Nightmare City (1980, Italy / Spain / Mexico)

Nightmare City (Incubo sulla città contaminata) (1980) (92 minutes)
Directed by Umberto Lenzi.

aka City of the Walking Dead / Invasion by the Atomic Zombies

Written by Antonio Cesare Corti, Luis María Delgado and Piero Regnoli.
Starring Hugo Stiglitz, Laura Trotter and Maria Rosaria Omaggio.

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Nightmare City (1980)


Umberto Lenzi had quite a career during his time as a film maker. Lenzi started law school, then decided his true passion lay with movies and attended the prestigious Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. His resume’ included peplum, westerns, giallos and mysteries, all typical of Italian cinema of the time. He later retired from cinema and wrote a series of detective novels.

Then in 1972 Lenzi made what many consider the first true, cannibal film, Man from the Deep River. The work contained many of the attributes of future cannibal movies; extreme violence, vivisection of live animals, sex, the consumption of raw, human flesh and so on. The movie established Lenzi as a director of turgid, offensive films.

Nightmare City is not one of Lenzi’s best efforts, troubled by awkward pacing, uneven photography and monsters who look like they’ve had oatmeal splashed on their faces. I’m assuming the budget for SFX was next to nothing as make-up and other examples of splatter are sad.

For you Quentin Tarantino fans, the movie stars a European actor named Hugo Stiglitz. If you are aware of Mr. Tarantino’s great love and knowledge for B movies, you should recognize Hugo’s name immediately. The answer to the connection between the two is at the end of the review.

Nightmare City (1980)

Our story begins with a TV reporter (Stiglitz) and his cameraman racing to the airport to interview a scientist, on his way back from a nuclear accident. The massive military cargo jet lands, but there is no communication with the plane, and no sign of the pilots. Lenzi builds some adequate tension as the plane remains sealed and is gradually surrounded by soldiers and police.

Everyone looks confused as hell and its obvious the military doesn’t have a clue how to deal with the situation. Finally they decide to open one of the doors, but as they do, the famous scientist appears at the top of the stairs, looking, for lack of a better term, pretty rough. And with good reason. The sci-guy grabs the nearest soldier and guts him like a fish. Things go bad to worse when the entire crew, looking a lot worse than the scientist, come pouring out, wielding every sort of piercing instrument know to man. Like, why would a military transport carry pick-axes and hatchets?

Nightmare City (1980)

The army isn’t fazed at first because they all have automatic sub-machine guns against the zombies’s (I think they’re zombies) stone age weapons. Not so fast, my friend. The zombies seem to be impervious to bullets and after chopping up the troops and drinking their blood, the undead show impressive learning skills by picking up the Uzi’s and mowing down the rest of the soldiers. This is not good!

Now one issue I had at this juncture was for all the killing, and blood imbibing, there are only a few slashes of blood on the tarmac. Now, I wasn’t expecting The Shining type of plasma storm surge but, I expect some gore in my gore movies.

After capturing the massacre on camera, Hugo and his bud head for the TV station, hoping to alert the city. However, the military prevents the tape from being shown, in the interests of public order. Meanwhile the TV station is showing some type of modern dance with slim, young, women in leotards, who are quickly set upon and killed by the zombies. The audience is treated to these hot chicks being dispatched in a variety of gruesome ways, and then having their blood slurped up. This sequence is well done, the camera capturing the chaos that’s unfolding on live TV. Don’t ask me why the station camera men are wearing lab coats.

Nightmare City (1980)

By now you have to be wondering what the deal is with these crud faces. Some look like they’re burned, others have the oatmeal treatment and some are wearing masks that are so obvious, you expect to see a price tag dangling from them.

Hugo is sufficiently alarmed by now to collect his physician wife, Anna (Trotter) from the hospital she works at. Well shucky darn, not long after he gets there, the power all over the city is shut off by the zombeasts and a horde of them attack the facility. The happy couple barely escapes and tries to outrun the monsters who have now taken over the country side. In the meantime, we have been informed by the military that the creatures can be killed by a shot to the noggin’. Seems their proclivity for blood sucking is related to a regeneration of their brain functions, or some twaddle like that. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, the victims of the zombonis also become zom-pizzas. Face it, you just can’t win with these guys.

Nightmare City (1980)

Hugo and the little lady make it to an abandoned amusement park, like who has time for fun when the end of the world is in sight? No one, except the thousands of zombies who just happen to be there. They are gradually chased up a roller coaster, hurling grenades and shooting machine guns at the monsters, when a military helicopter flies in to rescue them. As Hugo and Anna grab onto the rescue ladder, she is unable to hold on and falls a long way into a mass of blood suckers. This is one of the most effective scenes in the film.

Hugo awakes with a start, to hear his phone ringing, exactly how the movie began. He begins to get an apprehensive look on his face as he arrives at the airport. At least I think its apprehensive. Hugo’s expressions don’t have much a range. Rage, fear, tenderness, happiness and remorse all look about the same.

Nightmare City (1980)

I enjoyed this film because it was an exercise in naked female flesh, a decent amount of violence and some suspense. The acting is threadbare, the dialogue poor and it almost seemed as if Lenzi couldn’t make up his mind to make a gore film or a science fiction film.

There are some scenes that are quite rough. A woman gets her nipple sliced off while another, after being stabbed multiple times, has her eyeball removed with a sharpened iron rod. Unfortunately, these scenes are not staged with any suspense or true terror.

The word that comes to mind after watching Nightmare City is derivative. The film rips off every prior zombie film from Night of the Living Dead forward. The circular ending is lifted from the tremendous British horror movie Dead of Night and countless other stories and films.

As far as the Hugo Stiglitz connection, Til Schweiger played the psychopathic German soldier named Hugo Stiglitz, who murdered 13 SS Officers, in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.

Nightmare City (1980)

Eric Karell

⚡ Author of Claudia Jennings: An Authorized Biography ⚡