The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - <i>NIGHTMARE CITY (1980)</i> | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - NIGHTMARE CITY (1980)

Arrow hi-def release of one of Italian cinema's most bonkers creations.

Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Umberto Lenzi

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

"Nightmare City is one of the most bonkers movies you'll ever lay your eyes on. If you're new to Italian exploitation cinema, it makes for an ideal entry point; after this one, you'll be (blood) thirsty for more!"

The casual horror fan may tell you zombies began running in Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, but devotees of Italian exploitation cinema know Umberto Lenzi beat Boyle to it by a couple of decades. Don't use the 'Z' word in Lenzi's presence though; as he makes very clear in the interview included as an extra on Arrow's new blu-ray issue of 1980's Nightmare City, the antagonists of his film are infected, as opposed to having been raised from the dead.
We first meet these infected maniacs at an airport, where TV news reporter Miller (wild-eyed Mexican star Hugo Stiglitz) intends to interview an arriving scientist with regards to a recent nuclear accident. The boffin in question turns up alright, along with dozens of radiated ghouls, swarming out of a military transport plane, armed to the teeth with everything from machetes to machine guns. Escaping the resulting massacre, Miller attempts to use the TV station to warn the public of his unnamed city (Madrid unconvincingly impersonating a random American metropolis) about the impending invasion, but those damn authorities step in his way, not wanting to create a panic. It's not long before panic erupts across town, however, with the infected baddies wreaking havoc in search of blood, which they appear to feed on.
Lenzi's film employs a structure that would prove hugely successful for Roland Emmerich years later. We get a bunch of characters caught up in the chaos, who all just happen to be related in some way. There's Stiglitz's newsman, his doctor wife Anna (Laura Trotter), a couple of military heads in the shape of veteran stars Mel Ferrer and Francisco Rabal, the latter's improbably young wife (Maria Rosaria Omaggio) trapped in her home while all hell breaks loose.
Those scenes involving Omaggio are undeniably tense, Lenzi expertly building up a claustrophobic paranoia, and a rogue lawnmower inexplicably making its way across Omaggio's lawn is a subtle but disturbing image. When he put his mind to it, Lenzi could deliver tense thrills, but these moments are rare. Most of the movie is trash. But what trash! Nightmare City is one of the most bonkers movies you'll ever lay your eyes on, and the pace never lets up, Lenzi packing more spills and thrills into his 90 minutes than most recent blockbusters have managed to fit into much longer running times. A set-piece in a hospital rivals the climax of John Woo's Hard Boiled for clinical carnage, horny ghouls gratuitously exposing the breasts of nurses before feasting on their veins, surgeons proving themselves inexplicably prepared for battle by displaying ninja like fighting skills with surgical implements.
As is often the case with Italian genre cinema, much of Nightmare City doesn't make sense - how the hell did that bloodied knife become embedded in Omaggio's ghoulish artwork? - but this creates an anything goes atmosphere that allows Lenzi to pull the rug out from under you every time you regain your balance. Anything can happen in an Italo film, and in Nightmare City it frequently does. Adding to the fun is some unintentionally hilarious dialogue. Omaggio tells a neighbour they should contact a fellow friend, because her husband works in "the department of something or other," and Stiglitz and Trotter have a couple of laughably po-faced discussions on "the circle of life" and other cod-philosophical subjects.
Thanks to some unique issues with the restoration, Arrow offers two versions of the film, one from the original negative that looks fantastic but bears some chemical staining, and one from a 'dupe reversal' print, which removes the flaws but is lower in quality, resembling a DVD played through a SCART connection in its softness. The former is definitely the one to go with, as the infrequent damage only adds to the movie's grindhouse feel.
If you're new to Italian exploitation cinema, Nightmare City makes for an ideal entry point; after this one, you'll be (blood) thirsty for more!
A half hour interview with director Lenzi, who repeatedly reminds us of how many filmmakers have ripped off his work.
An interview with Eli Roth, in which he loosely discusses Lenzi's career. I find Roth's own films close to unwatchable but he's good value for money when enthusiastically discussing his influences.
Maria Rosaria Omaggio is interviewed, and like many actresses, confesses to a personal dislike of the horror genre.
A short video essay discusses the challenges faced by the restoration team involved, and provides a fascinating insight for film geeks.
As you expect form Arrow you get a reversible sleeve, collector's booklet, trailer, alternate opening credits, and a commentary by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander. All that's missing is a making off doc.