Our editor-in-chief Nate Yapp is proud to have contributed to the new book Hidden Horror: A Celebration of 101 Underrated and Overlooked Fright Flicks, edited by Aaron Christensen. Another contributors include Anthony Timpone, B.J. Colangelo, Dave Alexander, Classic-Horror.com's own Robert C. Ring and John W. Bowen. Pick up a copy today from Amazon.com!
Nightmare City (1980)
A radioactive leak causing mass contamination disrupts the normality of daily human living. While at the airport, TV news reporter Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz, Cemetery of Terror) witnesses first hand the dismay of things to come. An unmarked, unidentified airplane lands without authorization. Once the doors of the plane open, a large assembly of ass kicking, gun shooting and axe wielding zombie maniacs come out starving for human blood. The only way to kill these lifeless creatures is a bullet wound to the head. Dean now has to get to the hospital where his wife Anna (Laura Trotter, Miami Golem) works, so they can get out of Nightmare City alive!
One may ask if Nightmare City (aka City of the Walking Dead, Invasion by the Atomic Zombies) is scary. No. Not even in the slightest bit. However, it does manage to be one of the top Italian terror comedies ever filmed, even if not meant to be. While watching, it is visibly apparent that the approach was supposed to be a serious one; but it's practically impossible to look at this sidesplitting work of art seriously.
Nightmare City has some of the most delightfully horrible acting ever captured in a motion picture. Not just from a few of the cast members, but from every person in the film. All of the emotions from the characters are in the right place they should be, but they certainly aren't pulled off correctly. In a movie like this you don't want Oscar-worthy efforts, though. It would only be too much to handle. The roles of Dean and Anna Miller are extraordinary, speaking in a laughable sense of course. In one scene while the terror is in the midst across the whole country, they are at a gas station laughing over a cup of coffee.
Major Warren Holmes (the late Francisco Rabal, Dagon) is almost genuine in a scene where he phones his wife at home, telling her to lock all of the doors. This is exceptionally logical, bearing in mind that he is a prune looking old man and she is one incredibly attractive young woman. An opportunity like this only presents itself seldom in life. Mel Ferrer (Screamers '79, Eaten Alive) plays General Murchison, who is merely trying to get his daughter to safety by sending an officer to her home as an escort to the military base. His talent is sadly too short in this movie to be admired.
A couple of scenes are without doubt homage of other zombie films, especially George Romero's Dawn of the Dead. In one segment the camera takes the viewer inside of a helicopter, showing the mad bloodsuckers below running amok in an empty field. Picture Dawn of the Dead with the fast-tackling running zombies from the original Return of the Living Dead and you have this scene. It is quite probable that Dan O' Bannon borrowed the running characteristic from Umberto Lenzi's idea, but the Lenzi zombies are still much different. These ghouls are more like vampires. They imbibe blood only, so there aren't any vile scenes of meat consumption here. Apparently, these members of the UN-dead have a recollection of liking the female anatomy from their history; almost every lady in the film has their shirt ripped off before they are discarded.
Nightmare City does have its fair share of gore, but most of it is detained until the climax. There are several gross-out scenes here and there, though. The make-up FX are handled by Franco Digirolamo (The New York Ripper, Zombi 3, Terminator 2) and Giuseppe Ferranti (A Cat in the Brain, Aenigma). Zombie FX ranges from out of place eyeballs, to basically just looking like someone or something took a dump on their faces. Keep in mind these creeps are the rotting dead, yet they all have perfect looking teeth. One extremely harmonious scene is a zombie getting shot in the mug, completely taking away the back of their cranium. The finale has multiple facial explosions, thanks to a machine gun; plus a breast removal scene and whole lot of blood slurping throughout the entire film.
Although Nightmare City is a stellar favorite of mine, it can only be suggested to those who like their horror UN-purposely tacky. Even fans that like horror comedies may be turned off, mainly for the reason that this wasn't supposed to be funny. But if you are one of those that like all types, or just wants every UN-dead film you can get your hands on, pick it up. The DVD transfer from Anchor Bay looks beautiful, presented in wide screen. No graininess what so ever. The dubbing is apparent, yet some of the acting was originally done in English. Special features include a Theatrical trailer, an Umberto Lenzi bio and a new entertaining interview with the director titled "Tales of the Contaminated City" (where he says without the presence of his expertise, the film could have been a lot worse. He also stated something along the lines of there being a possibility of this really happening). Quite an amusing film.