NIGHTMARE CITY is director Umberto Lenzi's contribution to the steady flow of post DAWN OF THE DEAD Italian-made zombie flicks (this one is actually an Italian/Spanish/Mexican production). Lenzi's zombies (actually they’re more like crazy, mixed-up vampires) are the most energetic of their kind ever to hit the big screen, running about rampantly and using weapons such as machetes, knives, axes, and (get ready), machine guns! The film that likely inspired the Robert Rodriguez "Planet Terror" segment of GRINDHOUSE now hits Blu-ray courtesy of RaroVideo.
The film stars Mexican exploitation favorite Hugo Stiglitz – veteran of many Rene Cardona Jr. films, including NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS (1972), SURVIVE (1976) and TINTORERA (1977) – as TV news reporter Dean Miller, arriving at an airport to interview a well-known scientist (his cameraman is played by Jess Franco regular Antonio Mayans aka Robert Foster). An unidentifiable plane haphazardly lands to unveil the maddened scientist and an army of vicious, crusty-faced zombies (most of them look like a cross between "The Toxic Avenger" and a roasted artichoke). It seems that the scientist was exposed to radiation leakage, hence contaminating all the passengers and transforming them into vampiric imbeciles and causing a widespread plague. They easily slice, chop and gun their way through the military, cutting throats and drinking blood, while Dean quickly makes his exit to alert the media.
Most of NIGHTMARE CITY is comprised of Dean (as always, the bearded, curly-haired Stiglitz is deadpan, but somehow likable in the role) and his doctor wife (Laura Trotter, FRIVOLOUS LOLA) constantly on the run from an overwhelming army of the "running dead," while the military attempts to control the situation (the loving couple eventually attempt their last escape on top of an amusement park rollercoaster). There are some truly incredible scenes like when the monsters raid a "Solid Gold" type, live exercise TV program and assault a bevy of sexy dancers, one who has her breast sliced off like a piece of luncheon meat! There is also an amusingly endless sequence where the zombies take over a hospital with no electricity (their interruption of a surgery is notably fascinating, and the lead doctor is played by Eduardo Fajardo, star of Mario Bava’s LISA AND THE DEVIL).
American marquee name Mel Ferrer (who utters instructions like, "Aim for the brain!"), phones in his performance as the head of the military, practically remaining in one set throughout the entire film. Francisco Rabal (EAGLES OVER LONDON) plays a tough major who returns home to discover his much younger wife (Maria Rosario Omaggio) zombified by some diseased basement dwellers. There are lots of quick, cheesy (but clever) effects since the zombies ingeniously stab their victims or machete them in the head before sucking up their blood. Stiglitz manages to gun them down, causing their lumpy heads to rupture in quick succession. Filmed in a studio in Rome and on location in Spain, NIGHTMARE CITY is a ridiculous exercise in gratuitous, fast-paced sex and violence from a director with a varied, multi-genre career, but it's an undeniably enjoyable rollercoaster ride (aided by Stelvio Cipriani's hyperactive synthesizer score, typical of an early 1980s Italian genre movie). Just put your brain to bed and go with it.
NIGHTMARE CITY was released theatrically in the U.S. in 1984 as CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD and released on DVD in the early 2000s from Anchor Bay and then later by Blue Underground. RaroVideo’s new Blu-ray presents the film in 1080p High Definition in the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The transfer looks most pleasing, with smooth textures, excellent detail, and genuinely vivid colors and accurate fleshtones. Grain in nighttime scenes which was prevalent in the old DVD transfer, is not problematic here, and the two PCM stereo 2.0 audio tracks (English and Italian) are strong, with the English one being preferred, as that’s the language it was shot in and later re-synched (Ferrer’s own voice is present, and you’ll also here the voice-over artist Ted Rusoff, who passed away in 2013). Optional English subtitles are included.
The main extra on this disc is a video interview, recorded in 2000, with Lenzi that lasts 49 minutes. Speaking in English from his office, the director gives an intense, yet entertaining interview as he discusses NIGHTMARE CITY and how it’s not really a zombie film, its “important” ecological messages, and how he was disappointed with leading man Stiglitz. Lenzi also touches upon his favorite films of the ones he directed, his American cinema influences, the popularity of his films in America, and the current state (circa 2000) of Italian cinema. Also included is an Italian trailer, an English language trailer and a booklet with liner notes by Chris Alexander (which also includes a Lenzi bio and filmography). (George R. Reis)
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