Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Automaton Transfusion (2008)

I anxiously awaited the release of the zombie indie flick Automaton Transfusion on DVD because of all the hype surrounding it. Reportedly made for under $30,000, writer/director Steven C. Miller shot the movie in 9 hectic days, with cast and crew putting in 18 hour days. The movie’s premiere was in 2006 at the Screamfest Film Festival in Hollywood, California, but the film wasn’t picked up for distribution until Dimension Extreme bought it and wasn’t released until March 11, 2008.

Miller has said that Automaton Transfusion is a throwback to the frantically shot, bloody 1980’s horror flicks from his youth. While Automaton has even been called “the Holy Grail of ‘true’ independent horror,” it doesn’t stand up to the very films Miller was trying to emulate or even to current like-minded (and like-budgeted) zombie movies.

Two groups of high school seniors are looking forward to a night of partying. The jocks and cheerleaders are all having a party at some isolated house in the middle of nowhere. Among them is cheerleader Jackie (Juliet Reeves), who takes a lot of crap from her preppie friends from dating “stoner” Chris (Garrett Jones). Meanwhile, Chris and his friends Scott (William Howard Bowman) and Tim (Rowan Bousaid) are on their way into the city to see a band. Pretty soon, they notice that there are no other cars on a usually busy road. When they arrive into the city the streets are deserted. It seems that there are no other people around…until they hear a low roar and the sound of stampeding feet coming from around the corner. As hundreds of zombies are suddenly upon them, they run into a bar to seek refuge momentarily.

Back at the party, zombies have also found the group of teens. As Jackie hides in the bathroom, she sees her friends devoured by the bloodthirsty undead. Pretty soon, Chris and friends make it out of the bar and back into town to rescue Jackie. The group decides to head to the high school to find help, but soon discover that the U.S. military is behind the whole zombie outbreak and has been experimenting with the undead for decades in their hometown.

Really, I don’t see what the big deal is with Automaton Transfusion. Sure, it can be a fun zombie flick if you overlook its (many) flaws, but there are PLENTY of other low-budget zombie films that were made for LESS that are much better.

The story (written by Steven C. Miller) is full of plot holes and inconsistencies. This is probably what bugged me the most about this film. For example, in the beginning party-goers are complaining about how far they have to drive to get to the isolated house for the party (which, oddly, is being held at 5:00pm??), but later in the film this house is only a few minutes away from the high school. Also, the instantaneous spread of the zombie infection was never adequately explained either…how did so many people get infected so fast? The fast spread of the zombie disease was not explained adequately and was not believable. I’m usually not nit-picky when it comes to a few plot holes or inconsistencies, but this film was packed with so many of them that you couldn’t NOT notice (or ignore) them. Films, especially low-budget ones, should focus on the story first and foremost. Things within the story should be logical and make sense, which unfortunately isn’t the case in Automaton Transfusion.

As for the cliffhanger ending (supposedly this was only part one of a trilogy), it’ll probably just piss you off and make you want to skip the next two installments instead of looking forward to them.

This is a zombie film, though, and I know you’re thinking, “To hell with the story, what about the gore??” To which I can respond, “IT ROCKED!” One of the few things that the film actually does right is the gore, which just might be enough for some people. The practical SFX applied here work wonders for the film. The most memorable scene (and probably the only thing this film will be remembered for) is an impromptu abortion performed by a member of the undead. There is also an impressive jaw-ripping scene that is sure to curl your toes! The rest of the film features the standard ocular impaling, heads blown off with a shotgun, head bashings, gut munchings and so on.

The gore is excellent, but your view of it might be impeded by the shoddy use of the “shaky cam” technique. I am not anti-shaky cam, but I believe it must be used sparingly or in context with the film (see the fabulous Cloverfield, where this actually worked)! Many times you couldn’t tell what was happening or who was eating who. I think this was used to help hide the low-budget look of the film, but really it just made it seem more amateur than it was. Note to filmmakers: You want your special effects and horrifying story to nauseate the audience – NOT your camerawork!!

On the positive side, most of the actors held their own (except for some cases of PAINFUL overacting). The standout was Garrett Jones as Chris. As opposed to the macho tough guy we usually find in zombie films, Jones brought some much needed emotion to the character of Chris. After a particularly personal loss, he sits in a car at a loss for words until he lets his pain out with a gut-wrenching yell. This was probably the most poignant, powerful scene in the film.

As for the zombies, I thought they did an excellent job with them! These aren’t your typical slow-moving, shambling reanimated dead! These suckers are specially engineered by the military to think and to move extremely quickly. The result is organized groups of zombies that can run your sorry ass down in an instant.
Another positive aspect is the killer hardcore soundtrack for the film. I really enjoyed the tunes, though at times it appeared to be an infomercial for the band Dancefloor Tragedy. The original music, by Jamey Scott, also helped set the chaotic mood throughout the movie.

Still, despite these few positive points I wasn’t too impressed with Automaton Transfusion. Ultimately, I think many fans will be let down by this movie. There are so many other low-budget zombie films (take, for instance, the hilarious and entertaining Die and Let Live) that are infinitely better than Automaton.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, gore-filled zombie movie, Automaton may satisfy your need but it will do so at the costly expense of a solid story and decent camerawork. I’d say to look elsewhere before choosing this disappointing film.

Available from Amazon!

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