Written and Directed by: Steven C. Miller
Starring: Garrett Jones, Juliet Reeves and William Howard Bowman
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďAre you telling me that those people out there are fucking zombies?"
Steven C. Miller recently announced that his reboot of Silent Night, Deadly Night is a go, and, as fate would have it, I recently caught his latest film, The Aggression Scale, which is a demented bit of splatstick that has me thinking the killer Santa classic is in pretty good hands. Despite even being a little sick of zombies, I decided to check out Automaton Transfusion, the scrappy little flick he made for about $30,000 over five years ago. While the film probably would have played better if I saw it before the recent deluge of zombie movies, it still shows a lot that same demented, splattery spirit.
Automaton Transfusion is a spiritual successor to the 80s/90s shot-on-video scene--it very much feels like a guerilla production and operates mostly as a gore showcase. The plot, as it were, is simple enough: the zombie apocalypse breaks out in a small town, and a group of high school kids decide to fight back. So think Red Dawn with the undead instead of Commies, and youíve got a pretty decent idea.
Actually, itís probably more accurate to think more in the vein of Todd Sheetsís Zombie Bloodbath series, the epic shot-on-video undead trilogy; specifically it feels a lot like the Zombie Bloodbath 3 given the high school setting. Not that Automaton Transfusion is school-bound the entire time--it actually jumps around and uses an impressive array of locations to give a pretty decent scope of this undead rising. Miller also has better actors at his disposal; whereas many movies like this are comprised of a directorís friends or some wandering hobos, Automaton Transfusion features a cast where most of the principals actually have mug shots on the IMDB, for whatever thatís worth. This is not to say that the film is an acting showcase--it isnít--but these guys typically sell the drama and peril sufficiently enough, and you never get the sense that theyíre all about to break out in laughter. Plus, the film is put together well enough that it doesnít feel like it should be a joke.
There isnít a whole lot to Automaton Transfusion; like those earlier shot-on-video flicks, it mostly serves to show how much blood and guts $30,000 will buy you. Iím sure inflation has impacted this over the last decade, but you can apparently still buy an entire butcherís shop worth of meat. Miller gets to fling it around early and often, as the film pretty much amounts to one zombie attack after another, and theyíre often done up in a frenetic fashion and scored by clanging guitar riffs (which makes it all the more reminiscent of Sheetsís metal and gore soaked opuses). The practical effects mix in an abundance of flesh eating and bone-ripping, and itís all delightfully gross, even it wonít make seasoned vets gag too much. Even the fast-moving zombie hordes are impressive in terms of style and makeup--this isnít like Zombie 4 where Claudio Fragasso dressed up 9 people to serve as hundreds.
Energy is also in high abundance; a lot of shot-on-video films are stagnant and look like their directors were afraid to move the camera for fear of breaking their most valuable commodity. Not so with Automaton Transfusion, as Miller predominantly employs a handheld style that makes up for the otherwise flat and low-rent look, and it feels like a very lo-fi take off of Snyderís adrenaline fuelled Dawn of the Dead. Clocking in at only 70 minutes, Automaton Transfusion is also wise enough to get in and out before it wears out its welcome. Since it doesnít do a whole lot in the way of character and plot development until the very end (when the movie actually gives some backstory for all this mayhem), it stays rather streamlined--itís ďkids in perilĒ through and through, and you can pretty much peg the two lovebirds to be the final two.
In the annuls of handycam horror, Automaton Transfusion is a perfectly serviceable update; with the exception of the bland digital aesthetic, it looks like it could pass as something from the SOV glory days, only itís gussied up a bit. Iíd be lying if I didnít say Miller has made huge leaps between this and The Aggression Scale, but a lot of that has to do with budget. Automaton Transfusion actually ends with the insistence that itíll be continued, and it was conceived to be the first entry in a trilogy, but youíll probably have to hope someone else picks up the SOV zombie mantle since Miller has moved on to other things. His debut is a rags-to-riches story, as it was homemade and ended up being distributed by Dimension Extreme, who didnít do much to improve its look by dumping a non-anamorphic transfer onto the disc. The 5.1 audio fares better, plus thereís a decent assortment of extras, including some deleted scenes, a couple of music videos, a short film by Miller, a making-of feature, and a commentary with Miller and producers William Clevinger and Mark Thalman. Anyone whoever plucked homemade horror flicks from a video store shelf on a regular basis will get a kick out of this. Rent it!
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