Monday, August 9, 2010

Nightmare City (Umberto Lenzi, 1980)

They stab you in the neck, they drink your blood, they lurch mindlessly, but what are they? You, the slender gal in the pointy skull buckle boots, "Yeah, are they, like, deranged lunatics with a taste for human flesh?" You're partly right (and you've got to tell me where you got those boots). Uh, yes, the morose-looking gentleman in the faded Gowan t-shirt, "radioactive vampires?" Sort of, I guess. Anyone else? The skittish woman in the turquoise tube top, "I think they're basically just tempestuous zombies bent on world domination?" Interesting. While I find your use of the word "tempestuous" to be extremely off-putting, I like how you were unafraid to employ to the zed-word. Well, I have to say, even though some of your fashion choices are a tad suspect (I mean, come on, pink flip-flops with navy blue sweatpants?), you're are all correct. What I think I'm trying to say is that the unfriendly fiends that populate Nightmare City (a.k.a. City of the Walking Dead and Incubo Sulla Città Contaminata)–Umberto Lenzi's fantastic ode to citywide homicide–are not the kind of maniacs you can easily attach a label to. Wielding a wide assortment of weapons, the killers in this straightforward attack, eat, and attack some more opus literally drop out of the sky. Landing a military cargo plane at the airport, the murderous cabal with bad skin announce their arrival by stabbing shooting, strangling, and bludgeoning the camouflaged contents of their heavily armed welcoming party.

Witnessing this wanton display of tarmac-based violence is a bearded journalist named Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz). Concerned for the safety of the populace, he immediately races over to local television studio to get word to the masses that something terribly unsavoury is coming their way. Interrupting an aerobics show already in progress, Dean starts to deliver his dire warning. Unfortunately, upper manage pull the plug on his address just as he was getting to the good part. As usual, the military want to keep the whole merciless madmen are running amuck thing under wraps.

Unsuccessful in his attempt to sound the alarm, Dean decides to focus the bulk of his manly resources on notifying his wife Dr. Anna Miller (Laura Trotter) of the forthcoming danger. Unable to reach her at home or at the hospital she works via a pay telephone, Dean rushes over to her place of employment. Because he knows the hospital is pretty much the place to be when it comes to apocalyptic breakouts of this nature. And wouldn't you know it, the joint is crawling with radioactive vampire zombies brandishing knives and axes by the time he arrives.

Meanwhile, over at military headquarters, two soldiers also have female loved ones on their mind. A major (Franciso Rabel) is worried about Sheila (Maria Rosaria Omaggio), his sculptor lady friend, and a general (Mel Ferrer) is concerned about the safety of his daughter Jessica (Stefania D'Amario) and, to a lesser extent, her husband Bob (Pierangelo Civara). The major basically tells Sheila to stay inside and lock all the doors, and the general sends over a man to pick Jessica up and shuttle her to safety.

Regrettably, while the artistic Sheila does exactly what she is told, Jessica and Bob blow off the general's warning and drive off into the countryside. Of course, they don't know it yet, but the city is surrounded by roving gangs of uninsured zombie killers.

While the film does focus on individual encounters with members of the unruly mob, the main drive of Nightmare City are the onslaughts that feature dozens of assailants prodding sharp implements into the bodies of multiple unsuspecting victims.

The mayhem at the airport, which kicks off the film, the skirmish at the television studio, the attack on the city's power grid, the extensive melee at the hospital, a brief battle at a gas station, and the climatic showdown at an amusement park, all these sequences contain a demented temperament that most so-called "zombie flicks" seem to lack.

In addition, the fact that the aggressors could run and utilize weapons was definitely one of the main reasons the film worked.

It's true, while the majority of the people in this film cowered in fear whenever they found themselves face-to-face with the bloodsucking devil monsters, this wasn't the case when Hugo Stiglitz stepped up to the sticky wicket. Sure, there were a few valiant, non-Stiglitzian attempts to thwart the hoard (pathetic attempts, but attempts, nonetheless). Yet there was never any doubt that Hugo would come out on top during his many confrontations with the grotesque throng. Hell, he didn't need a gun half the time. However, I do question his logic in regard to blowing up his getaway car just to bump off four assailants milling about outside a gas station. But I guess even bearded badasses make mistakes every now and then.

This may comes as bit of a shock, but my favourite sequence in the entire film was the attack on the television station during the taping of some kind of aerobics show. Call me marginally depraved, but the sight of comely women in blue leotards being clawed at by an unwelcome concourse of festering degenerates was strangely erotic. Now I'm not saying that I enjoyed seeing them get stabbed and all (the graphic nature of some of the knife thrusting was actually quite disturbing), I'm just saying that I found the whole idea of sweaty ladies in exceedingly tight outfits running from unattractive men covered in radioactive sores to be somewhat titillating.

Why were all the people who worked at the television station wearing lab coats? Anybody? You in the back, no, not you, the one in the assless chaps who reeks of expired cheese, "How the fuck should I know, you blithering git." Was it the cheese remark? Anyway, I guess we'll just chalk up as being "an Italian thing" and move on.

Speaking of Italian things, the score by Stelvio Cipriani was winsome and full of synthy goodness.

The events surrounding an inoperative hospital elevator packed with panicky people was comically tragic. In fact, the hospital sequence on the whole had that sort of vibe about it. For example, there's a shot of a nurse fleeing the hospital and just as we think she's about to get away, a more deformed than usual zombie notices her and seems to make it his mission in life not to let her leave the grounds of hospital without being stabbed. It perfectly sums the random cruelty of this sinister syndicate.

While Hugo's awesomeness was a given, I was also passably impressed by the work of Laura Trotter as the doctor whose attentive bedside manner managed to generate a moderate chubby or two. It's true, the way her Veronica Lake-esque hair cascaded down the side of her face was freaking enchanting, so my judgment may be a tad clouded. But there was something alluring about the manner in which she carried herself on a day-to-day basis.

Also, the fact that Hugo Stiglitz seemed to like her did nothing but elevate her appeal.

At any rate, the zombies in Nightmare City, who others and I have called, "radioactive vampires," "an unruly mob," and "bloodthirsty devil monsters," were a mysterious lot. While they want to claw at and stab your boobies, they, ironically, remain at an arms length throughout most of the picture.

not safe for work video uploaded by trailer0boy


  1. He kills Nazis and zombie, but what about Nazi-zombies?

    I think I have avoided Lezi because of Cannibal Ferrox. My only cannibal film has been Slave/Mountain of the Cannibal God, and it didn't site well, despite Ursula Andress' participation. Maybe I'll give this one a try.

    Word verification: allas - either it is "alas" spelled poorly, or "all ass" spelled poorly.

  2. This one might possibly contain the most "sinister leering" in movie history. And it has such a uniquely perverse atmosphere, constantly permeating an aura of chaos and sleaze- usually leaving me giddy with nervous anticipation of more.

    Yum Yum, have you seen "Tintorera", the Mexican JAWS rip-off (and sexcapade) also starring Hugo Stiglitz? If not, I'd suggest that it requires your treatment.

  3. Darius Whiteplume: I'm not a big fan of jungle-based cannibal movies. If I'm going to watch people eat each other, I'd much prefer it if they did it in the city.

    Jerry: Yeah, it was a virtual cornucopia of sinister leering.

    Tintorera? Nope, I can't say that I have. Oooh, Priscilla Barnes is credited as "Girl From Bar #1." Sold.

  4. I'll never forget seeing this on opening night here in NY in 1983: Whenever the zombies were shot in the head it sounded like glass breaking---this wasn't captured on the DVD OR the VHS.

  5. Yummers!
    We were just in central New York State for the week, hanging out with other members of my tribe, one of whom is a big fan of Front 242. (He lived in Chicago during the Wax Trax heydays.) And I saw a Tim Hortons!

    Radioactive vampires. LOL. Speaking of laughter, your description of the aerobics show put a smile on my face.

  6. Nick Cato: Glass breaking? I guess it was added in order to better represent the total annihilation of zombie's shattered psyches.

    Karim Amir: Central New York State, eh? Did North Tonawanda make it onto the hang out list? (I know, that's more Western New York.)

    Is it okay if I imagine this Front 242 tribe member walking around Cayuga County in a tricked out leather jacket and a pair wraparound sunglasses? ;)

    Even though I've seen plenty of Tim Hortons in my day, I don't think I've ever been inside one. (Tim Hortons the doughnut/coffee chain, not some guy named Tim Horton.)

    Yay! Aerobics and smiles.

    Against my better judgment, I watched something called "VH1's Top 100 One Hit Wonders of the 80s." Not to sound like a music snob, but I can't believe they had to gall to include XTC and Madness. Plus, I'm sure at least half the artists listed had more than one hit.

  7. You're dead-on with that aerobics bit. Random dance sequences usually captivate 'n titillate me(ie: Strange Behaviour, Troll 2, Frankenhooker), but this was an equally satiating sort of gratuitousness. Also: Hilarious review.

  8. I'll have to keep an eye out for this Strange Behaviour you speak of.

  9. "This may comes as bit of a shock, but my favourite sequence in the entire film was the attack on the television station during the taping of some kind of aerobics show."

    This comes as a shock to the factor of ZERO. I saw that you were reviewing this film and immediately though of that sequence. Surely the Yumster felt inspired, in some shape or form, the day she viewed that scene in the Lenzi zombie movie where a televised aerobic show was most incorrigibly interrupted by a host of jerkface zombies. Of that detail I had no doubt.

    Also, do Canadians spell the word favorite "favourite" like the Brits? I wish to understand your culture, no more, no less. Maybe if I finally eat breakfast at a Tim Hortons, it will all finally come together.

  10. I had a nagging feeling my shock might come off as a tad insincere.

    Yeah, we like to add u's to everything.

  11. Great review and I had to add that there's a scene where Stiglitz throws an exploding television at the infected people. I will do the same if I'm ever in that situation.