Dir. George Romero
Following the death of his immediate family, Martin (John Amplas) has reluctantly been invited to live with his great uncle Cuda (Lincoln Maazel) and cousin Christine (Christine Forrest) in the decomposing suburbs of Pennsylvania. The titular introvert is beset by monochrome visions evoking vintage vampire pictures, during which he is overcome with a devouring thirst for the blood of young and beautiful women. These hallucinations are experienced by the viewer first-hand en route, as he functionally tranquillises a passenger in her cabin and feeds, her screams of “freak rapist asshole” drowned in a Tall Target railway cacophony of chugs, thrums and squeals.
From anti-westerns to revisionist noir the ’70s were a hotbed for genre re-evaluations, and this bravura opening announces George Romero’s Martin (1976) as a demystification of the horror lore its creator once helped to popularise, the camera documenting the details of Martin’s process with utilitarian detachment. Martin believes himself a vampire but remains bemused by the legends surrounding his condition, insisting “there’s no magic, it’s just a sickness“. A radio show patronises and exploits his “gimmick”, the superstitious uncle ludicrously employs an arsenal of traditional wards before resorting to an exorcism; the line “he saw that film ‘The Exorcist’, said they did it all wrong” doubles as Romero’s mission statement. Ironically it’s only women — themselves oppressed by boorish, leery men or outcasted for reasons beyond their control — who embrace this quiet boy as a refreshing change, a kindred spirit.
Romero’s infamous sense of humour remains intact (“Sometime I’ll hopefully get to do it. Awake. Without the blood part.”), but his satire is more barbed and more comprehensive than ever. Juxtaposing the present against Martin’s archaic delusions, the director cannily analogises modern attitudes with those of the Middle Ages, taking aim at the cynical and sensationalist media, patriarchy and religion alike on the way to a tragic denouement. Even the viewer is not spared, our fascination with supernatural fantasies exposed as a refusal to confront real-world issues unmasked, and perhaps even a symptom of the same affliction that’s fully-fledged within Martin.
The brilliance of Martin is that its “vampire” is a disturbingly realistic extension of a culture’s malaise, yet simultaneously among its most tragic, misunderstood victims. What lingers most of all is the film’s suffocating loneliness; Donald Rubinstein’s score tries to wander from its melancholic centre but always returns, as Martin can escape neither his bestial urges nor his doomed fate, both seemingly pre-destined by a conservative society that stigmatises those on its margins, and creates its own monsters. – Tom Nixon
Angel Dust (1994)
Dir. Sogo Ishii
A latchkey kid with two secondhand VCRs and an RF cable, I spent most of my preteens running a one-man video piracy operation. I became an omnivorous videohound, scoffing at FBI anti-piracy warnings and shaking my tiny fists at Macrovision. With virtually no oversight from my parents (who either didn’t know or care), I regularly scoured the shelves of my local Mom & Pop video rental place for all manner of video oddities — usually horror films — and soon amassed a formidable stockpile of bootlegged movies that I would either watch obsessively or trade with friends. By 1991, however, one particular tape took up permanent residence within my VCR: Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs. I quickly became infatuated with this film, glomming onto this baroque, neo-Gothic psycho-thriller as only an impressionable preteen truly can. My VHS dupe eventually crinkled and snapped from overuse. Even after as the obsession subsided, I still wound up gorging myself on the film’s blighted progeny — Malice (1993), When the Bough Breaks (1994), Copycat (1995) — until a sudden onset of extreme ripoff fatigue set in. By the time Dee Snider started using AOL chatrooms to lure hapless teenagers to his murder house, I pursued other interests.
Directed by art-punk provocateur Sogo Ishii, Angel Dust is an oneiric, metaphysical twist on the serial killer film that successfully breaks away from the post-Hannibal herd and infuses new (pestilent, fetid) life into a creatively moribund subgenre. It begins with a woozy nocturnal descent through a crowded Tokyo subway car, a claustrophobic ride rendered cold and impressionistic in a haze of neon-green, that ends abruptly when a young girl drops dead at the Shibuya station. News quickly spreads of a serial killer targeting female passengers on the Yamanote Line and surreptitiously striking them down at precisely 6pm with a small hypodermic needle. Enter Setsuko Suma (Kaho Minami), a police analyst called in to investigate the murders, who quickly discovers possible links to a cult de-programming clinic operated by the enigmatic Dr. Rei Aku (Takeshi Wakamatsu) — a man with whom she shares a history.
Ishii structures his suspense-thriller as a narrative jigsaw with missing pieces, deliberately withholding the methods and motives of his characters and hinting at their shared history through cryptic asides. Instead, Ishii’s approach emphasises psychic interiors and dream spaces over exacting narrative mechanics, the sedate and narcotised atmosphere (freighted with dread) over onscreen bloodletting. Angel Dust unfolds more with the associative logic of a waking nightmare, burrowing deep into strange and inscrutable territories that other films of its ilk dare not tread. Every element seems modulated for maximum discomfort and disorientation: the languorous rhythms and hypnotic visuals; the dreamy excursions through a rain-slicked Tokyo teeming with faceless strangers and awash in eye-piercing fluorescents; the incessant churn and gurgle of its sound design, which could easily cause spontaneous stomach aches. Kaho Minami’s removed, glacial performance gives the film its firm, mesmeric center — curdled icing on the poisoned, syringe-stuffed cake. – Chuck Williamson