Nightmare City (1980)




I really dislike movies that cheat – whether it’s having twists that rely on information we weren’t given, or magic reset buttons, or (as is the case here) “it was all a dream” endings. Has anyone ever gone “that entire movie that took place in someone’s head was really good”? No, is the answer, and if you have any friends that come close to this nonsense, I suggest cutting them from your life immediately. I’m sure there are exceptions (please mention them in the comments, it’d be nice to know people read these) but my rule is good and worth following.


“Nightmare City” is one of the “classic” Italian zombie movies, along with stuff like “City Of The Living Dead”, “Burial Ground” (my favourite), and “The Beyond”. There’s a fantastic blu-ray restoration of it done by Arrow Films (seriously, give those guys your money, they put tons of work into making old, cheaply shot movies look as good as possible) with tons of special features and all sorts. I’m not saying make this your first ever Arrow purchase (I’d have to go with “Dawn Of The Dead” for that) but even their less-than-great releases are at least interesting to find out about.


A bearded fellow awakes from uneasy dreams and needs to get to work, while his wife lounges in bed some more. He’s a news reporter and is off to the airport to interview…someone? I was switching between the Italian and English audio at the time and missed that bit. Don’t worry, it does not become a plot point in any way. So, he’s at the airport when a large military plane comes into view, radio silence. In 2016 it’d have been shot out of the air miles away, but in 1980 it’s allowed to land, so the army gathers round it, with the emergency services and our plucky reporter and his cameraman. Out of the plane? ZOMBIES! There’s a lot of the undead packed onto it, too, because they just keep streaming out.


Now, a word about the zombies. The blu-ray cover calls them “pizza-faced”, which is being rather polite. “Normal people with a bit of sticky crap on their face” is still being a bit polite to them. Blu-ray is a bad medium to see such pathetically bad makeup (which in almost every instance, ends at the neck – zombies have remarkably fresh hands, it would seem) and while it’s certainly not the worst makeup ever (I remember one where all the zombies just had grey paint on their face) it’s right down at the bottom. Even the more grotesque undead just look like they’re wearing a crap-covered balaclava. And all their eyes are fine! Ah, never mind.


There’s an Army general and his far-too-young-for-him girlfriend too, with the Army guy being decent-ish. His commanding officer, though, is a piece of garbage, when despite what must be thousands of deaths he refuses to issue a warning or help civilians in any way (Army guy spends most of the second half of the movie flying about in a helicopter, indicating the producers paid for one and they were going to get every penny out of it).


What’s nice in horror movies is an escalating sense of threat. Humans will pretty quickly figure out how to kill zombies, so there either needs to be more zombies, or the humans need to get weaker, or the zombies need to get more powerful. In “Nightmare City”, though, they start off virtually invincible and just stay there. They run! They use guns and knives! They drive cars! Out of all the humans, only Reporter Guy shows even the most basic instinct for self-preservation, kicking the zombies out of the way, running around, and most importantly not just standing there shouting as someone eats your face. Or boob, as it seems at least a few of our zombies have a penchant for chewing on a breast.


There’s only so long you can watch a bunch of incompetent humans get gradually picked off by a completely over-powered group of zombies. There’s bits of entertainment in there, I suppose, like the zombie attack on a TV studio showing a live jazzercise program, or the TV that gets thrown and explodes like a grenade, but it’s pretty slim pickings for what should have been a rip-roaring classic. And, even for an Italian zombie movie, it’s pretty appallingly sexist. Even leaving aside the constant chewing on boobs, there’s the way the only two plot drivers are Reporter Guy and Army Guy – their women are complete window-dressing and only slow things down, cause problems, cry and moan, and so on.


Director Umberto Lenzi is the very poor cousin of Italian exploitation cinema, and with an ending like the one he gave us, he deserves to be. Here be spoilers, I guess…so, Reporter’s wife dies (turning into a hilarious stuffed dummy as she falls the entire height of a rollercoaster, and things seem to be going pretty badly for him, until he wakes up! It was all a dream! But not only that, he then goes to the airport, meets his cameraman, and sees a military plane land in complete radio silence. Basically, they replay the first few minutes of the film, with the only difference being Reporter Guy has a slightly more puzzled expression this time. Nothing else changes at all, and the movie cuts off when the plane door opens. So BOOOOOOO


It’s not fun enough to get past its massive limitations. If you’re desperate for an Italian zombie movie, you have many better ways to spend your time and money.


Rating: thumbs down