Monday, 24 February 2014

Nightmare City (City of the Walking Dead) - review

1980 (Italy / Mexico / Spain)

Contains mild spoilers.

One thing Umberto Lenzi's silly little sordid orgy of gore is not, is dull. Now I've watched all manner of continental eighties zombie madness but nothing had quite prepared me the no nonsense, frenzy of violence that spilled so quickly out of the unannounced Hercules military aircraft, and marked the start of a good hour or so of audaciously unapologetic in your face bloody fun. Where was the good hour of faintly trite and badly acted build up? The slow belief / disbelief back and forth and small scale micro control of the situation so that it only effected a small band in an isolated setting?  They land a plane in broad daylight at the main airport, they spill out with camera's rolling and a full military presence and not a single fuck is given. It's as full on as it sounds, it's Nightmare City; and one has to applaud Lenzi for it.

Don't get me wrong. It's still a low budget bastard horror of the eighties with a mixed bag of acting, effects and dialogue. For every brilliantly staged and shot axe to the head or naked boob sliced off (yes really) there's all manner of quite frankly half hearted amateur knife attacks or neck sucks. Also for every semi-coherent, semi-well-delivered reaction to the unfolding carnage there's an excruciating over worked line about radiation and hyper tissue regeneration.

Television news anchor Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz) just happens to be at the airport when it all kicks off. He's there to meet a professor who can shed light on a recent nuclear accident (hence the radiation) and when the airport alarms go off he can't help but stick his reporter's nose. There really isn't much more to the narrative. He has a wife Dr. Anna Miller (Laura Trotter) who works at the hospital that soon joins in the tsunami of destruction, and there's a military presence which whilst keen to contain the situation are just as interested in avoiding a more national panic, and that's it. The narrative, such as it is, is the vehicle to allow the irradiated sick and depraved zombie like blood suckers to reek havoc on all and sundry, and for Lenzi to fashion a competent video nasty for a market that couldn't get enough.

I should mention the faint esoteric pseudo implied clairvoyance ramblings from Sheila Holmes (Maria Rosaria Omaggio), the wife of one of the Majors, and the equally daft and confusing existential ending but I didn't take any of this too seriously and suggest it was added more as an after thought than as a central idea. Dellamorte Dellamore or The Beyond this is not.

It's also worth mentioning despite all the unsavoury blood shed and dark themes it never really comes across a horror film but more of a disaster one, and the zombies reflect this. Their first appearance is sudden and all consuming. They stream from the plane like deranged mad-men throat slitting, stabbing, shrugging off shots to the body and clearing the soldiers and airport staff like a tidal wave of death. What's also clear is we're not in Romero's world. There's no slow gait, no shuffling and groaning and no 'walking dead' approach. They're fast, they're seemingly intelligent, if now entirely lacking a moral or sympathetic compass and they also appear to react to physical pain. It was during this initial attack, watching one of the attackers pull away from biting his victim only to wipe the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand I realised all was not straight forward.

Fortunately for us, all is actually revealed during a scene of such unashamed, unnecessary and over complicated explanation to become laughably brilliant. High levels of radiation have caused hyper-tissue regeneration to render the victim's indestructible and "abnormal strengthening of the cells vital qualities has increased their direct genetic capacity" granting increased physical capabilities, with a caveat that this is all at the expense of the efficiency of their red blood. It's a load of old tosh but it's good earnest tosh. Basically, they're alive, indestructible apart from the old noggin, they're strong, fast, they retain the memories to shoot guns, cut phone lines and they're singularly driven to replace the red blood cells they're rapidly losing. Lenzi himself didn't necessarily see them as traditional zombies, but with the loss of conscious will, the lack of 'self awareness' and they're unquenchable hunger they're zombie and a dangerous one to boot in my book. Add their faster turn of pace, their influence on the genre shouldn't be dismissed either, and it's hard not to see their impact in zombie's that came much later, with Boyles' infected top of the list.

In your face carnage and bloodshed from the get go, unwavering pace, gratuitous gore and unnecessary nudity; it has everything one would want or expect from an eighties video nasty. Lenzi's zombie opus is unapologetically rough and obnoxious but it's a delight to get swept away in. Big scale with limited resources undoubtedly brings with it problems, but if one is able to ignore all the background faux pas, the occasional excruciating exposition (the anti-nuclear monologue near the end is especially bad) and wooden acting there's a corking good b-movie here to whoop along to. A surprising gem, 7/10.



  1. I went down a vampire/zompire kind of line with these. Fun 80s flick but I didn't rate it quite as high as you did :)

    1. Yeah I did notice a vague zompire mix with the blood not flesh lust. I think it just caught me in good spirits and it's undoubtedly awful eighties nonsense.

  2. This still stands as one of my all time favorites. It has a spot for me right up there with the ridiculous Zombi3 and Zombi4 and some of the more competent movies from the era like Zombi 2 or even, dare I say, The Beyond.

    Ok, I take that back, I'm with you, this is no Fulci... but it is something else ALMOST as special.

    1. It certainly has some charm and one can't argue with the intensity. Not quite Zombi3/4 for me but not far off. Special, is definitely the right word!