Anchor Bay // 1980 // 92 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // September 27th, 2002
Now they are everywhere! There is no escape!
A mysterious plane unexpectedly lands at a metropolitan airport. The police and the press surround the rogue aircraft and await its inhabitants to depart. Unfortunately, instead of casino minded Eurotrash, it is filled to the first class section with contamination zombies, the result of a nuclear accident. These creatures are not your typical dawdling members of the living dead fraternity. They are fast, capable of rational thought and strategizing, adept at using weapons, and know a good family owned amusement park bargain when they see one. They slaughter everyone on the tarmac and head into the city. The military try, but appear powerless to control the carnage and it is up to a reporter, Dean, to save his doctor wife, Anna, so that they can both escape the terrible onslaught as their town without pity turns into a Nightmare City.
Gore films can basically be divided into three categories: the serious, the silly, and the sublime. George Romero's Dead Trilogy or John Carpenter's The Thing utilize buckets of blood to underline the potential danger and horror of the character's situation. Something like Herschel Gordon Lewis' Two Thousand Maniacs makes carnage ludicrous, presenting it in a silly, comic book fashion. And then there are the sublime gore epics, films that straddle humor and horror in an expert and exciting manner. You see the delicate balancing act at play in movies like Peter Jackson's Dead Alive or Ngai Kai Lam's Riki-O: Story of Ricky. These films regale as they repulse, hitting the gag reflex and the funny bone simultaneously. Add Nightmare City to that pantheon of slaughter and knee slap extravaganzas. Anyone expecting a Fulci style cinematic gross out will be pleasantly surprised that a barf bag and a strong stomach are not required concession items. One does have to have a certain mindset, though, one that isn't offended by vicious killings committed by actors with spicy hunks of Greek gyro hanging off their cheeks. The grue factor includes several nifty set piece attacks, with eyes gouged out, deep wedges carved into backs and heads, and even one unfortunate victim who gets to suffer some unwarranted breast augmentation surgery. The hilarity, though, stems from the fact that every dollar that went into creating realistic mutilation was removed from the monster effects budget, so we end up with zombies that look like Teddy Ruxpin's mudblups. Or maybe like a bunch of Italian/German/Spaniards with burnt meatballs on their faces. Either way, every time these hyper-kinetic and active creatures show up, they inspire waves of uncontrollable belly laughing as they spill plasma and entrails all over the ground while looking like Mr. Potatohead's African American relatives. Nightmare City could actually be called Metropolis of the Living Cat Turds, since so often our fiends look like something Muffy left behind in the Fresh Step.
But what really makes this DVD from Anchor Bay so special, aside from the incredibly deranged movie, is Tales of the Contaminated City, a 15-minute interview with Director Umberto Lenzi. As with other lesser-known horror and giallo titles from Europe, Blue Underground has conducted little mini-documentary/discussions with the filmmakers to explain and examine these cult obscurities. Lenzi is heartless in his examination of Nightmare City. He calls himself a director for hire. He criticizes the producer and the script. He laughs at the less than successful monster make-up. And in the end, he leaves the viewer with an even more enduring and favorable feeling about the film. There would be no need for a trailer, or excellent widescreen anamorphic picture (both of which are offered here though), just knowing that the DVD contained nuggets of joy like Lenzi's toxic criticism of actor Hugo Stiglitz. This alone is enough to recommend adding Nightmare City to your collection. It may not be Dawn of or Return of the Living Dead, but when it comes to rotting corpses that can fight, bite, run, kick, shoot, stab, drive, drink, punch, prod, poke, and overall pester the bejeezus out of you while still looking like an overcooked salami, Nightmare City is the movie to beat. That is, until Sylvester Stallone decides to make another action flick.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Tales of the Contaminated City -- Interview with Director Umberto Lenzi
* Umberto Lenzi Biography