OK, so first let's get a little something straight. Nightmare City is not, as Umberto claims, a meaningful cinematic tirade against the dangers of nuclear power. For all his class and skill, Umberto Lenzi is nothing more than a cheap exploitation director (a hack, if you will) and a leak at the local power plant is as good a reason for a bloodbath as Vietnam veterans trying to adjust to normal society. No Mr Lenzi, Nightmare City is not going to change the world...
Right, now we've got that out of the way, on with the show...
Miller (Hugo Stiglitz), a scruffy looking reporter with a beard and a flashers' overcoat is sent to the airport to interview an eminent professor. Instead Son of Columbo is confronted with a pilotless aircraft that somehow manages to land itself safely on the runway. Worse luck! You see, not only does this 'plane contain the famous scientist, it also contains tons of really (really) ugly zombies. And these aren't the simple shuffling dopes that disgrace the films of Fulci and Romero. Oh no. These are "super-zombies" (?) that can run, fight and use deadly weapons to even deadlier effect. One poor bastard has his throat cut... twice. Another shrieks as he watches his amputated stump bleed, completely unaware that his real arm is clearly visible beneath his shirt. Miller makes good his escape while he still can (clever boy) and slopes off back to the TV station.
The TV studio is in full swing as Italy's equivelent of Legs and Co. dance away the afternoon for literally tens of viewers (that's a pretty generous estimate methinks) so Miller takes it upon himself to interrupt the show with a special newsflash. Luckily the Defence Department catches him before he can do too much damage so Miller, now in a huff, quits and spends the rest of the day sulking round the studio.
Soon enough zombies invade the dance routine (which has by now presumably been going on for hours) tearing people to shreds and even taking the time to cut off a woman's breast with a knife (What is it with you and breasts, Lenzi? Did you suffer some secret trauma as a child?). Miller decides it's about time to make good another escape and go and find his missus.
Mrs. Miller's at work at the hospital seeing to her patients. "Well, how are you feeling today, Phil?" she asks innocently.
"I feel like somebody who's waiting for the hatchet guy to chop off his head, doctor." he sneers back in reply. Don't tempt fate Phil! Another patient, some football crazy kid, has just had a nightmare about his leg being cut off. Jesus can't any of you guys take a hint?
The Major and the General have gotten together to discuss this grave situation. Major Holmes is in his late fifties/early sixties with some sexpot sculptor for a bird; General Merchinson (Mel Ferrer) on the other hand is slightly more conservative, looking horribly like the Commisioner from the Police Academy series (In fact I'm pretty damn sure it is him. Anybody?). They examine the body of a zombie and, after much deliberation, decide that the best way to kill these rotting revellers is to, "Aim for the brain." They also reveal that these zombies aren't flesh-eaters, just blood-suckers which means that the gore quoitient is severely diminished. Drat!
Holmes tells his chick not to go out. After much complaining she does as she's told. Merchinson's daughter on the other hand is not quite so compliant; after being told to join her daddy at HQ she sneaks off on holiday with her boyfriend. Meanwhile the zombies invade the local power station in a van (oh, didn't I tell you? They can drive as well!) and cut the electicity to the city.
At the hospital Mrs Miller happens upon some zombies pinching blood from the storeroom and all her patients are now dead. When the zombies crash the operating theatre a resourceful surgeon uses a scalpel as a throwing knife (to no avail) and the nuclear numpties go beserk, killing off the staff and drinking the blood from the intravenous drip. Miller rescues his wife and they escape together in an ambulance while inside the hospital an elevator full of people become fast food for the zombos...
Despite hearing news reports about the State Of Emergency in the city, Merchinson's daughter and her hubbie aren't particularly bothered and seem even less concerned when their friends turn up.... wielding a knife and a harpoon. In fact, right up until the point of death they don't seem too concerned about anything, only showing any emotion after they've been slaughtered.
Holmes' bird, Sheila the sculptor, lets her friend into the house and then realises that she hasn't barricaded the coal-hole. Needless to say the house is overrun by zombies climaxing in an extremely (seriously this is horrid!) gruesome scene involving an eye being poked out with a knife. Later on in the film Holmes finds Sheila working on one of her grotesque sculptures using real eyeballs!
The Millers make themselves at home in a gas-station, trying on the previous owners' clothes before holding a discussion about instant coffee and pioneer spirit. When they inevitably get attacked by zombies Miller axes one of them before deciding to throw a petrol bomb at them. He waits until they're all stood round his ambulance, chucks it and then... oops, I didn't expect that to happen! Honestly, Miller looks seriously peeved when he sees his car's fate.. well you've only yourself to blame, Beard-boy!
So now, without transport the Millers find themselves in a church. Yet again Mrs Miller starts to procrastinate philosphically about this situation telling her husband that zombies can't enter churches. Instead of simply slapping her Miller just does as she says, finding out to their disadvantage that the priest here is none other than.... a zombie. Sorry, gotta run..
The movie comes to it's gory conclusion in a fairground. Heads explode left, right and centre as the Millers make their way up the roller-coaster ready to be rescued by the knight in shining armour Holmes who has commandeered a helicopter. Mrs Miller falls laughably to her doom, and then...
Miller wakes up. He has an important interview to perform at the airport with an eminent scientist. When he arrives there a mysterious plane lands and, before the doors open, some cheap looking lettering appears on screen informing us that 'THE NIGHTMARE BECOMES REALITY...'
Despite being complete shite Nightmare City certainly does not suck. Not by a long shot. For a start it's extremely gory, which is always a bonus. OK, so it doesn't come anywhere near Lenzi's Cannibal Ferox in the sadism stakes, true, but there are enough (fake looking) axings, knifings, throat- slittings, gunshot-woundings, decapitations and amputations, all laden with oodles of Dulux fake blood, to keep things ticking over nicely, not to mention the aforementioned poked-out-eyeball scene (ugh!). Plus the impromtue mascectomy is in very poor taste indeed which is lovely, providing many weeks of tap-room discussion for sickos like myself . Besides the bloodshed there are a couple of genuinely eerie moments in the movie too, most notably in the church but also during the airport sequence at the beginning, rekindling memories of Fulci's Zombie Flesheaters.
These zombies are seriously freaky looking too. I'm not joking! For a start most of them look like they've suffered third-degree-burns to the face, but that's only part of it.. It's the way these crispy critters actually look that's the most unnerving, their expressions and the like. They all have massive bulging eyes and slack-jaws that would make them seem more at home licking windows at the local asylum, and would serve much better as a warning against the dangers of solvent-abuse rather than radiation poisoning. Worst of all, most of the zombies wear atrocious seventies'-style acrylic polo-necks (beige, no less), presumably to conceal the fact that their make-up ends at the neck.
The excitement doesn't let-up from start to finish. The worst thing a film can be is boring, but Nightmare City certainly isn't. N'ary a minute goes by without some kind of caper going down and Lenzi really keeps the tension up, despite the fact that this movie doesn't have any stunts, just violence and explosions. Shabby Stiglitz is hardly real tough-guy hero material, probably more at home picking courgettes on a hippie commune, but he does come across as quite a likeable, intelligent chap and, believe it or not, he even has morals and ethics too, a bonus in a world where heroes care about nothing more than how big their steroid-knotted bum looks in a pair of satin hot-pants. He throws about tirades about government censorship as easily as he throws axes in zombies' faces.
But the wildest thing about this flick is the conclusion. I still can't figure it out (logically, that is.). If the movie had simply run out of steam then surely it would have made more sense just to kill everybody in the tradition of all the finest Italian zombie flicks (ala Bianci'sZombie 3). So unfortunately I have come to the conclusion that this is merely Lenzi's attempt at pretence. It doesn't exactly work but at the end of the day, who cares? The plotline in a zombie film's really only an excuse to kill people: if you want a goddamn story-line then watch Citizen fucking Kane instead!
However, I still can't help thinking about Lenzi's own thoughts on this film. He genuinely seems to think that he's actually breaking new ground with this. Take my word for it, he's not. But if you want nothing more than a good old-fashioned gorefest that requires the minimum of mental strain then by all means go for this one. It's extremely good fun if nothing else.
Aka: Incubo Culla Città Contaminata, City of the Walking Dead
Prolific, workmanlike Italian director and writer who dabbled in most genres throughout his 40 year career. Started work as a film critic before making his directing debut in 1961 with the sea-faring adventure flick Queen of the Seas. The two decades years saw Lenzi churn out westerns, historical dramas, Bond-esquespy yarns and giallo thrillers among others.
It was his 1972 proto-cannibal film Deep River Savages that led to the best known phase of his career, with notorious gore-epics Cannibal Ferox and Eaten Alive and zombie shlocker Nightmare City quickly becoming favourites amongst fans of spaghetti splatter. Continued to plug away in the horror genre before retiring in 1996.