1980 – Not Rated – Raro Video
Zombies, zombies and more zombies. No matter which direction you pivot your head, there they are. Bland. Dull. Boring. Far outlived their lifespan (they are undead after all, har har). To me, they all blend in together, offering nothing new, exciting or even entertaining to the sub-genre. I’ve made this argument a hundred times before, so I won’t rehash it again. Of course this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a zombie trend. In the 80’s, we saw a boom from Italy, flooding our film market with imitators and clones. But there was undeniably a certain charm and originality to them that today’s zombie films seem to lack, be it good (or bad) makeup effects, bizarrely odd characters or even seemingly intentional insane plots.
Let’s look at Cannibal Ferox director Umberto Lenzi’s zombie romp, Nightmare City, also released here in the States as City of the Walking Dead (not to be confused with Fulci’s City of the Living Dead). I remember first seeing this movie at the local video store in the big box, with the topless woman, half her face ripped off, under the City of the Walking Dead title. Although these mutants or creatures share characteristics of zombies, director Umberto Lenzi claims it’s not as much as a zombie movie as it is a “radiation sickness movie.” I already did a video review for this film on Goon Reviews, so I’ll do my best not to repeat myself. By the way, WATCH MY VIDEO REVIEW HERE! Now that the shameless plug is out of the way…
We start this puppy off like most Italian horror films, by establishing shots of a city (D’oh! I already repeated myself). It’s totally irrelevant to anything in the plot, not like you never know what city you are in, but you are in a city. But within this city is uncanny reporter, Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz). Dean is just waking up in time for his big interview with a scientist for whatever reason you would interview a scientist for. Now, remember this scene, because it may just come back…
Once at the airport, a military plane does an emergency landing as security personal and Dean line up outside the plane. Nobody seems to be responding to the calls for them to step out, which brings up my next question: Why the hell does airport security have machine guns? I can’t get a stick of gum through security, but these dudes are toting fully automatic weapons? Well those guns might come in use, because once those doors open, a swarm of radioactive infected mutant people (we’ll just simply call them zombies from here on) rush out and start to kill everyone! And by that I mean, they slash at the soldiers from about six feet away and they jump back. Ever watch a group of kids pretend to fight because they are playing superheroes or something? Anyway, Dean just stands idly by, looking bored until he realizes, “Oh we should probably leave.”
There is actually something these zombies are doing that you may have noticed is quite unique from other zombies. Yeah, they are using weapons and running! How about that? If there is one thing you have to give this movie credit for, it’s that it tried to do something different with a genre that even they knew was going to quickly become mundane. It’s a breathe of fresh air, as it actually gives this nonsensical film an (at the time) original spin.
Dean wants to alert the area of this atrocity, which is a clever and rational thing to do, but the man, General Murchison specifically, censors him like communist Russia and Dean is immediately suspended from work. And you thought you were having a bad day! Meanwhile on the opposite end of the spectrum, Major Holmes (Mel Ferrer) is about to “hit that” when he’s alerted of the crisis and put into action. Looks like a cold shower for you this morning, Major. At ease!
It’s just like the authority to be late on the action. The zombies bust in to the TV station, which is totally convenient to move this somewhat of a plot along. While the military is figuring out what to do and calling their loved ones, Dean heads over to the hospital to save his woman, since he’s a man of action. Even with the zombies killing everyone in the hospital, Dean still manages to save her in a heroic, muscle bound brute fashion as they get away in a Volkswagen Beetle. Get outta here, ‘69 Dodge Charger, ya schmuck… make way for the new muscle car!
The remainder of the film is actually quite redundant. The various characters are taking shelter, trying to stay alive, but alas failing to do so. Dean and his wife find themselves holed up at various locations, each time she vomits out nonsense women’s lib and the evil of mankind. I’m not saying women’s lib is nonsense, but trust me… you do not want this woman speaking for your cause. However, Dean is always spared from these self indulgent speeches as zombies always seem to attack and the two flee to the next location to repeat this tired process. It would be boring if it weren’t for the unintentionally amusingly, stupid decisions that these characters constantly make. Seriously, they make Gomer Pyle look dignified and subtle. You will feel like you’re stuck in a loop, kinda like Groundhog Day, but instead of reliving the same day with the freedom to take what you previously learned and do as you please, you have to watch the same scene over and over and over…
They finally wind up at an amusement park (Zombieland nods, perhaps?) where guess what? That’s right! Zombie attack! Only this time, Dean takes the fight over flee and scoops up a machine gun and grenades (GRENADES!?!?) and mows down zombie after zombie Rambo style, one arming, using the “spray and pray” method. As he and his wife climb to the top of a roller coaster, Major Holmes arrives in a chopper to try and rescue them. As the two make their way up the ladder, Dean’s wife falls and plummets to her death, smacking every poll on the way down in perhaps one of cinema’s most hilarious death scenes. But, this film does not end the way you think it would. Not even close… hint: Think Phantasm.
Raro Video once again restores a classic from the original 35mm and let me tell you, this is the best it will ever look (until there is a new way to transfer in the future). After comparing it to the Anchor Bay DVD release, this new HD transfer has less grain and the colors and contrast look quite good. Everything looks very crisp, which is unfortunate for the special effects, as it seems to highlight how terrible they are and reveals every flaw. The audio is 2.0 and you get both English and Italian. Although it’s stereo, it sounds pretty good and everything sounds clear as rain, which is more than you could ask for. However, if you’re looking for special features, I’m afraid you won’t find much as far as quantity goes, but quality wise, there is a rather excellent interview with Umberto Lenzi from 2000 that runs almost an hour long. I found it to be informative to watch. Other than that, you get both Italian and American trailers, which to me look identical. This is all packaged underneath an old fashioned, but still cool slip cover (which the film Demon Queen stole the image for), which reveals the classic artwork you are probably most accustomed to. Overall, a well packaged transfer worth the investment (you’re welcome, Raro… when can I expect my check?).
For all the negative things I had to say about Nightmare City, at least it’s pretty damn original and fun. It’s not your typical zombie film, offering more intelligent “undead” that wield weapons, make semi-rational decisions and run. Fans of average, run of the mill zombie media may not find enjoyment in the film, but I suggest you put away that Walking Dead chubby every seems to have, take a risk and watch something different, such as Nightmare City. The gore isn’t necessarily excessive, but there is a decent amount. The acting is exactly how good you would expect it to be (although a lot of that is to blame on the almost early FMV game style audio dubbing) and although the plot is downright silly and, let’s face it, it is a stupid movie, you will find yourself having a good time, whether you are laughing at it for one or two of the various reasons you should be, I think you will be pleasantly pleased with Nightmare City.
The Lost Highway is running amok!