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Wednesday, February 27, 2008


"Every generation has a horror film that defines its culture" says the trailer for AUTOMATON TRANSFUSION (2006). "This is that film." I don't know if I'd go so far as to agree with this--there are certainly some other noteworthy contenders for that title--but I will say that for a horror film that was shot in nine days for $30,000, it's a dazzling feat of low-budget filmmaking.

Admittedly, the story doesn't matter a whole heck of a lot. It's about a bunch of teenagers whose drunken house party in rural Florida is interrupted by hordes of homicidal, flesh-eating zombies, and their frantic efforts to reach the possible safety of the school while battling the bloodthirsty ghouls every step of the way. Stock characters include a cool guy, Chris (Garrett Jones), his popular girlfriend, Jackie (Juliet Reeves), ditzy blonde cheerleader Simone (Kendra Farner), Lance, the conceited jock (Joel Hebner), a nerdy loser named Tim (Rowan Bousaid), and Scott, the black guy (William Howard Bowman).

As writer/director Steven C. Miller and producers William Clevinger and Mark Thalman tell us in their informative commentary, their goal was to set these elements in place as quickly as possible and get the blood-spurtin', gut-chompin' action going full-blast, which is exactly what they did. This movie doesn't let up once the zombie attacks begin, never slowing down long enough to get boring or let us think about how dumb some of the dialogue is.

The young performers are all good, and while there's no character development to speak of, each gets a chance to display enough genuine emotion here and there to keep the movie from descending to a farcical level. It's also thankfully free of the jokey self-awareness that has become such a cliche' ever since SCREAM came out. AUTOMATON TRANSFUSION has its lighter moments, but it isn't infused with a lot of lame attempts at comedy.

The gore is plentiful and expertly done, as well as being imaginatively staged. This is due in no small part to the participation of Rick Gonzales, who worked with Tom Savini in DAY OF THE DEAD and has many subsequent film credits. There are some awesome set pieces here that would fit right into a more expensive film, including one character getting her jaw ripped off (yowch!) and a startling fetus-removal scene that's pretty jaw-dropping in itself. People get their their throats torn out, their heads and limbs ripped off, and their faces eaten. In turn, the zombies get theirs via hammers, axes, shotguns, chainsaws, and even a golf club here and there. Gorehounds won't be disappointed.

The rural setting in Florida conveys an effective sense of isolation. There's also a sequence early on in which Chris, Scott, and Tim drive to the city to see a rock concert, only to find it empty, and these scenes are very effectively done. Director Steven Miller did a consistently amazing job with such limited time and resources to make a movie that looks a lot better than it cost. His handling of extras is also good, resulting in a zombie army that is always convincing in its wanton lust for blood. Miller directs their attacks in much the same way Zack Snyder did during the opening and closing credits for his DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, with a lot of quick shock cuts and shaky camerawork.

My biggest gripe, in fact, is that Miller's use of shaky-cam often goes way too far in these scenes, often making me want to grab for the Dramamine. If you suffer from motion sickness, the gore in this movie might not be the only thing making you feel like throwing up. Otherwise, though, the direction and cinematography are very capably done.

Aside from the lively commentary track, the DVD's special features include deleted scenes, a couple of cool music videos by Blinded Black and Dancefloor Tragedy, a short film by Miller called "Suffer or Sacrifice", a trailer, and a "making of" featurette that gives us an interesting look at how to make a kickass zombie flick on a shoestring. The movie itself is presented in a matted widescreen format with Dolby Digital sound. As for the picture quality, well...this isn't a Kubrick film. It's shot on digital video, and it looks it.

As in several other films of this nature, we finally discover that the military is to blame for the zombie outbreak--you know, the usual "re-animating the dead for use in warfare" experiments gone awry, and all that--but don't hold your breath waiting to find out what the title means. In fact, don't even wait for an ending, because there isn't one. AUTOMATON TRANSFUSION ends on a cliffhanger with the words "To Be Continued", meaning we won't get to find out what happens to Chris, Jackie, and what's left of the gang until AUTOMATON TRANSFUSION: CONTINGENCY comes out next year. Frustrating? Definitely. Will the sequel be worth waiting for? Well, I wouldn't mind riding this ride again, and finding out what blood-drenched zombie antics these gonzo filmmakers have in store for us next time.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Seen it just now. Could see lots of things that might be wide open flaws - but for $30,000.00 in NINE DAYS!? Hell the director made something out of nothing with nothing to work with and no time to do it in. Thats the kind of guy any executive producer wants to meet.