31 Screams in October, #2: Nightmare City (1980)

Posted: October 3, 2014 in Movie Review
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Nightmare City (1980)

Director: Umberto Lenzi

Starring: Mel Ferrer, Hugo Stiglitz, Laura Trotter, Francisco Rabal, Rosaria Omaggio

In between two of his more shockingly violent Cannibal films, “Eaten Alive” (1980) and “Cannibal Ferox” (1981), director Umberto Lenzi offered this quaint little entry from the Zombie subgenre of Horror films. While this film was clearly made to capitalize on the success of 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead,” as well as that film’s Italian clone, “Zombie” (1979), “Nightmare City” itself has since helped to inspire other films of its kind, including 2007’s “Grindhouse: Planet Terror.” Not unlike most horror films made outside the U.S., “Nightmare City” serves us with an incredibly cheesy plot and even cheesier makeup & special effects. But, if you know to expect all of this, there’s still much fun to be had.

The film begins with our main protagonist, news reporter Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz), arriving at the airport to interview a professor whose plane is just arriving. The men in the control tower are getting nervous, though, because they are getting no response at all from the plane’s crew. Military personnel are dispatched to assess the situation. That’s when the door opens, and the first passenger to get off the plane is the professor. But all is not well. The professor produces a knife of some kind and stabs a nearby soldier. Then all the plane’s other occupants appear and attack, some stabbing, some picking up discarded guns and shooting, and others drinking blood from the wounds.

Dean is obviously horrified, and hurries back to the television studio. Once there, he interrupts an exercise program designed to encourage the audience to… uh… “exercise,” and attempts to inform the public of the horrors that have just taken place. Naturally, his superiors cut him off just as he is about to get to the heart of the matter. Incensed, Dean announces he is quitting after being told he is on suspension for his actions. When the zombies attack the television studio, Dean hurries over to the hospital to rescue his wife. Dr. Anna Miller (Laura Trotter) may possibly have inspired Marley Shelton’s Doc Block character from “Grindhouse: Planet Terror,” although I couldn’t say for sure. Anyway, by the time her husband gets to her, Anna has already had to endure a power outage at the hospital and the deaths of her co-workers and patients.

In the middle of all of this, we also look in on Major Warren Holmes (Francisco Rabal) and his wife, Sheila (Maria Rosaria Omaggio, who isn’t even onscreen for two minutes before she’s topless. Because of all the madness going on, the Major is called into duty by General Murchison (Mel Ferrer) whom we look in on from time to time during the course of the film, each time with an exceedingly more grim look on his face… including a subplot involving his ill-fated daughter and her equally doomed husband. Sheila, meanwhile, is left to fend for herself at home. She is told to lock all the doors and windows, and she complies. Of course, she forgets all about that pesky cellar door…

Having fled the hospital; Dean and Anna are chased by the zombies from location to location, including: a church, a gas station, and finally an amusement park. It is at the amusement park where Dean and Anna grab the attention of a rescue helicopter. They both grab on, but sadly Anna forgot the old line “hang on for dear life,” as she slips and plummets to her death. It is at this moment that the movie throws the audience for a loop. Suddenly, Dean wakes up. Anna is alive and well and in bed next to him. It’s the day of that important interview with the professor, and Dean notices he’s behind schedule, so he rushes down to the airport. But, something is amiss, because there’s no radio communication between the guys in the tower and the professor’s plane, which at that moment is coming in for a landing…
“…The nightmare becomes reality!”

As delightfully cheesy Italian horror movies go, “Nightmare City” is one of the better ones out there. Just don’t go in expecting “Dawn of the Dead,” ’cause this isn’t even close. Especially laughable is the zombies’ makeup. With most of them, it looks like someone simply splattered a bunch of mud on their faces. Yeah. It looks that bad. Plenty of eye-popping gore to be had, but fans will want to check out the uncut version, which unless I’m mistaken is the only version available on DVD. The (only slightly) cut version, titled “City of the Walking Dead,” is still fun but some gore scenes are trimmed a bit. Pretty neat to see the zombies walking like the living, using weapons, and driving cars! Recommended both for “Grindhouse” fans (don’t expect any chicks with high-powered rifles for legs ) and for zombie fans in general.

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