Judge Gordon Sullivan notes that shift work gives Nightmare City a more active daytime life.
Now They Are Everywhere! There Is No Escape!
Before America took back the crown with classics like Day of the Dead and Return of the Living Dead in the 1980s, it looked like Italy might hold the crown for zombie capital of the world. For reasons that have never been explained, the Italians took to the zombie picture in the 1970s like the undead to brains. Horror maestro Dario Argento got his own European cut of Romero's Dawn of the Dead, and goremaster Lucio Fulci capped off 1979 with Zombi II. Zombie pictures alone weren't enough for Umberto Lenzi, who would go on to make the infamous flesh-eating film Cannibal Ferox. Nope, he wanted all the gore of a typical Italian zombie picture, but he also wanted to avoid the shuffling undead. The result is Nightmare City, a.k.a. City of the Walking Dead, a zombie-action hybrid that's probably more a gory take on the action formula than a true-blue zombie picture. Still, gore fans will probably find something to love about Nightmare City (Blu-ray), even if it isn't perfect.
Reporter Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz) finds himself at an airport, hoping to interview nuclear expert Dr. Hagenbeck in the wake of an accident, when he notices something odd. The military seem to be running around, and no one has an explanation. Then a plane touches down, but instead of disembarking normal passengers, it appears that the frequent fliers have suffered a dose of radiation after the nuclear accident. They exit the plane as fast-moving, bloodsucking freaks who appear to be contagious. The military wants to contain the threat, but Miller hopes to get out of the Nightmare City.
Of course Nightmare City isn't really a zombie movie. The bad guys move too fast, are way too smart, and seem to be after blood more than brains. Instead, what Lenzi has cooked up is a strange little stew: he borrows the blood 'n' guts tradition of the Italian zombie film, adds in a few doses of action choreography, and tops it all off with just a hint of the disaster films that dotted the '70s landscape. The result is kind of terrible. The plot is hackneyed, the acting unconvincing, and the production so-so. Only the gore is above average.
Yet Nightmare City is a fun film that easily falls into the "so bad it's good" category. From the cheesy Italian military performances, to shots of leotard-clad dancers in a television studio, there's always something kind of goofy going on. Add in the out-there gore effects, and it's an instant bad-movie classic. Even zombie purists will be willing to forgive the fast-moving mutants, given the terribleness of it all.
The only way to describe the 2.35:1/1080p VC-1 encoded transfer is mediocre. It's not bad, with artefacts and damage everywhere. However, it's also not at all sharp, and lacks anything like a filmic texture. Instead, it looks like a film student shot some video footage and ran it through a "seventies filter" on their computer. I don't want to make it sound worse than it is—Nightmare City is perfectly watchable—but everything looks drab and disappointing.
In contrast, the audio is pretty spectacular. We get LPCM stereo tracks in both the original Italian and English dub varieties. Though production vagaries mean the Italian track is also a kind of dub, it's nice to see it as an option. Both tracks are clean and clear, though they show the limitations of the day in terms of depth and fidelity. The subtitles appear to be a transcription of the dub rather than a direct translation of the Italian dialogue, but I doubt that matters too much with a film like Nightmare City.
Extras start with a 50-minute interview featuring Lenzi himself, done in 2000. He covers a lot of ground on the film, from its roots in an Italian/Spanish co-production to how specific effects were achieved. It's a fine interview, but the presentation isn't that great. It appears to have been taken from an old VHS, but more importantly, Lenzi and his interviewer are both speaking English with heavy accents. Sadly no subtitles are provided, and Lenzi especially can be difficult to decipher. It also seems like maybe he's reading from translated answers at certain points. Anyway, it's a solid interview that's a bit odd to sit through. We also get the film's Italian and English trailers, which is really the same trailer with two different audio tracks. The set also include a nice booklet with an essay by Chris Alexander.
Sadly, this isn't the definitive version of Nightmare City—a better transfer would certainly improve things, but as is I can only recommend this one as a rental for the Lenzi interview.
Not perfect, but not guilty.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Raro Video
Review content copyright © 2014 Gordon Sullivan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.