After discovering the film I was about to watch was made on a budget of $30,000, I steeled myself for the worst, expecting to experience a masterpiece of cinematic arse.
For the evidence to date on indie horror is pretty damning, with the majority of straight-to-DVD releases sucking harder than an asthmatic hoover. So imagine my surprise when before my eyes rolled a movie that aptly lives up to its title of Zombie Transfusion and gives the micro-budget bargain dungeon genre a much needed shot in the arm of new talent.
Written and directed by Steven C. Miller and envisaged as the first in a trilogy, Zombie Transfusion (2006) is a rough diamond of a film, more often than not rising above its humble origins to deliver something fresh, which is always impressive when the subject matter is anything but.
The story is standard undead apocalypse territory and in pacing and depth owes more to 28 Days Later and video game Left 4 Dead than Romero or Fulci. Three high school students, Scott, Chris and Tim, find classes cancelled after a fellow pupil goes feral and rips into a teacher teeth-first. Remarkably unfazed by this development, they set off as planned for a gig in nearby Grover City while the rest of the students conveniently gather together in a wood-shrouded house for a party.
The roads are empty on the drive down to the concert, despite it being rush hour and the trios’ concerns are justified when they reach the city and find it deserted save for a hoard of rage-like undead taking part in a meat marathon – the finishing line being anyone living’s throat. They manage to find temporary shelter in the music venue but venture back home to save Chris’s girlfriend from becoming a party snack.
Along the way the viewer is treated to some highly impressive SFX gore-fests with heads being ripped off, guts being spilled out and limbs being plucked like they were chicken wings. Of particular note is the controversial delivery of an unborn baby zombie-style, with the helpless foetus being torn out of its mum’s swollen stomach before heading straight back down into another less-forgiving one. There’s also a great moment where a girl gets her jaw detached which really belies the filmmakers’ lack of funds. The scene well deserves a place in a list of the top 50 zombie atrocity gross-outs, where number one is and always shall be the splinter scene from Zombie Flesh Eaters.
It’s a shame then that Miller tried to pay homage to that tear-jerkingly sickening moment by having Chris force his infected mortician father’s eye into a shard of glass. For some reason the charged direction of the rest of the film momentarily falls flat for this money shot, which is jarringly static and poorly framed. There are also other flaws in the direction, with a brief glimpse of a boom mic at one point standing as shorthand for amateurishness, but the biggest problems lie with the story and continuity.
Like the majority of modern zombie films, Zombie Transfusion elects to be an out-and-out survival horror with the protagonists zipping around the place trying to stay alive. Now, I’m not a particular fan of the turbo-charged model of automaton which can go from nought to lethal in under six seconds, but I can still fully enjoy stories featuring them. All I ask is some overarching structure to the thing and a thrill that doesn’t let up until the credits have rolled.
Sadly, this film doesn’t completely offer that with its meandering middle section and unfocussed finale. The first part is fantastic, setting the scene better than having a bucket of viscera poured over your bonce, but then it drifts into a succession of episodes featuring teenagers running from one insecure haven to the next.
What’s worse, the unities of time and space as extolled by Aristotle himself for butt-clenching drama are flagrantly ignored in places, with disconcerting jump cuts from night to day and spell-breakingly convenient vanishing tricks performed by the zombies when the script dictates.
During the end reel a meta-plot is introduced explaining away the zombie plague as the result of a callous military experiment and the film annoyingly concludes on a “To be continued” caption that is a brave statement by a first-time director but a two-fingered greeting for the viewer expecting a satisfying denouement.
Yet, for all these cracks I can’t but help liking Zombie Transfusion. It has balls and that counts for a lot. There’s a sequel currently in production, Contingency, and I’m going to make sure to check it out, if only to find out how the first film ends.
Regards extras, this is a no-frills release and all you get besides the 70-minute main feature is a slick and frenetic trailer, and subtitles (handy if you want to know the names of the bands on the charged nu-metal soundtrack).
Shot in nine days but no Plan Nine, Zombie Transfusion is a relatively respectable curate’s egg of a horror that’s better in the butchery department than the narrative, proving quite fulfilling to fans of the Z-genre in its gruesome inventiveness.
Zombie Transfusion is out now.