A troubled young man is confounded by the anachronism of memory, juxtaposing sexual desire for bloodletting, his existence devoid of magic but ripe with superstition. George Romero propels the vampire myth into the 20th century as a tale of adolescent angst corrupted by archaic family values, where sex becomes violent penetration (a hypodermic as substitute for his manhood), a thirst slaked not only by blood...but the power to control.
The film opens with a brutal rape on a train, where an ordinary young man sneaks into a locked compartment and subdues a woman with a hypo full of sodium pentothal, has sex with her unconscious and unresponsive body, then cuts her wrists with a razor blade to drink the blood. He then arranges the room to make it seem like a suicide. As the camera follows the perpetrator from the train we soon realize that he is our subject, the story’s protagonist that has only earned our outrage. It is to Romero’s credit that Martin eventually becomes a sympathetic character, a victim of a family shame who treads precariously in the thorns of his uncle’s Old World. His vociferous uncle Cuda taunts Martin believing him to be “Nosferatu” and vows to destroy him but will save his soul first...unless Martin kills again. Cuda hangs garlic on the doors, crucifixes on the walls, and even has an Catholic priest perform a meek exorcism. Martin is profoundly disturbed and acts out these vampire tropes by mundane means: without the use of “magic”, he utilizes drugs to control his victims and a razor the cut their veins. Romero uses black and white scenes to portray either Martin’s distant past (he believes himself to be over 80 years old) or his fantasy world tainted by classic horror films: Martin has fulfilled his uncle’s prophecy.
The killings decline when Martin finally discovers a willing companion to satisfy his sexual urges, a depressed and drunken married woman, but her suicide is ironically pinned on him; or more precisely, pinned through him.
Final Grade: (B)