Martin (John Amplas) is a modern sort of vampire--he gains his victims' cooperation with the use of a hypodermic needle instead of hypnotism, and uses razors in the place of fangs. "There's no real magic," he says. "There's no real magic, ever." He says this to his elderly Romanian cousin, Tati Cuda (Lincoln Maazel), a true believer in the old religion, and self-appointed keeper of Martin, who threatens to do away with the boy if the vampirism doesn't stop. According to Cuda, the boy is actually 85 years old--young for a vampire. Truly, the supernatural element of the film is always at odds with psychological explanations that make Martin out to be a sexually disturbed teen, not an ancient bloodsucker. Martin's vampiric episodes are intercut with sepia footage of similar exploits from some gothic era, which may either be Martin's memories or his imagination; take your pick. Garlic, sunlight, mirrors--these are devices of Hollywood, and have no effect on a hypo-toting vampire like Martin, as he explains the rules in his role of frequent call-in guest on a radio talk show where he's known as "The Count." These ambiguities are left teasingly unresolved by the film, which is more interested in establishing the relationship between the traditional vampire and the modern-day psycho. Along with the film's narrative economy, these ambiguities make Martin
Romero's midnight-movie masterpiece.
At the very end Romero borrows an image from Carl Theodore Dreyer's classic silent film Ordet, ratifying a moment of religious ritual. Knowing this as you watch the film only deepens the chill. --Jim Gay