Nightmare City (1980)

JULY 20, 2009


Lots of folks like to blame Zack Snyder for “fast” zombies, despite the fact that Danny Boyle had them two years before in 28 Days Later. And Boyle may have gotten the idea from as far back as 1985, when Dan O'Bannon used them in Return Of The Living Dead. And given that film’s toxic/military explanation, it’s fairly reasonable to bet that he got the idea from Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City (Italian: Incubo Sulla Città Contaminata), which was released in 1980. In short, anyone who complains about fast zombies being some product of a post Michael Bay world really needs to shut the Christing fuck up and pay attention.

Of course, some, including Lenzi himself, would argue that these things aren’t zombies, and for once I can sort of see their argument. They sort of look like crazed burn victims more than anything else, and their penchant for using weapons, issuing “come on!” type orders to their brethren when they see victims getting away, and focus on the neck when it comes to eating (more like drinking) is outside the zombie norm. BUT, on the other hand, they only die when shot in the head, those they bite become infected, and a lot of the things they do seem ripped off from Dawn of the Dead, so I’m going to have to call this one a zombie movie. Sorry, Lenzi.

It’s certainly one of the faster paced zombie movies; no more than 5-10 minutes ever goes by without some sort of attack, often one on a very large scale. Hospitals, runways, hangars, etc. are the setting for scenes in which dozens of zombies wipe out dozens of random extras. And since they use guns and axes and knives and pokers and whatever the hell else they can find, it never feels very repetitious, because you’re always like “Huh, I’ve never seen a zombie slice a woman’s face off in one of these things.” The gore isn’t always the best, but the quantity over quality approach has a certain charm to it.

There are also a few Fulci Zombi-inspired scenes, including one where the wife of a major character is besieged in her own home. These smaller scenes are also pretty good; not only do we still get the unusual weapon-heavy kills, but they contain a bit of suspense as well. Since the movie’s pace is so breakneck, I was never quite sure who the main characters were, allowing me to suspect that anyone could die. And they often do, so win-win. Some aren’t totally successful though; there is one where our heroes (once I figured out that they were indeed our heroes) approach a priest and it’s supposed to be a surprise that he’s a zombie. Not only is it obvious from the way he’s just standing there, but it’s also botched from a technical standpoint - the way the actors are standing in relation to each other, there is no way in hell that she didn’t see the burns all over his face. Then he awkwardly spins almost 360 degrees toward her to “reveal” his face. Think things through, people!

Speaking of our heroes, I love these two, because during the occasional slow scenes they debate whether we are to blame for this mess (due to mankind’s insistence on having more power) and other existential and philosophical matters. It’s rare to see any sort of reflection or insight from a character in one of these things, so even though it’s a bit clumsy, it adds to the unique flavor this one provides.

Part of the clumsiness may be due to the half-assed dub job. The lip matching isn’t as bad as some others, but several lines have a strange vagueness to them that I found pretty distracting. For example, when an airport is attacked, the newscaster says “An attack at the major airport”, instead of “At JFK” or “At LAX” or whatever (Nightmare City does not appear to have a real world name). Some common phrases are also bungled, such as when a guy urges a panicked person to “Hold your socks on”.

One thing that wasn’t mis-translated was the name of the news studio - BWC! Those are my initials! Every now and then you’d see a guy reporting with a big graphic next to him that said “BWC NEWS” (instead of WBWC or KBWC). And it got me thinking - how awesome would it be to have a news station devoted to you-centric news and topical discussion? “Today, on BWC - BC’s chosen brand of ginger ale: does it give him gas? Then, join us for an exclusive one on one interview with the guy who sat next to him on opening night of Rob Zombie’s Halloween!”

The only extras on the disc are the overlong and quite redband trailer (boobs!), and a 12 minute interview with Lenzi where he talks about how the film seemingly predicted the AIDS outbreak. He also dismisses his lead actor (Hugo Stiglitz), which I noticed is quite common with these Italian maestros. I wish American directors were as frank; nothing would be more hilarious than seeing McG give an interview and be like “Oh, Christ, that fucking Bale guy...”. Italy: the REAL "No Spin Zone".

What say you?

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  1. I just can't believe you didn't mention the scene where the doctor throws a scalpel into that zombie's head with deadly accuracy!

    ...then gets eaten. That scene was amazing, much like the rest of the movie. The ending was kind of lame, though.

  2. Hahahah yeah there were a lot of awesome moments like that, I wanted to preserve the surprise!

    I sort of liked the ending, it tied into what they were saying earlier about how things go in cycles or whatever.

  3. ...but, is this "Lenzi" related to Scott in any way?

  4. I was under the impression that 28 Days Later "zombies" weren't really ... err... zombies. As in not undead. Rather, they're infected living and are killed in the same manner that "normal" humans are (i.e. mortal wound, starvation, etc).
    Of course, it's easiest to categorise it as a "zombie movie" because otherwise we have to come up with another label - like "hordes of homicidal thingies that were once normal human beings, either alive or dead beforehand... movie", which is distinctly less weildy.


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