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Automaton Transfuion (2006)

Dimension Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 3/4/2008

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/2/2008

The low-budget horror film Automaton Transfusion contains many graphic and often disturbing visuals. This zombie movie is packed with gore and many gougings and dismemberments take place. However, to me, the most upsetting part of the movie was that the main character was going to a concert and he was wearing the shirt of the band he was going to see. Hasn't he seen P.C.U.? Doesn't he know how uncool that is? This should indicate how distracted I was during this movie.

Automaton Transfusion opens with a zombie killing a morgue attendant. The action then shifts to a high-school setting. Chris (Garrett Jones), Scott (William Howard Bowman), and Tim (Rowan Bousaid) are best friends, but aren't members of the "cool" crowd. However, Chris is dating Jackie (Juliet Reeves), who is a cheerleader, and this creates tension between her friends and Chris' friends. Jackie wants Chris to go to a party with her, but he already has plans to attend a concert with Scott and Tim. They work this out and decide to meet later that night. While driving to the show, the guys notice that the highway is deserted. Disturbed by this, they return to town to find that it has been overrun by zombies. Meanwhile, the party -- which is an average high-school blow-out -- is invaded by the undead. Chris decides that he must do whatever he can to get across town to save Jackie.

This movie was made by a group of film school friends on a budget of $30,000. It was shot on video and was made in 9 days. Despite some ambitious moments, the movie is exactly what you would think it would be.

In the extra features included on this DVD, writer/director Steven C. Miller states that he wanted to pack as much action as possible into the movie. And he's met that goal. The movie opens with a violent zombie attack, and from then on, the zombie action is fairly fruitful, with the last 30 minutes being stuffed with undead action. The gore effects vary from passable to outstanding. There was one effect involving a jaw that made me ask, "How did they do that?". However, there was another effect where something is ripped from a person's body and I honestly had no idea what it was until I saw an explanation in the behind-the-scenes footage. Given the circumstances under which the film was made, the most impressive aspects are the scenes in which dozens of extras chase our young heroes. (We later learn that streets in Orlando were shut down for this.) Despite the fact that he downplays the film's dialogue, Miller has actually gone out of his way to create characters which have (semi) believable motivations and reactions.

In the DVD audio commentary, Miller also points out that nothing original can be done in zombie movies anymore, and there-in lies the problem with Automaton Transfusion -- I felt as if I'd seen it all before. Again, Miller, unlike so many other filmmakers in this genre, takes a moment to introduce the characters, but after that, the movie is simply a series of set-pieces where people are attacked by the zombies. The story turns into scene after scene of the group running from one location to the next, hiding, being attacked, and then fleeing. Other than a few surprise deaths, there's not much to get excited about here. Unless you're really into special effects makeup, the film becomes numbing and one wishes for a resolution...which we don't get. The film ends on a cliff-hanger, which is either a gutsy or ignorant move. (Although, IMDB.com does list a sequel for 2009.) Miller comments on the lack of dialogue in the film, but when the characters do speak, the words are often trite. Technically, the film is fairly sound, but there are issues, such as shots going out of focus, which remind us that we're watching home-grown horror.

Automaton Transfusion joins a long line of zombie films made by horror fans. The difference being that this one is getting national distribution, and unlike many of its brethren, I was actually able to make it to the end of this one. The thing which usually irks me about these movies is how they wear their fanboy pride on their sleeve. Unfortunately, Automaton Transfusion falls into this trap as well, as one character hefts a chainsaw and says, "Ash would be proud." I'm not so sure about that.

Automaton Transfusion rises from the grave on DVD courtesy of Dimension Home Entertainment. The movie has been letterboxed at 2.35:1, but the transfer is not enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Thus, if you have a widescreen HDTV, the image is going to appear very small (at least compared to what you normally watch). The movie was shot on video, although I must say, I'm not sure what kind. I can say that the image only looks mediocre here and the movie looks as if it was shot on YouTube. (I realize that statement doesn't make any sense, but you immediately knew what it meant, didn't you?) The picture is fraught with pixellation, video noise, blurring, and aftifacting. There is stuttering, and any movement by a character appears jerky. On the plus side, the colors look good and the image is never overly dark. The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. The dialogue is clear and audible for the most part, although it was muddled at times. The in-film music sounds good. I detected some good stereo effects, but there really wasn't much in the way of surround sound or subwoofer effects.

The Automaton Transfusion DVD contains a good number of bonus features. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Writer/Director Steven C. Miller and Producers William Clevinger and Mark Thalman.  This is an informative commentary track, as the three give us a lot of inside information about the making of the film.  They comment on the locations and the use of extras.  We also hear anecdotes, such as shooting locations changing at the last minute and the use of family & friends in the film.  "Trials and Tribulations: The Making of Automaton Transfusion" (26 minutes) features interviews with Miller, Clevenger, and Thalman, where we learn that the film was shot in 9 days. These comments are intercut with on-set footage of the movie being shot -- this includes occasional on camera comments from cast members. We then get a closer look at the special effects makeup. The DVD contains 4 DELETED SCENES which can be viewed with Director commentary and run about 3 minutes. All four could be considered second unit material. Miller's short film "Suffer or Sacrifice" (5 minutes) is included on the disc, as are two music videos directed by Miller -- "Can You Hear Me Now" by Blinded Black and "Arsenaholic" by Dancefloor Tragedy. The final extra is the TRAILER for Automaton Transfusion.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long