Nightmare City. 1980. Directed by Umberto Lenzi. Screenplay by Tony Corti, Jose Luis Delgado, & Piero Regnoli.
Starring Hugo Stiglitz, Laura Trotter, Maria Rosaria Omaggio, Francisco Rabal, Sonia Viviani, Eduardo Fajardo, Stefania D’Amario, Ugo Bologna, Sara Franchetti, Manuel Zarzo, Tom Felleghy, and Mel Ferrer. Dialchi Film/Lotus Films/Televicine S.A de C.V.
Rated R. 92 minutes.
If you loved Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake with its fast moving zombies, then if you’ve not seen the Umberto Lenzi cult classic zombie-horror movie Nightmare City, do yourself a favour and track it down. Lenzi is most famous among horror hounds perhaps for his 1980 Eaten Alive! or the following year’s Cannibal Ferox, maybe even back to 1972 with his film The Man From Deep River, as they’re often touted as being big powerhouses in the cannibal sub-genre of horror. Then of course there’s a ton of other stuff like Seven Bloodstained Orchids, Knife of Ice, Orgasmo (a.k.a Paranoia for U.S release), Nightmare Beach (one of the stars in this one being Michael Parks who Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith have recently cast in their work over the past decade), and others.
However, many of the biggest zombie fans will certainly rave about Nightmare City as some of his best horror work. As far as I’m concerned, it’s up there with the best of them. From nasty zombie makeup effects, to the fast paced movements of the infected themselves, to the frenetic energy of the movie, this one is highly memorable in a sub-genre of horror that nowadays, thanks to The Walking Dead especially, has become almost commonplace. This will remain a genuine, bonafide cult classic because it rises above the mediocrity of so many other zombie movies by being both serious and a lot of fun in terms of its nasty horror.
As an American news reporter, Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz), waits at an airport to interview a scientist concerning recent accidents at a nuclear plant, a mysterious plane lands urgently. When the doors come open, a mass of infected human beings run out onto the tarmac; they immediately begin to maim and murder anyone/everyone in their path, killing the military guards stationed outside. Miller finds himself up against General Murchison (Mel Ferrer) who will not let him leak this information to the general public, instead keeping them in the dark. So while everything devolves into insanity outside, Miller heads off to try and locate his wife Anna (Laura Trotter) at the hospital. There’s no telling if any of them will survive, or if anything will be left standing once the epidemic is over. If it’s ever over.
So this is not a traditional zombie film, for the purists out there, it’s more of a radiation-infection film. Which is fine, I could care less how a movie like this is described. What matters is the horror, as well as the fact Lenzi does take his shots at the military and armed forces, and war in general. In the same way George A. Romero instilled his own zombie films with sociopolitical messages/themes, I definitely feel Lenzi is making his own statements here about the military, their efficiency, even their intentions.
Most of all, though, it’s the infected, the zombies – the whatever – which ultimately matter. The plot and story are all there, nothing too complex yet it isn’t just throwaway nonsense like some underdeveloped horror movies. But the horror, the effects, those aspects are the main attraction, which is something Lenzi understands.
Right from the very beginning, as Miller (Stiglitz) witnesses the unmarked plane land, its doors opening to reveal crazed masses of infected people, bloodthirsty and maniacal, the movie really starts with a punch. There are throat cuttings and other vile special makeup effects gags right within the first 10 minutes, so it’s easy to see from the get-go how insanely fun Lenzi intends on getting with the rest of the film.
One of my favourite moments is when the infected people make their way into the hospital – they barge in on a surgery, kill the doctor, then one feeds on the open surgical wound while another goes for the IV bottle half-filled with blood. It’s just this real macabre little scene I find awesome yet unsettling. A hospital is the perfect place for these nasties – they need blood to sustain them – and at the same time, for non-infected normal people, the hospital is one of their most vulnerable safe havens. So many sick and old people, others injured, it’s like an ultimate feeding ground for these infected, zombie-like predators, these bloodlusting beasts.
There’s also plenty of human drama. It’s not all scene after scene of zombie mayhem. A hugely interesting part of any good infected/zombie(/whatever) film is the way humanity is affected, how the population react and how they either fall apart or band together, and so on. There are a few good scenes in this regard. Mixed in amongst the terror and the bloody mess are moments where we’re able to get at least a kernel of character from the cast of survivors, all holed up in their own various ways to try and outlast the epidemic. Not that this film is loaded down with a throbbing supply of characterization, but it’s also not Lenzi just throwing buckets of blood at the camera, sending zombie after zombie into the frame constantly. There’s a lot of that, too. Although he does a fine job including the human element, so as not to get lost in horror makeup and effects. Some zombie movies really get caught up trying to make the zombies everything (and yes they are to a certain extent), they almost forget about the characters and the actors playing them, letting too much fall to the wayside for it to end up a great piece of work. While Lenzi could have done more, certainly, he did pretty well. Enough to make things interesting, plus the characters aren’t all hateable like so many modern horror movies, you actually care about them when they’re slaughtered by the infected.
All in, Umberto Lenzi’s cult classic Nightmare City is a solid 4 out of 5 star horror movie, especially in the zombie/infected sub-genre. If someone says they’re a big zombie buff and haven’t even heard of this one, be sure to promptly correct them; they are not a buff if they don’t know about this Lenzi flick. You may not be a huge fan of it, though, I’m firm in my belief this is a proper classic. Might have taken awhile for it to find the following of which it is deserving, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome.
When in need this is a perfect flick for any time you need the zombie fix, especially fitting around Halloween season.