplessly as the film's Morgan (Romero make-up artist Tom Savini, who also plays a minor part in Martin) stirs up discontent and entertains offers to sell out to a profit-minded agent. Though a bit indulgent and overlong, Knightriders never succumbs to the silliness of its premise, allowing Romero to craft a compelling reworking of Arthurian mythology that neatly intersects with America's own myths of independence and the open West, delivering remarkable action scenes in the process. Both DVDs feature entertaining nuts-and-bolts commentary tracks from Romero, Savini, and Amplas (who plays a mime in the latter film), and both reveal a director whose skill extends far beyond his deft handling of the shambling undead.


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