Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nightmare City (1980)

Originally titled Incubo Sulla Cittá Contaminata, Nightmare City is another early 80s horror film from the madman Umberto Lenzi. In my recent review of the hideous Cannibal Ferox, I had mentioned that he had directed some movies that were actually fun. Though in some areas it leaves much to be desired, Nightmare City is one such 'fun' film.

News reporter Dean Miller is awaiting an interview with a scientist at the airport, when an unidentified plane lands on the strip. The plane fails to respond to the tower signals, and when surrounded by the army, the door bursts open. The scientist and a terror squad of 'zombies' jump out and begin attacking the soldiers. For the rest of the film, the zombies tramp about the city and countryside, killing and/or converting everyone they come across. A few survivors eek out their last moments trying to escape from the nightmare.

Now, these zombies are a strange lot. They're not really even zombies, per se, but humans that have undergone some radioactive treatment that makes them very hard to kill, and extremely violent. Some of them appear to be decaying, at least their heads and hands, while others show only a few drops of blood on their faces. Many look like an animal took a squat on their heads. Through most of the film, they run about cackling and killing others with knives, but they can also equip guns if they want. They're not really stupid, and they seem to have a plan for the takeover of this region. Mexican born Hugo Stiglitz plays newsman Dean Miller, who is attempting to save his wife, a doctor, and he spends most of the movie fleeing from the zombies with the same, confounded look on his face. It's quite funny.

And speaking of faces, the film always takes these close-up shots of zombies as they are either about to kill someone or about to be destroyed themselves. It's a hilarious technique, especially since these actors look like regular joes and can make a wide variety of interesting faces. The movie is somewhat gory, a few zombies will rip off women's shirts to expose their breasts before stabbing them (and often eating said breasts). They seem to have a taste for blood.

Despite how goofy it all seems, the film does manage to elicit some horror from the viewer. These things are out to kill, and the population of the 'living' is dwindling by the moment, as more and more are transformed into raging killing machines. This is a long time before 28 Days Later, folks, and has that same sort of empty, apocalyptic vibe. There is such a long stretch of scenes of killing that it is difficult not to become engaged in the feeling of doom. The soundtrack is quite good, with a lot of creepy bass and proggish synth that were common for horror films of the period.

The end of the film is extremly frustrating, and worthless, but you could say the title was a 'dead giveaway'. It's cliche, and unnecessary, detracting from the 90 minutes you just spent viewing it. Still, Nightmare City is thrilling and fun enough that I'd recommend it to fans of campy but creepy zombie horror, at least to watch through once.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

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