Nightmare City

It could happen. It DID happen.
★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1980
Director: 
Umberto Lenzi
Starring: 
Hugo Stiglitz, Laura Trotter, Maria Rosaia Omaggio, Francisco Rabal, Sonia Viviani
The Setup: 
Zombie-types who wield weapons infiltrate city. Oh no.
Discussion: 

A friend of mine recommended this as being pretty good ludicrous fun, which it was. The only drawback is that it’s fun in pretty much exactly the same way as a number of films I’ve already seen. But whatever. Before we begin, I think you should know that there’s an interview with the director, Umberto Lezni, on the disc, in which he says that, aside from the ludicrous concept that the violent zombies in the movie can only be killed by bullet to the head or fire, the rest of what you’re about to read about here is “pretty realistic.” Because of, you know, chemicals and stuff.

This is an Italian-Spanish co-production, starring Huge Stiglitz from Tintorera, who Lenzi calls “stiff,” but was forced on him by the producers who wanted to expand the audience by having a Mexican hero. Anyway, there’s some spill at a nuclear plant, radioactivity let out, and you know as well as I what that must surely mean. So our hero, Dean Miller, is a journalist who has an appointment at the airport. He just happens to be there when they have an unscheduled arrival of this big Army plane that refuses to respond to hails. It lands, they stare at it, then all of a sudden it opens up and out come a bunch of angry zombies! Only they’re not really zombies in the traditional sense. They are just really angry people with maybe a little blood on their faces or a dime-store scar, who move fast and wield knives, machetes, chains and machine guns, and can’t be killed except by shot to the head. It’s a little odd to see a zombie gunning people down with a machine gun. I guess you could say they’re just really violent animated dead people. Anyway, they kill everyone except Miller, who escapes. Around 11:13 there’s a great cut from the corpse littered runway to…

DISCO DANCERS! These are the hired dancers of the show “It’s All Music!” during which they apparently play cheesy upbeat instrumentals while this group of dancers does their thing. It’s, um, a different idea of what should be shown on TV. Miller shows up at the studio and breaks in with an Action News special, warning the populous of the zombie outbreak, but he is soon cut off from his superiors. Meanwhile, his wife, Anna, is at home taking the salami of Warren Holmes, Army dude. If you ever want to see the worst sex scene ever filmed, you need to check out this movie. The couple are obviously just moving from point to point—kiss neck, rub shoulder, kiss face—with negative passion and apparent distaste, trying to get the whole thing over as quickly as possible.

Then Holmes goes home to his wife, Sylvia, who is a beautiful sculptor. She has recently created a zombie-like head with a big bulging eyeball, and delivers some spiritual mumbo-jumbo about how she was just channeling the spirit of the times. Oh my, what a startling prophetic vision. Now, I think the original email alerting me to the delights of this movie included the phrase: “ZOMBIE ATTACK ON A TV STUDIO!!!” and that is indeed what happens next. Only what the email didn’t mention is that it occurs during a taping of “It’s All Music!” with the zombies attacking disco dancers in leotards. The gore is fairly laughable, bright red paint as blood, although it’ll soon be apparent that they saved their gore budget for later. In here we do have the rather distasteful shot of a zombie cutting off a woman’s breast, which emerges as just part of the B-based violence we are about to witness. Miller, of course, is there, and you’ll notice that the TV monitor he throws explodes like a bomb. By now we’ve also noticed that they actors here are making quite a generous amount of ludicrous facial expressions, and that the poor dubbing only makes this that much worse.

Sometime in here we discover that the zombies were caused by a radioactive leak, and yet somehow their zombitude is transmissible by bite, and the reason they attack is because they need fresh blood to rejuvenate themselves, despite that they often just kill without sampling the goods. Ah well, whatever the audience won’t notice, I suppose. We next have a zombie attack on a surgery in progress, wherein a quick-thinking surgeon whips a scalpel across the room with deadly accuracy. That’s what we need: combat-ready surgeons. During this attack we have the rather strong suggestion that a zombie gets down and, well, when I say “eats a woman’s pussy” I really mean EATS a woman’s pussy. There is also a group of people trapped in a crowded elevator, who finally get out—only to face a crowd of zombies. Some days are just like that.

SPOILERS > > >
Meanwhile Sylvia has been distressed to find that someone has stabbed her zombie sculpture in the eye. Vandals! But it means there’s probably a zombie in the house, which they find to be true when he shows up and grasps the nearest 12-inch nail that just happens to be laying around and gouges out her friend’s eye. In graphic detail. We’re getting to the gore effects that they clearly saved their money for, and you’ll notice the zombies from here to the end are in a more advanced state of decay. Soon Holmes returns home to find his Sylvia has been zombitized, so he blows her head off, leaving a nasty stump. Why the stumped look, Sylvia?

Meanwhile Miller and Anna are driving the countryside, in which we have seen some very Dawn of the Dead-esque shots of hordes of zombies crossing a field. As zombie movies have seen a resurgence lately, you have to admire how Dawn of the Dead set the template for every single one. It’s like you can’t make any shark movie that isn’t derivative of Jaws. Anyway, Miller and Anna have to blow up their car, their only means of transport, to get away from the zombs [you’ll notice the car explodes immediately, like a bomb, as well], leaving them wandering fields on foot. Anna has a hysterical freak-out scene in the field, causing Miller to slap her, then they come upon old man Jenkins’ haunted amusement park.

They wander around and get attacked, and decide for some reason that it might be a good idea to climb to the top of the highest hill on the coaster, pursued by zombies. We have a lot of shot of exploding craniums in here. Then, why who is this in the helicopter? It’s Holmes! He lowers a rope and picks them up and it looks like they’re home free when—oops, Anna slips and falls, the dummy portraying her body bouncing hard off the roller-coaster as she goes down. It’s worth watching twice. Miller is all upset when he wakes and—it was all just a terrible dream!

But he’s got to get out of bed and run to the airport for his interview. He gets there, and we have a nearly full-length repeat of the army plane landing, making the whole thing into something like a Final Destination initial premonition. Woah!
< < < SPOILERS END

Well, it wasn’t bad, and was quite amusing, but there are a lot of other movies exactly like it, and some of them are a little more scary, involving, and entertaining. I often reflected on how I’d rather be watching Demons or Demons 2 during this. But it’s still good dirty zombie fun, with the additional distinction of having machine gun-wielding zombies. Yeah whatever, it could be worse, and you DO get a zombie attack on a disco show, so….

Also on the DVD is an interview with the director, Umberto Lenzi, who gives the aforementioned quote about how everything you’ve just read about is “realistic,” and that “It could happen, and I’d like to say that it DID happen.” Yeah, well I’d like to say that I’m a billionaire, you know? He also flat-out calls his leading man a bad, stiff actor, and quite offensively draws a comparison between AIDS and zombies, and the way, in his warped little mind, AIDS led to a “breakdown in society.” Wow, which planet is this guy on? Come back Umberto—we’ve got cookies.

Should you watch it: 

Can’t hurt, it’s kind of fun, if a somewhat well-worn route.