The Golden age of Italian Giallo films, in their generally accepted canon, drew to a close as the 70’s did. The 80’s heralded the turn from operatic leather-clad technicolour slashers, to gooey fantasy tinged zombie features. Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City is the latest release from Arrow Films.
An unmarked plane heads towards an unnamed Italian city, efforts to communicate with it fail and the authorities set up a perimeter on the airport runway. When the door eventually slides open, a horde of violent decaying maniacs descends on the city, spreading an undead plague within hours.
Sounds ridiculous and it is. Lenzi was a prolific filmmaker (responsible for titles like Cannibal Ferox and Seven Blood Stained Orchids) who’s credits perhaps focus more on shock and quantity than they did quality. Though, Nightmare City has its moments. Lenzi was particular about the title of zombie film, instead calling his monster flick a ‘radiation sickness movie’, probably to help his aggravated discourse on nuclear war and the military. The zombies here are nimble, not as stupid as Romero’s, in fact they’re probably closer to the hyper-violent virus-victims of 28 Days Later and The Crazies than anything else. Minimal damage (unimpressive make-up) appears on the afflicted bodies, but most interestingly these zombies crave blood not guts; battering folks and piercing their skin serves merely to allow consumption.
Lenzi’s liberal discourse is actually quite interesting, every level of authoritative institution collapses under the weight of the mysterious, yet staggering, vampiric force. The army, Doctors, and Government are wholly unable to deal with the rapidly multiplying enemy. An early scene at a live broadcast dance show, shows the glee with which Lenzi wants to tear the world apart: go-go dancers are mauled by deadites, one particular girl has her breast hacked off, then suckled from in a faux-breastfeeding assault. A later street battle with the army proves Lenzi has the balls and the technical ability to orchestrate mass panic, but too much of the film is built up of badly shot action. Nothing takes you out of a film faster than noticing two actors reluctant to hit each other, or dodgy editing which makes a simple scuffle look like an elaborate cock-up.
Look at Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead or The Beyond and you’ll see that fantastic supernatural aesthetic fused with outrageous gore and tension, similarly with his 1979 Zombie Flesh Eaters. Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead kicked all this off, birthing a slew of imitators which sometimes hit the mark. The problem is that there are too many likeminded features in too short a space of time, and many of the famous ones are notorious for good reason. Lenzi’s attempt, though thrilling at points, comes across as too simple and lazy, badly edited, and missing the air of dread it tries so hard to instil.
Dir: Umberto Lenzi
Stars: Hugo Stiglitz, Laura Trotter, Maria Rosaria Omaggio