The Video Nasties #95 – Nightmare City (1980, Umberto Lenzi)

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‘It’s not the fault of science or technology, but of man!’

I know it doesn’t seem long since we watched Eaten Alive, but Nightmare City finds us back in the hands of Umberto Lenzi, this time tackling the zombie genre with his usual gormless aplomb.

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When roving reporter Hugo Stiglitz goes to the airport to interview a professor, a mysterious military plane lands and unleashes a horde of preposterous looking zombie-like creatures. But these ain’t your standard zombies, no sir. These putty-faced goofballs know how to run, fire machine guns and even fly planes and drive cars. Also, they seem to prefer drinking blood to eating flesh, but that’s probably because it’s an easier special effect to pull off.

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As far as openings go, we’re off to a flying start, aided immeasurably by Stelvio Cipriani’s pounding score, which almost out-Goblins Goblin! As the zombies rampage around, slitting people’s throats and generally running amok, Hugo – the master of the understatement –  mutters, ‘I don’t believe it.’ He’s one of the stiffest leading men I’ve ever seen, and has a head that would look exactly the same if you turned it upside down.

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He promptly legs it to the nearest tv station, where a synchronised dance show is being filmed. The zombies follow and the slaughter is broadcast live, including a nasty nipple slicing scene that feels kind of at odds with the generally campy tone of the movie.

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It’s worth noting that there doesn’t seem to be any female zombies, which probably explains why the pervy zombies are always tearing off ladies’ blouses before killing them.

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Some of the dialogue here is solid gold – ‘I feel like someone who’s waiting for the hatchet guy to chop off his head,’ says one hospital patient, refusing to explain just who or what this ‘hatchet guy’ is. The military are equally bonkers – ‘As for our combat plans, we’ll follow emergency plan H, and we’ll keep plan B in reserve,’ says the general, because we live in a world where plan H comes before plan B. And just what the hell was plan A? Don’t spill radioactive gas? That should just go without saying, General.

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His daughter is not much better. When told that there’s an emergency and that she must go to her father, she whines, ‘I have no intention of giving up my weekend,’ and drives off in her motorhome to sit by the side of a road having a picnic with her dweeb husband. Don’t worry – they both die.

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After a while, the film begins to run out of steam. It started with such a bang that it’s not able to build on that opening. The stakes never really raise as Hugo and his wife stumble from one location to the next, killing zombies then moving on. The problems of having such a strong opening! It does begin to recover some momentum during the ambitious climax that takes place in an abandoned fairground. Fans of Xbox 360 video game Left 4 Dead 2 will want to pay attention here, as Hugo and the missus run along the tracks of a roller coaster blasting fast-moving zombies running at them while waiting for a helicopter to arrive.

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And then just as things are getting really crazy and exciting, Lenzi goes and blows the whole thing by revealing it’s all been a big stupid fucking dream, the ultimate I-don’t-know-how-to-end-the-movie cop out. There’s the suggestion that the whole movie is about to play out again, as Hugo goes back to the airport and the same plane lands, but the screen freezes, leaving us all in great suspense. Wouldn’t it be great if some maniac could make a version of the film that jumps back to start at this point, creating an endless loop of Nightmare City? Wouldn’t it?

Wait, come back!

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