In 1978, nestled between The Crazies and Dawn Of The Dead, George A. Romero wrote and directed the criminally under-appreciated vampire film Martin, which tells the tale of a man who may or may not be a vampire and the struggles he goes through with his dark, terrible secret. It’s a subtle film, one that embraces the development of characters and plays with the viewers emotions and expectations of the title character. Should he be pitied or loathed? After all, the film opens with the horrific and calculated murder of a woman on a train. But afterwards? John Amplas’ masterful portrayal stirs feelings and challenges judgments as we try to determine how to think of this flawed character.
The score of the film was composed by Donald Rubinstein, who is the man behind the music of Tales From The Darkside, Monsters, and Bruiser. A jazz musician at heart, Rubinstein took his years of music training and applied them to the score for Martin, resulting in a soundtrack that is as diverse and conflicted as Martin is himself.
Note: I am using newly remastered files from the upcoming Ship To Shore PhonoCo. vinyl release as the basis for this piece.
If you haven’t heard the music of Martin, you are truly doing yourself a disservice. It’s a glorious piece of work, ranging from heartbreakingly beauty to scattered, frantic jazz, from playfully charming to being reminiscent of early Universal monster scores. There is also a lovely variety of instrumentation, many sounds of which tug at the heart with their unnatural yet sublime textures.
In an interview we conducted with Rubinstein back in 2011, he explained that the soundtrack did not come easily: “It came blistered and tormented and committed – an uncovering that wrestled with personal discipline in an effort to do the best job I could.”
In many ways, this describes Martin himself. He’s a tormented man, one that seemingly takes no pleasure in the murders he commits, mainly because they don’t play out in reality as he hopes they will in his fantasies. And yet his personal discipline is something he takes pride in, the fastidiousness of his work mirrored by the precision of the music.
The music highlights the complexities that the viewer faces when watching this film. As I stated, the music runs through many gamuts of emotion, much as we do with Martin. We see beauty and feel pity, which Rubinstein wonderfully evokes in pieces such as “The Calling”, which features an angelic voice crooning over a subdued and melancholic piano, strings and wind instruments mournfully expressing themselves. However, we also experience the sudden and abrupt change of empathy to uncertainty and terror, as evidenced in “Modern Vamp”, which begins innocently, almost childishly, only to fade away and come back in with dissonance and conflicting melodies. And then there’s “Martin at the Butcher Shop”, which if heard outside of the context of the film would sound like the backdrop to a pleasant stroll through Parisian parks.
At the end of the day, Rubinstein has crafted a score that should be revered among not only horror fans, but those who see music as a medium to convey a story. Since hearing it, it’s become one of my favorites and I hope it becomes one of yours.