During the 80s over in Italy, taboo-breaking horror films were emerging at unprecedented rates. Among the name of filmmakers who were pushing boundaries and putting out some of the most fun content were Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, and Umberto Lenzi (just to name a few). To American Audiences, these names were growing in popularity and all of their content hit a strange sweet-spot that these audiences weren’t quite used to receiving.
“Nightmare City” is a zombie apocalypse film from Umberto Lenzi, who gave us over 40 films during his career such as “Eaten Alive!”, “Cannibal Ferox”, and “Primal Rage”. An airline exposed to radiation surprisingly lands without any communication, and blood drinking zombies emerge from its cabin armed with knives, guns, and teeth. They go on a rampage through the country while the government chooses to suppress the information being fed to the communities through television and radio. It’s a very familiar tale in this day and age, but this is made with such fun and poise. Our main character is a news reporter who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he tries to outrun these cannibalistic crowds as he tries to find his wife whose going through her normal routine somewhere in the neighboring city.
The zombies have that traditional Italian flare to them, full of gross prosthetics, milky eyes, & claw marks on their faces. But instead of being slow moving and braindead cannibals, here they are fast running (the first major film to ever feature fast zombies!) maniacs capable of using weapons and opening doors. It creates a surge of adrenaline that carries through for the entire film because new things are possible in this world. There’s also aspects of lore that are introduced which cleverly explains the cannibalistic nature of the beasts.
Cinematically, the land and scenery are beautiful. The violence is creative (albeit, a bit cheesy and exploitive). The story is serviceable, but nothing astounding. But if nothing else, this film is an excellent display of early 80s Italian horror-gore filmmaking when it’s full of fun, creativity, and a decent sized budget.
Come for the promise of the original, fast running zombies & an interesting setup.. stay for the merciless slaughter of several civilians who don’t understand what on Earth is happening, accompanied by the absolutely breathtaking sweep-shots of the immediate moments after the mass carnage has occurred and only casualties are left behind in the flaming wreckage.
It’s one of the first Lenzi films I’ve decided to look into, and it shows nothing but an exciting promise for another character who is equally as playful and brutal as he is creative.
“Nightmare City” is currently streaming on Apple TV, Amazon Prime, and YouTube.
‘Til Next Time,
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