It seems that every other independent flick sent for preview is a horror movie. Out of them an ever increasing number has to do with zombies. This can make a person wonder if Indy writers and directors have ever considered doing a drama or comedy with an all living cast. Part of the problem is economics. Zombie flicks can be made on the cheap in a fraction of the time most other movies require. The other side of this equation is with a targeted audience of high school and college guys these flicks tend to make money. With that said the latest member of this infamous genre in ĎAutomaton Transfusioní written and directed by Indy newcomer Steven C. Miller. How this flick is received will depend a lot on the audience. It will do much better with the hard core horror and zombie aficionado but if anyone considers watching and expects anything to make sense they will be disappointed. The film is gross, bloody with an over the top amount of gore to keep the fans happy. According to some notes on the film it was done with a budget of about $30,000 and shot in nine days. Even by Indy horror flick standards this is cheap and fast. There are moments when these limitations were all too obvious but overall the production of the movie was on par if not better than average.
Miller has taken on an over crowded genre with this film. Considering this is his freshman effort as both writer and director it is very ambitious especially when you factor in this is the first installment of a planned trilogy. Apparently the second film is already in production and is set for release some time in 2009. As a script writer Miller avoids many of the traps others in his situation have fallen into. He avoids trying to add the now almost mandatory tongue in cheek banter with his characters. He goes to the other extreme with most of his teenaged characters in stunned silence as they fight to stay alive. Humor is a wonderful coping mechanism but if a small army of undead creatures are chasing you down intent on making you into an all you can eat diner platter then shocked silence is a more realistic reaction than an ad hoc stand up comedy routine. His biggest misstep in the script is holding a major portion of the exposition until the third act. This forces his hand as a director and gives a big dip in the accumulated tension just before the conclusion. It is understandable why he may have taken this path. This allows the primary characters to remain in the dark for a large portion of the story. Still, in this particular case the characters knowing will not be much comfort or help in their fight for survival. At least his teen characters are not the usual annoying types so that you sit there hoping for them to get it. Sure the plot is thin as tissue paper but in this genre a strong plot is no longer a requirement.
As a director Miller has a good, solid fast pace style but in this arena he does fall into the camera tricks so many of his peers employ. There is a little invention called the steadicam. The technology exists to use a hand held camera and not have the results shake so much the audience experiences vertigo. It would appear that every Indy horror director equates a shaky, blurry image with realism. Unless you have some serious ocular problems this is not the case. These directors should take a little field trip to the video store and rent some of the classic films of this genre and take notice; realism can be achieved without giving the viewers a headache. Miller also employs a lot of fast cuts and multiple angles for the action. This is okay and even works well in this movie. Since he also worked as the film editor here all of these decisions are his and while some didnít work out others succeeded nicely.
The film opens with a man in a white lab coat checking a drawer in the morgue. It is empty which may have something to do with the younger man running through the halls pushing a gurney with a body on it. Instead of running from the lab coated man as you might expect the younger man bursts into the morgue with the blood dripping body. The younger man, Charles (Chris Shepardson) vomits and is told to take the night off. Doc pushes the corpse into the draw. Later Charles is mopping up the blood. He hears a sound coming from inside the draw and goes to investigate it. Personally I would have decided it was lunch time. The body now on his stomach comes alive and attacks Charles, ripping out his throat. Okay, four minutes into the film and we have our first really gruesome scene, not a record but close enough. Next we see a high school class; the students are bored and waiting for the end of the period. At the lockers there is the required teen identification scene with the less popular guys Scott (William Howard Bowman) and Tim (Rowan Bousaid) trying to say hello to the hot girls and small groups of cheerleaders doing their best to ignore everyone else. Lance (Joel Hebner) wearing his lettermanís jacket picks on Scott who has a set of brass knuckles. I though they went out with the forties. After the bullies leave the guys wonder where their friend Chris (Garrett Jones) is. He is in a car with a cheerleader, Jackie (Juliet Reeves), grinding on his lap making out. Things are going well for Chris; he just managed to get her top off, first topless scene coming in at nine minutes, nice pacing Mr. Miller. He stops the action and she accuses him of trying to get out of their plans to see a concert that night. Later that school day the students are disrupted when some men a wheeling a teacher out on a gurney. He is bleeding from the neck. A student wild almost animalistic attacks when Scott knocks him out with the brass knuckles. After the incident they meet up with Chris and make plans to go to the show. Chris may not have wanted to go but with a half naked cheerleader on his lap he didnít stand a chance of refusing.
Things move along swiftly from then on. A student goes home only to be killed by his now zombie mother. Chris and his friends have no idea what is happening in the town although they do wonder why there is no traffic on the road to town as they head for the concert. Skipping ahead with the exposition here it turns out that some thirty years ago the army through it would be a great idea to create a bunch of zombies for combat. Naturally it didnít work out but it would be wasteful to destroy them so they locked them up. Well, they got out and are now very hungry. This film contains some of the grossest scenes to date. They are even more intense than the newer Saw genre. In one particularly blood shot a zombie rips the fetus out of a teenager and she gets to see him eat it before she dies.
The DVD distribution of this movie is by Dimension Extreme, a subsidiary of The Weinstein Company. While Weinstein concentrates on more relaxed Indies Dimension Extreme is all about unrated blood soaked flicks and this is a prime example. The video is a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer with Dolby 5.1 audio. Both are well done. There is more than the usual amount of extras for an Indy horror flick. There is an interesting commentary track featuring Miller along with producers Mark Thalman and William Clevinger. A short film by Miller is included. Of course included in the mix is the making of featurette and two music videos. If you are a fan of the genre this is a must have.