Automaton Transfusion Review
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Ever since Romero made Night of the Living Dead back in 1968, many young, independently-minded filmmakers, influenced by the Pittsburgh maverick, have tried to recreate the zombie movie, while paying homage to their gore-covered hero. In 2002, Danny Boyle presented his take on the zombie mythos with 28 Days Later. While not original in story, 28 Days blew audiences away with its raw and gritty digital video style cinematography. In 2004, Zack Snyder put together a surprisingly smart remake of Dawn of the Dead. Like Boyle, Snyder chose to make the zombies faster and more aggressive. Then came the brilliant satire/parody, Shaun of the Dead—probably one of the best zombie movies ever filmed.

Now we have the indie release, Automaton Transfusion, on Dimension Extreme DVD. There really isn’t much to say about the story plot-wise—because there really isn’t a plot. A pitch meeting would go something like this: “A bunch of vacuous teenagers get attacked by zombies, flee for their lives, and are picked off one by one until only two survive—naturally the prettiest and coolest of the vacuous teenagers. Then an important plot revelation will come 10 minutes before the movie ambiguously ends—because, of course, we have to leave an option for a sequel.” There you have it: a gaping zombie wound of a plot. Characters are ill-defined, and the action is staged as if the camera were attached to one of the epileptic undead. The filmmakers have employed some of the “fast zombies” and shaky camera from Dawn and 28 Days Later to divert viewers from the fact that nothing interesting is happening.

In an enlightening making-of featurette (it’s a shame when the extras have more value than the main feature), director Steven C. Miller discusses the flick’s deliberate lack of dialogue. The reasoning, he suggests, is that most dialogue in horror movies is simply there as filler. Or, maybe, I would argue, to reveal character and drive the narrative. And that’s what this feature lacks: developed, sympathetic characters and a competent narrative. Characters in a state of panic screaming, “What the f*** was that? Did you see that? What the f***’s happening?” does not a story make.

Having said that, the visual effects are some of the best I’ve seen in a low-budget horror movie in a long time. Some great gore gags (the womb-ripped fetus and the jaw ripping being two of the best) should keep Fangoria fans happy for a few brief moments, at least. But, in the end, while horror movie fans love buckets of the red stuff, they also want their movies to mean something. Low budget should not mean low on originality. The best horror movies (high or low budget) have a point. They make a political, social, or psychological statement about our times. Gore for gore’s sake just won’t wash anymore.

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