Monday, December 14, 2009

Nightmare City (1980)


Title: Nightmare City (1980)

Director: Umberto Lenzi

Cast: Hugo Stiglitz, Francisco Rabal

Nightmare City is one of those movies that I always passed by at the video store simply because it had a crappy cover. I guess I should’ve known not to judge a movie by its cover because this movie was fun as hell! I mean, it isn’t perfect, its got all those glitches that you can come to expect from practically every low budget Italian horror film, but the film remains fun and fast paced in spite of all its flaws.

The story starts in an airport, when an unidentified military plane lands on an airport. No one knows who’s piloting it, no one knows where it came from, but it lands. When the doors open, murderous infected people burst out and start stabbing and killing everyone in sight! Soon, the contagion begins to spread all through out the city, until the whole city is practically infested with the infected. In the mean time, Dean Miller, a journalist is trying to contact his wife so he can save her from the deadly killers! Meanwhile, the military is trying its best to control the ever spreading contagion! Will they succeed? Or will the infected take over the city?


Nightmare City comes to us from Umberto Lenzi, the director of two of the most recognized Italian cannibal movies from the 70’s Cannibal Ferox and Eaten Alive. I have not seen these two Cannibal movies yet, but from what I hear, they are pretty savage and gruesome, so maybe that explains why Nightmare City is filled with non stop acts of gruesome murder. The thing that got me about this movie is that it grabs you from the very beginning. The whole thing with the military plane landing mysteriously at the airport was a great way of opening the film, though I doubt a plane could just land like that on any airport today. Somebody would probably shoot it down or something, but, we gotta remember, this was the early 80s, before Sept. 11 came along. But the idea was awesome, then, hundreds of zombies poor out of the plane and start murdering people left and right.


The infected in this movie are a weird mix of zombies, vampires and vicious murderers. Why? Well, they look like zombies, with their skin having these ugly wart like growths that make them look like they got their faces burned in a George Foreman grill. The funny thing about the infected on this film is that they all carry knives around with which to stab everybody they come in contact with. I thought that was the weirdest thing about these creatures…but I was wrong! They also feed on their prey like vampires! Sucking the blood as it spurts out of their victims body! The infected on this film act like zombies, but in reality, they are closer to vampires. Murderous viscous vampires, without an ounce of humanity left in them. All they think about is killing! Another strange thing about these infected is that a lot of them wear turtle necks for some reason. And a lot of them wear suits. They aren’t dressed in rags like Fulci’s zombies. These zombies look like they just got out of a dinner party or something!


The movie delivers an overdose of violence! There’s a moment in the film, where there is one murder after another for minutes and minutes on end! An infected kills someone! Then they kill someone else! Then they kill someone else! And it goes on and on like that without any sort of story developing. To the films advantage I will say that some of the killings were pretty cool. For example: an infected cuts a girl in her breast and begins to suck the blood of off her breast! In another awesome sequence, an infected takes this girl and slowly begins to poke her eye out with a knife. That scene in particular reminded me of a Fulci film, because Fulci had an infatuation with eyes. So the movie delivers in the gore department. It’s also extremely fast paced. Situations develop rather quickly in this film, so we are never really bored with it, which was one of the best things this movie had going for it. It was always moving.


Of course, there are couple of things that will make you burst out laughing while watching this movie. For example, there’s this sequence that takes place inside of a television station which was obviously inspired by George Romero’s chaotic television station sequences in Dawn of the Dead (1979). But Nightmare City’s TV. station sequences aren’t chaotic at all. At least not at first. First we are treated to a bunch of dancers doing aerobics in some sort of dance show that’s hilarious because the girls obviously can’t dance for shit. The dances are not even choreographed well! All they do well is shake their ass in front of the camera and spread their legs wide for every young dude in the audience to see. It’s obvious that this sexy dance sequence was only thrown in there to make more money; because you know, T&A in a horror movie will get those young dudes in the theater seats! And trust me, there’s lots of nudity on this movie! But of course, this naturally goes with the territory, this is a low budget horror movie after all. Another thing that had me busting a gut is a scene in which Dean Miller hurls a TV set at an infected zombie, and for some reason, the TV. set explodes in flames and burns the infected to a crisp! T.V. sets are like grenades on this movie! As you can see, I was having fun with this flick.


There’s a moment in the film when the lights go out in the city and everything is suddenly dark, to me that’s when the movie lives up to its title. It literally becomes a nightmare city because not only is it dark, but almost everyone in the film is a freaking zombie! There’s this cool sequence where a helicopter flies over the city and we go over a field that’s filled with zombies and people running away from them. They even end up going into an amusement park, which led me to believe that maybe this year’s Zombieland, though awesome, wasn’t really all that original.


Umberto Lenzi was imitating in some ways the films of Lucio Fulci. Actually, the producers wanted him to make a film that resembled a Fulci film, so maybe that’s why sometimes while watching this movie; you’ll feel like you’re watching something that old Lucio might have cooked up. But at times, you’ll also get this George Romero vibe going for it, with the whole television station sequence, or the social commentary that the film tries to squeeze in there at the last minute. I’m talking about a scene in which a character starts talking about how humanity is getting what they deserved, that humanity is self destructive. That the way we are living is only going to end up destroying us all. So at least it tries to throw in some social commentary in there as well.


I’ll never understand why I had not watched this movie before. It’s so zany, that its fun. It’s fast paced, and goes at a relentless pace! There are killings every five seconds, T&A galore, and we got Hugo Stiglitz hurling exploding TV sets! It was a fun ride, and a very underrated Italian film. I recommend this movie if you want to watch a dumb, fast paced, unintentionally funny zombie film.

Rating: 3 out of 5

11 comments:

Dom Coccaro said...

I always assumed that Nightmare City was a piece of shit, but I might give it a chance. I love spaghetti splatter.

Troy Olson said...

Damn, that Blue Underground DVD cover is atrocious. But really this is one of the all-time great bad Italian horror films. Just fun (and funny) the whole way through.

The sportcoat and turtleneck wearing zombies, that ending scene in the amusement park (including the obvious dummy falling from the helicopter), the surgeon who doubles as a knife throwing expert, the fact that it ends with "the nightmare becomes reality" -- it's all just so silly and fun.

Oh, and my favorite may be when they go see the priest near the end of the film. Without explaining it for everyone (it's pretty obvious), it's a great continuity blunder that always makes me laugh.

Can you tell I love this film (and I'm sure my brother will stop by to offer up his love as well).

The Film Connoisseur said...

@Dom: Same assumption that I made man. It still has all the Italian Horror movie trappings (gaps in logic, bad dubbing and so forth) but its a fun ride.

@Troy: Yeah, that ending reminded me a bit of Tobe Hoopers Invaders from Mars (1986). It felt like they didnt know where to take the movie, so they ended it that way..

Hey Troy, did you ever get to identify what country the whole film takes place in? I was trying to identify the military uniforms, but I just couldnt really make out where this military was from! They looked american sometimes, other times they didnt.

Troy Olson said...

Ha -- knowing Lenzi and his usual "attention" to detail, he likely just grabbed whatever uniforms he could find and didn't care about if they were all the same or not.

I'm pretty sure this is supposed to take place in the US (I just got out my go-to book for these things, EATEN ALIVE, and it states that it takes place "supposedly in the USA, but Spanish number plates on the cars give away the real location").

Which points to something fun to do when watching Italian exploitation films that are supposedly set in the States is to find all the obvious non-US signs/buildings/cars. It happens a lot.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Thanks for the info Troy.

Yeah, I was like, these guys make these films so they could distribute them in the states, so even though they film in Italy/Spain, they try and make the audience think its all happening in the states.

Im gonna make it a priority to check out Eaten Alive and Cannibal Ferox. I hear Ferox is supposed to be specially ferocious. I had a Cannibal movie blog-a-thon idea, but its difficult to sit through all of those for a whole week. The screaming and the gore and the graphic nature of these can get to ya after a while...even if its just a movie.

Troy Olson said...

I guess if you feel the need to have your curiosity sated, then by all means watch those cannibal films. Some Italian horror aficionados swear by them (and going back to that book I mentioned, find some kind of deep meaning in them). I can promise they don't come across in the same "fun" way that NIGHTMARE CITY does.

I happen to think they (and most cannibal movies) are just gory, exploitive trash. Sometimes they are a little bit of trashy fun, but mostly I can do without them (this coming from a fan of exploitation, Italian horror, and with a strong stomach for gore).

For more like NIGHTMARE CITY, check out Bruno Mattai's VIRUS aka ZOMBIE CREEPING FLESH. It's a riot.

Geof said...

As much of zombie movie enthusiast as Om am,I too passed on this several times because the cover didn't do it for me. After finally watching this a little over a year ago, I wish I would've watched this sooner. This movie is f'n awesome.

These f'ers are malicious, intelligent and even use weapons. The only thing that was kinda lame was the ending, but it doesn't take away from the fun throughout the rest of the film. Good review and I think you're right on the Zombieland topic.

Bob Ignizio said...

I gotta' be honest and say I thought this was pretty mediocre by Italian zombie standards. Definitely some fun aspects to it, especially the dancercize scene, but I'll take Fulci over this any day.

Regarding the cannibal flicks, the one big problem I have with this is the actual killing of animals. There's simply no excuse for it. Still, every horror fan has to see them eventually, so you might as well get it out of the way.

The Film Connoisseur said...

@Troy: Yeah, I sat through Cannibal Holocaust, and it chilled me to the bone. Its a very intense movie, so realistic at times. I also saw Zombie Holocaust, which tried to mix Cannibals, with zombies. Wasnt all that great of a film, it actually used some stock footage from Fulci's Zombie.

But the rest of them, like Mountain of the Cannibal God, Cannibal Ferox, Eaten Alive, Jungle Holocaust and a couple of others, Ive yet to experience. I know they make for a grueling watch, but you know, I gotta watch em.

@Geof: Yeah, that ending, it can either work or not on a film. In my opinion, it worked, because it ends up being something of a premonition, kind of like the Final Destination movies. Some people dont like that kind of ending because it kind of invalidates everything you just saw, but in a weird way on this film, it doesnt. Because of the "The Nightmare Becomes a Reality" part.

@Bob: I agree with ya man, Fulci is way better any day of the week. But still, these guys were trying hard to imitate Fulci's films. These one has a lot of Fulci moments in it. Zombie Holocaust for example, also had many Fulci moments in it...all these directors worshipped Fulci in Italy, they wanted to duplicate the success he had with his films.

I agree about the animal killings. They are hard to watch, most of the time I simply fastforward them. But that first time i watched Cannibal Holocaust, I watched the whole thing through. Tough in deed. That scene with the giant turtle that they cut into pieces, that was cruel.

Carl (ILHM) said...

If its possible to be a fantastic piece of shit, then this is a fantastic piece of shit. It is everything that Z-movie Italian zombie movies should be, with all of the awesome gore and nudity you mentioned. How can anyone hate on this one??

The Film Connoisseur said...

Exactly Carl. Its a fantastic piece of shit! Hey, at the very least, it entertains! Not everything has to be shakespear, you know what I mean?

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