Martin Matthias (John Amplas) looks twentysomething but claims to be 84 years old. He's supposed to be one of the unfortunate members of his extended family who inherited the curse of the nosferatu. The Matthias clan keeps their vampiric members alive as a kind of badge of shame, passing them from relative to relative over time -- perhaps to keep a low profile on their failure to age. This is what Martin believes, and what elders like his latest keeper, Cuda (Lincoln Maazel) have told him, but some younger relations are understandably skeptical, and Romero never gives us objective proof of whether Martin is as old as he thinks or is actually dependent upon blood to survive. Martin's own viewpoint is peculiar. He presumably accepts the premise of the curse and believes himself unnaturally youthful, but those points aside, he insists that there's no "magic" involved. Holy symbols and other traditional defenses against the vampire have no power over him. Nor has he the powers of the traditional vampire, apart from purported immortality. Most famously, lacking fangs he must slice veins open with razor blades or other handy sharp tools in order to get at the blood he craves. To make it easier for himself he puts victims out with a hypodermic before cutting them or -- as seems to be the usual case -- raping them. He plots his attacks quite thoroughly, stalking his victims and scouting their homes over several days before striking, though no amount of preparation can rule out the occasional inconvenient surprise.
Illusion, delusion and reality in Martin. You figure out which is which.
Domiciled in Braddock PA, where Cuda runs a grocery store, Martin is warned not to kill within the community, so he takes the train to Pittsburgh to hunt. At the same time, he befriends a cougarish local woman to whom he delivers groceries and becomes an underground media personality of a sort by calling an all-night radio talk show and describing his life and activities. Wendigo suggests that the radio calls are counterparts for serial killers like Zodiac or Son of Sam writing to the newspapers. Fortunately for Martin, Cuda doesn't listen when "the Count" is on the air. The imperious old man is determined to exorcise the curse (even though this has failed in the past, if Martin's flashbacks can be believed), and summons an elderly priest to do the job.
George A. Romero's Exorcist, with Lincoln Maazel as backup.
Martin is only disgusted by the ritual, and pays Cuda back by getting into a Halloween vampire getup to scare him that night, but on some level the exorcism seems to work. He's able to approach the cougar, Abbie, and enjoy sex unassisted by narcotics or razors, though the experience does little to alleviate Abbie's own depression. But while Martin's sexual hang-ups might be resolved, the blood compulsion endures, and he's gone without long enough to be "shaky," less careful and more likely to be caught the next time he hunts....
Wendigo doesn't believe in the Matthias curse. He thinks that Martin has just been warped by a dysfunctional upbringing in a twisted family environment. His techniques and attitudes are those of the serial killer, but the family lore and a cinematically inspired fantasy life (illustrated by black and white inserts and quasi-flashbacks) shape him into a modern-day vampire. Wendigo is satisfied that anyone who feels a compulsion to drink blood can be called a vampire. He's also satisfied with Martin as a superior vampire film from Romero's most creative period. Romero was a master of making do with little and taking advantage of local color. Location is important to this film; Braddock is a dying community, its industries dying, its church burnt, its residents stagnant -- the ideal setting for Cuda's archaic fantasies and Martin's disillusioned commentaries, which listeners take as a running joke. There's nothing to do there but mark time until you die; the only alternatives are escape or suicide. Perhaps ironically, other people's failures to adapt, change or escape seal Martin's fate. In a classic Romero finish, Martin has a lucky escape from a botched hunt, only to meet a reckoning for something he didn't do. Yet regardless of his fate, he becomes a kind of local legend, a fitting one for soulless modern society circa 1976, when the film was shot. In the end, Martin is as bleak a portrait of society as Romero's more overtly satirical zombie films, with less room to escape through laughter.
Illusion and reality again, sexual fantasy department.
Martin himself explains it all for us in the theatrical trailer, uploaded to YouTube by albadeimorti.