Suggested Audio Candy:
John Harrison “Creepshow”
The Amplas Effect. Sounds ominously like a tropical disease right? I just managed to shake a particularly nasty strain of Andromeda and now I’ve come down with a dose of Amplas. Take two paracetamol and rest up for a weekend and I’ll be as right as rain, right? Wrong. You see, I first became touched by The Amplas Effect way back when I was still a wide-eyed boy and it has been a part of my life ever since. I suffered no irritable rashes or dizzy spells, and instead, fell under a potent trance which leads me to believe that he was, in fact, a vampire all along. I’m speaking, of course, of a certain John Amplas, star of one of George A. Romero’s most personal works, the beautiful and unforgettable Martin.
He holds a very special place in the heart of this particular horror film aficionado. You see, if I had to name one performance from the seventies that resonates over any other, then it would be his spellbinding turn as an awkward young man with a penchant for fresh blood that I would select. Bear in mind the decade I’m speaking of here. Robert Shaw, Richard Harris, George C. Scott – some of the finest actors ever to grace our screens were plying their trade during this epoch. Yet, for all their authenticity, it was Amplas’ depiction of eternal angst which had me frantically filling out my organ donor card. If I had met him in person around that time; then I would have gladly offered him a vein and proposed he take his fill. Was it seduction? Unquestionably, and achieved without the customary black cape complete with red velvet lining.
I grew up midway through the Hammer/Amicus boom so there was never a shortage of nightcrawlers to bank upon. Christopher Lee’s Dracula was by far the most commanding and I’d be flat out lying if I stated that I didn’t fall for his hypnotic charm and indisputable charisma. However, his was a more surface level attachment and instead it was Amplas who delved in deep and cradled my beating heart. He struck an unlikely balance between empathy and apathy and, more critically, maintained it effortlessly from the very first frame of Martin to his heartbreaking ultimate swansong at the close. Come the end, I felt as though I had known him forever while, at the same time, it was as though I had never really got to know him at all. Indeed, I learned the true art of performance from John Amplas.
He had absolutely no right to evoke such a powerful rejoinder. Martin was his first film and Romero took a risk in entrusting such a pivotal role to a debutant. Remember that I’m talking of the great Romero here, quite rightly regarded as the finest horror director of our time, and you will find no resistance here. He knew exactly what he was doing as this was his vision. It turned out to be 20/20 as Amplas impressed him to such a degree that he placed absolute faith in the twenty-seven-year-old. In turn, John repaid every ounce of said debt with credit. Most of us hone our skills over time and tweak them consistently as we find our chosen tongue. He didn’t. Instead, he reached inside himself and produced something as profound as his soul itself.
Thirty years have passed and last summer, through similar integrity, I earned my first shot in front of the camera. I grasped the opportunity with both hands appreciatively and fell into character the way my mentor had shown was possible. I’m hopelessly proud of the result and still find myself patting my back months later. However, it was John Amplas who empowered me to do it, that and the fact that I was sharing the screen with a naturally talented actress. She coaxed it out but it was John who placed it there in the first instance. He told me it was possible without the need for lengthy monologue. You see, the eyes are the window of one’s soul and beyond his was a room with a most elegant view.
I felt like a voyeur throughout the running time; it was like the cameras weren’t even rolling and instead it was I, and I alone, invading his personal space. He acted nonchalantly towards me; looked right through me with his piercing yet utterly compelling eyes. But he was still very much mindful of my presence. Like any true predator, he was aware. There was a carnal quality to his depiction of Martin as I touched on in my recent appraisal. There, I likened him to a feline, and I feel as though my assumption was well-informed. He taught me something which, while you could learn from a book, had never before been achievable with a simple look. I drank it in most appreciatively; but was clearly far too young to know what to do with such knowledge. Thus, I stored it away and, once I returned to Romero’s masterpiece years later, it all made perfect sense. It is because of him that I can now channel my shade into something discerning of light.
John is still involved in the industry which pleases me infinitely. Most comforting though is that he passes his findings on at entry level to those just commencing their pilgrimage into film. I can think of no finer teacher than such a humble soul as he. He is not the type to brag and boast about his achievements but, should you facilitate, would be more than willing to divulge further about his numerous exploits. Recently I listened to an interview with Adam Ginsberg on Out of My Head radio and it hit me with all the fragrance of a summer meadow in full bloom. Just as I expected, John views life through a similar lens to myself. Life is a wondrous gift and there to share. Should you do so through art then do so with grace, dignity, and passion. I already learned that from the same master way back when and it has stuck with me ever since.
So what now for John? Well, I have an idea concerning that. I have no inkling as to how much longer I am here for and am comfortable with such ambiguity but would very much like to see the mighty John Amplas in a leading role written solely for him. It seems fitting that my life be bookended this way; a talent like his isn’t misplaced or forgotten. Like the vampire which could have defined him but instead one he defined, he has the precious gift of eternal youth. I can tell you one thing, and I do so with trembling heart and calm voice, my vein shall remain wide open perpetually thanks, in no small part, to The Amplas Effect. I, Richard Charles Stevens and the Keeper of The Crimson Quill, raise my chalice to you in salute Martin.
Adam Ginsberg interviews John Amplas