George Romero’s Martin is one of the best horror pictures that no one has ever seen. Made in between the groundbreaking zombie movies Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead (a period that also produced the excellent The Crazies), Martin is a typically smart Romero film that looks at the vampire – the Martin of the title – and the trappings of the myth and the genre, from folk tales to movies, along with a thoughtful score from Donald Rubinstein.
Rubinstein’s approach is as idiosyncratic as the film, though as with Romero’s picture the power comes from this, notably the juxtaposition. Martin is a troubled boy who goes to stay with his uncle, a man very much of the old world of Lithuania he comes from. He believes Martin is a vampire, and Martin kind of is, but not in the guise you’re used to.aRomero crosscuts in the film between the modern day Martin and a flashback of sorts of Martin in a more familiar surrounding, a Transylvanian village shot in black and white. Along with this, Rubinstein contrasts styles, with modernistic jazz and synth together with solo violin, choir, and a dusty-sounding piano. The latter is what you’d expect from traditional vampire movies like Hammer's Dracula movies or even the later Universals, with a haunting theremin- esque string line and a very heavy keyboard, probably played by Igor. This is how Martin’s Uncle sees him, and it’s very evocative.
Against that is the music actually for Martin. Modernistic rock, jazz, almost whimsical. There’s some great lounge noodling in the score, and it fits Martin’s relationship with the women he seeks out, a lonely desperation for not only them but Martin himself. Martin is a tragic figure and this is communicated explicitly, in a sense of claustrophobia and inevitability.
The main theme is quite reminiscent of Pino Donaggio’s theme from Carrie – which came out the previous year – it’s very beautiful but there’s a tenderness and sadness to it that is a telegraph of sorts to the character’s story. And its style is very much designed to tell you that Martin not only cannot escape the old world, but also that he will not.
Martin has been reissued by one of the new kids on the soundtrack vinyl block, Ship To Shore Phono Co., and is a wonderfully presented album. It sounds amazing, just beautiful – my copy is on black vinyl but variants include black and white swirl and the inevitable blood red marble effect – and it comes with not only great sound but also great cover art, as well as new liner notes from Rubinstein and Martin himself, actor John Amplas.
Martin is a great score and movie, and Ship to Shore’s edition heralds an arrival of yet another quality label on the market. Whether you love horror or jazz, Rubinstein’s score is an essential purchase.