I have mentioned several times in the past my preference to judge films based on two key questions: ‘What is the filmmaker trying to do?’, and ‘Do they achieve that goal?’. I think this approach is particularly key when it comes to ultra-low-budget filmmaking. If a production team are strapped for cash, and cutting corners wherever they can, it’s important to keep those limitations in mind when determining whether or not they work is worthy of praise. Steven C. Miller’s 2006 independent horror film Automaton Transfusion was made for a reported $30,000, and is a laudable attempt at an entertaining zombie movie. Does it succeed? Well, there are definitely zombies and an impressive amount of blood and gore. Beyond that? It’s a little complicated.
I am very forgiving of low-budget horror, and literally generations of independent filmmakers have managed to draw inventive ideas, twists, and suspense out of the smallest of productions. There is a bottom line, however, and that is that there has to be a sufficiently clean picture to see what is going on and clean enough sound to hear the characters’ dialogue. Automaton Transfusion does not exactly fail in this regard, but it does come close enough to make sitting through the film a bit like persevering through a low-quality YouTube clip. As it was picked up for direct-to-DVD release by Dimension Films, it is probably the lowest-quality presentation I have ever seen given a release by a studio-packed label.
The characters are simple, but to the film’s credit they are generally likeable. Their zombie adventure will not shock or surprise anybody, but it hits most of the expected beats, and mercifully the black character does not die first. There is some reasonable back story, but it is not integrated well into the narrative and simply gets dumped onto the audience all at once. The cast acquit themselves without embarrassment; this sounds like damning with faint praise, but the nature of the characters does not exactly lend itself to complexity or depth. Garrett Jones, Juliet Reeves, William Howard Bowman, and Rowad Bousaid do their job well, and had this viewer at least rooting for their characters’ survival.
It is definitely worth noting that you do not get a conclusion with your film; events reach a particular crescendo and then simply stop with a promise of ‘to be continued’. Given the scale, quality, and style of the film it is a miracle of optimistic bravado for it to end in this fashion. Perhaps the production ran out of money, or perhaps Miller could not decide on an ending. Maybe the production team elected to stop where they were, and use what they had produced up to that point as a calling card to attract more money. Whatever the reason, do not start the film if you expect it to provide you with an end.
So far so terrible, but here is where it is worth coming back to those key questions. Steven C. Miller went out to make an entertaining zombie movie, and I am forced to admit that he succeeded. It is a short feature, running less than 75 minutes in total, and I had a brilliant time watching. That is not to say the film is good; it is, all in all, so bad as to be actively incompetent. There is love here though: love for filmmaking, love for genre, and a passion for hordes of zombies ripping open and eating their victims from the inside out. It clearly worked for Miller, because he went on to direct another 10 feature films to date including Silent Night Deadly Night remake Silent Night (2012) and Escape Plan sequel Hades (2018) – which starred both Sylvester Stallone and Dave Bautista.
If someone walked up to you and offered to show you the cheapest, shittiest horror film that you could imagine, and that prospect excited you, then you will enjoy Automaton Transfusion. The truth is that there is an appreciative audience for this film, and despite its enormous and obvious shortfalls it does what it claims on the tin, has a good time, and is defiantly unafraid to be laughed at. There’s a strange kind of honesty in that; the kind that has me thinking it’s a terrible movie, but also a praiseworthy one.