Umberto Lenzi, 1980
Starring: Hugo Stiglitz, Laura Trotter, Mel Ferrer
Raro Video’s U.S. label has recently released Umberto Lenzi’s zombie extravaganza Nightmare City (1980) on Blu-ray for the first time. Starring Hugo Stiglitz and Mel Ferrer, this over the top, blood and gore soaked B-movie classic looks better than ever and, though it is not strictly a zombie film, will delight fans of Euro-horror and ‘70s undead cinema.
Incubo Sulla Cittá Contaminata aka Nightmare City aka City of the Walking Dead concerns Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz), a TV reporter waiting at the airport for a scientist he is hoping to interview. Instead, he witnesses the arrival of a military plane that makes an emergency landing. Its passengers are a number of zombie-like humans that attack and kill anyone they can get their hands on. They soon swarm a TV station and hospital, killing and infecting anyone they encounter. General Murchison (Mel Ferrer) refuses to let Miller share the news with the general public, though Miller flees to the local hospital to find his wife Anna (Laura Trotter), an employee there. They escape to an abandoned amusement park, hoping to be rescued even though the place is full of the zombie-like creatures.
Lenzi did not intend that Nightmare City should be a straightforward zombie film; his creatures are actually humans suffering from a rabies-like radiation sickness, which is why they are able to use weapons and operate machinery. The weaponry is a bit absurd and includes machine guns, knives, machetes, clubs, and really any potentially lethal blunt object. They creatures do eat human flesh, but only after they have killed their prey with the variety of weapons. The radiation sickness angle is also Lenzi’s attempt at expressing an anti-military message that is further expressed in the character of General Murchison.
This Italian-Spanish-Mexican co-production was initially intended to star a bigger name Italian actor like Franco Nero (Django) or Fabio Testi (Four of the Apocalypse), but the Mexican and Spanish investors wanted a Mexican star, thus resulting in the casting of Hugo Stiglitz. Stiglitz is primarily known for a series of films with Mexican director René Cardona Jr., namely Night of a Thousand Cats and Tintorera: Killer Shark. As with those films, Nightmare City has many unintentionally hilarious scenes, such as when a horde of zombies break into a television station and attack women dancing through an aerobics program. Stiglitz is a strange mixture of awkwardness and charisma and, as with his performance in Night of a Thousand Cats, it is impossible to take your eyes off of him, even though he often descends int the truly absurd.
There are some decent supporting performances from a number of Italian film regulars such as Francisco Rabal (The Rebel) and Eduardo Fajardo (Django). Laura Trotter (Frivolous Lola) is memorable as Dean’s wife and prolific American actor Mel Ferrer (War and Peace, Eaten Alive) puts in a dependable appearance as the hard-headed General who wants to keep the zombies a secret for as long as possible.
Director Umberto Lenzi is known for gory cannibal films like Eaten Alive and Cannibal Ferox, as well as a series of somewhat more obscure giallo films like Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, Eyeball, and Spasmo. Nightmare City has all of his major trademarks: graphic violence, explicit nudity, and a love of the bizarre if not the outright silly. Many throats are slit, there are a number of decapitations, eyeball trauma, a nipple is cut off by a machete-wielding zombie, etc. Though the film isn’t as serious as some of its zombie brethren, the gore is certainly plentiful and Lenzi makes every attempt to be creative with it.
Nightmare City may be too rough or slipshod for some horror fans and seems to delight in its own badness at times. There is some very poor pacing, moving back and forth between dramatic action and slow, dialogue heavy scenes. If you’ve seen enough B-grade Italian horror, Lenzi films, or movies starring Hugo Stiglitz, this should come as no surprise. The healthy amount of gore more than makes up for some of the questionable plot elements and Lenzi has a number of original set pieces that help Nightmare City to be more than just another Night of the Living Dead or Zombie clone.
Raro presents a new high-definition transfer of Nightmare City in 1080p with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Taken from the original 35mm negative, the transfer looks great, particularly compared to the VHS I grew up watching. Bold colors, clear details, and an appropriate, though minimal level of grain ensure that the film looks better than it ever has. The dark or nighttime scenes in particular lack any of the previous muddiness. Both LPCM 2.0 Italian and English tracks are included along with optional English subtitles. I believe the film was shot in English, so, for once, that is the superior track. The enjoyable score from Stelvio Cipriani (Bay of Blood), effects, and dialogue are all clear, even though some silly dubbing remains.
Though there aren’t an overwhelming amount of extras, included is a lengthy, English language interview with Umberto Lenzi from 2000 that covers the production history of Nightmare City. There’s also an English trailer and an Italian trailer, as well as an illustrated booklet with an informative essay about the film from Chris Alexander, editor of Fangoria. I believe the interview was included in the earlier Anchor Bay DVD release of Nightmare City and it’s a shame Raro couldn’t have included a few more extras, possibly with the involvement Hugo Stiglitz.
If you’ve never seen Nightmare City and you love ‘70s zombies films, especially along the lines of Burial Ground or Zombie, then you owe it to yourself to pick up this new Blu-ray from Raro Video. They’ve been putting out some great stuff lately, though generally with more of an emphasis on Eurocrime films and spaghetti westerns than horror, so this is a welcome addition to their line.