Automaton Transfusion (2006)
Reviewed by Uncle Creepy
Starring Garrett Jones, Juliet Reeves, William Howard Bowman, Rowan Bousaid, Ashley Elizabeth Pierce, Joel Hebner
Directed by Steven C. Miller
I love zombie movies. I love them with every fiber of my being. Anyone that knows me knows that I have a HUGE soft spot for the flesh-eating buggers. In fact, when such a flick comes across my desk, the odds are pretty good that I'll even go a little easy on it. Maybe even a bit more than I should. When I first heard about Automaton Transfusion, my heart began to fill with hope. Some folks were raving about it. One site even referred to it as " ... the Holy Grail of "true" independent horror films." I was on board and chomping at the bit.
The story is a bit familiar. Back in the Seventies our government (bastards that they are) started experimenting with ways to re-animate the dead as a means to create a new type of soldier to go and fight our wars. Things didn't go as planned, and the experiments were shut down because the zombies simply could not be controlled. Their hunger for flesh and murderous ways far outweighed any good that they could do.
Fast forward three decades.
Apparently some folks don't know how to leave well enough alone. Scientists have begun toying with the dead again in the isolated little town of Grover City. Of course you realize that the proverbial shit hits the fan once again, and the dead are soon unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace. Containment of this issue is no longer a possibility. People are being eaten while the numbers of this new army grow with each kill. And who could possibly help to stop this carnage? A few local high school kids. Oh happy day.
Automaton Transfusion does a few things right, but sadly it gets most things wrong. The first thing that bothered the hell out of me was the dead themselves. While I prefer Romero-esque zombies, it doesn't matter to me whether or not a corpse can run. Their style was fine; it was their look that was all wrong. With the exception of maybe two or three of the dead, every single zombie in the movie was plastered with pale make-up and then splashed with fake blood. Sorry, but as a fan, pasty complexions and red goop don't do anything for me. We need to see death. We need to see the decomposition. The zombies in Automaton Transfusion looked more like a group of pissed off kids auditioning for lead roles on Goth Gone Wild.
Considering some of the other effects in the film were quite good, this comes as a huge letdown. If the filmmakers could find a way to stage such cool gags as a fetus biting, a jaw ripping, and some Fulci inspired eye damage, then they could have paid more attention to the ghouls themselves. I understand this film was shot in just a few days with a budget of about $30,000, but come on! Look at The Dead Next Door. Director J. R. Bookwalter was a nineteen-year-old kid when he filmed it on a shoestring budget; yet, the zombie effects (which even included an animatronic zombie puppet) were head and shoulders above those found here, and that was nearly twenty years ago! A little more time and attention paid to the look of the dead could have gone a really long way. Instead, I found myself identifying most lead zombies by what they were wearing. That's just not good.
Then there are our heroes, the teens. To be honest, the acting in this film is way above par. In and of themselves all the kids do a great job. It's how they are utilized within the film that sinks things. For example, how many times do we have to see the ever-so-cliche suiting up to go and fight the menace montage? You know it well: So-and-so will pick up a weapon and then nod in approval. We then cut to the next person doing the same. Then we cut to another person doing the same, and then back to the first person strapping on something else while trying hard to look badass. This goes on for a couple of minutes until everyone finally gathers to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with each other before heading out into the battlefield. Why?!? WHY?!?! Well, at least there's zombie fighting action on the way, right?
Automaton Transfusion tries very hard to move along at a brisk pace, but this actually works against it. In fact, it's semi-disorienting. What we have here are characters moving from set-piece to set-piece at light speed. First they're in the house. Then the garage. Then the school. Then the lab. The whole thing feels very thrown together with only a strand of exposition holding the plot in place.
Speaking of plot, every story needs an ending, right? Apparently we're not getting one for at least two more films. Automaton Transfusion is just the first chapter in a new zombie trilogy. In a huge display of Robert Zemeckis-sized balls, just when things are heating up at around the eighty-minute mark, the words "To Be Continued" are splashed across the screen.
*Insert blank stare here*
Gee. Thanks for the needless cliffhanger. If ever there was a time for a well placed head shot, it was now. Yep, at this point I was praying for the good old days of 1968. I wanted Vince Survinski to come *ahem* back to the future to make me another one for the fire.
Couple all of these things with the implementation of the now over-used shakey-cam / quick editing technique, and voila! You have 28 Minutes Later errr... I mean Automaton Transfusion. By the way -- don't ask me what the title means. I have no clue. Maybe this too will be explained in the sequels.
I am curious to see where director Steven C. Miller goes with this story. Maybe Automaton Transfusion was just the stepping stone for him to get the money and time he needs to have his next film be that much more successful. I genuinely hope that is the case for he does show a lot of promise as a filmmaker.
Automaton Transfusion looks and sounds like it had a bigger budget than it did. There are flashes of brilliance here and there. That is what kept me watching, and that is also why fans will keep coming back to the series to see what happens. Miller and company really did a lot with a little, but it just seems as if they were concentrating on the wrong things. As a result they missed the mark.
In one of the opening lines of the movie, one character says to the other while standing in a morgue, "It takes a while to get used to the smell." Well, this reviewer is too used to it. I can't help but feel a bit queasy as the scent of missed opportunity permeates the air. I wanted to love this movie. I wanted this to be the next big thing. It just wasn't.
2 1/2 out of 5