Martin doesn’t think much of being a vampire. He knows what he gets up to once the sun goes down. The way those women look at him when he suddenly appears. Their eyes reminding him he wasn’t invited in here with them. Never invited anywhere. How they struggle to get away from him. Always fight back better than he expected. Call him a freak. An asshole. He seems to know without his little kit of syringes, they would almost surely overpower him. Keep him forever hungry. So, an injection is always necessary. Stops the screaming. Stops the insults. Quickly puts them to sleep. And once he is finally sure they are no longer watching, he can begin to undress. It seems that even after all these years of feasting on the blood of young women, he’d still rather they didn’t see him naked.
Somehow, even after we have seen the violence he is capable of, we don’t quite fear Martin as you’d suspect we’re supposed to. Even once his struggle with that evening’s victim is over and he’s covered in their blood, he remains a pitiful specimen. Shrivelled. Sticky. In need of a wash before the morning light comes up. At no point will there ever be anything majestic or even menacing about Martin’s claim to the night. He only pulls it over himself, like a blanket he doesn’t want to get out from under. A place to keep the shameful things he does as a vampire out of sight. Unlike the grand entrances of Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee, Martin will never fling open the shadows like a stage curtain on his way to the spotlight. For Martin, the spotlight would only make him worry he has been seen. We’ve learned how being a vampire isn’t at all like the movies. Especially when they are living with their cousin in Pittsburgh.
Over the course of George Romero’s film, it’s clear Martin would never see himself as being worthy of the kind of cinematic attention he is getting here. That would be for all of the other better vampires. The ones who demand to have their likeness stretched three stories tall on the big screen. The ones who know how to make it with a lady. Who aren’t too shy to speak. Whose eternally damned youth will not be one forever clad in sneakers and boyishly stripped T-Shirts. Who at the very least have got some proper fangs you can really do something with. Not just some gawky overbite unworthy of the softest of necks.
You know, real vampires. The one’s who have lied to us since the dawn of cinema. The one’s who Martin can never compete with.
“Things only seem to be magic”, is all he has left to say when forced to confront matters relating to his supposed cahoots with the Devil. His unfulfilled mythical status. He will sound exhausted, as if eighty-four years of saying the same thing and no one listening has worn him down. “There is no real magic, ever”. These are the words he’ll use whenever needing to shrug off the nuisance of his cousin’s latest crucifix attack. Or when he sees him once again wasting his time getting out the garlic accoutrements. But they also seem as if they are being said to us in the audience. A plea to keep our expectations in check. To brace ourselves for what vampirism really looks like, once it has been sucked dry of all of its menace and romance and sense of the otherworldly. Leaving behind nothing more than what appears to be the shame of a teenage wank spread across all of eternity.
For those in the audience looking for a spell of Gothic doom, Martin can’t help but disappoint. It lives almost painfully in the real world. A place of rust and automotive decay and miles and miles of empty streets for Martin to aimlessly wander through, contemplating his next victim, but not always doing much about it. We’d probably not even notice him if we came across him in our own neighbourhood. He hardly even needs the sun to go down not to be seen. His life is one that is mostly just a disappointment. A disappointment to himself, to his family, to general decency, to the standards of vampirism and, if he ever became aware of us out there watching him, a disappointment to the cost of a movie ticket. He is a subject who might bore us as much as he bores himself.
“What kind of lame-o vampire was that”, those leaving the theatre might sneer to each other. “What a creep”
So, no, there will likely never be wax likeness of John Amplas erected in Madame Tussaud’s torture dungeon next to Max Schreck. There is no place for him to be immortalized here, curled upon his bed with a phone cradled to his ear; talking away his loneliness with a radio DJ and moping about he’s frightened of doing the sexy stuff with a lady. That no one will ever love him and how everyone eventually leaves him. But, if we can hold in our hands for a moment the thought of such an eternity as this, then think of his shame. His profound loneliness, rejection and inferiority. This pubescent angst of his that will never be grown out of, then we may find Martin might breach our defences after all, and illicit some sympathy from those in the audience who have a heart. And this will be where the horror of the film truly lies. Convincing us to forget all the things he has done. And what he will continue to do, unless someone stops him. And just contemplate the sadness of it all.
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