NightmareCoverThis fun, goofball slice of pasta Pura with a side dish of tapas and enchiladas is a very welcome addition to the Blu-Ray family. It’s not come without its fair share of trials and tribulations though and you may well have followed the progress made by Arrow who discovered the original material available to them was not up for the 2k restoration they had originally hoped for. This is explained in the extra material on the disc and the company have given us two versions of the film to view. The first from the original camera negative suffers from chemical deterioration in some scenes and the second from the 35mm reversal dupe negative cleaned up this problem but left the resolution and picture not looking as crisp. I went for the first option and although certainly noticeable at times, the film is on the whole unaffected and it’s a very minor inconvenience, certainly for anyone who originally saw this on a bootleg during the video nasty era. Fair play to the film company for keeping us informed and explaining it all on the disc in easy to understand terms.


Anyway onto the film itself and its director Umberto Lenzi who made this in 1980. The prolific Italian should be no stranger to splatter fans having kick-started (no matter what Deodato) claims the whole Cannibal sub-genre with ‘The Man From Deep River’ in 1972. Having worked with many genres he was prolific in giallo with films such as ‘Spasmo’ and ‘Eyeball’ as well as volatile crime films known as Poliziotteschi like ‘Almost Human’ and ‘Violent Naples’ all in the mid 70’s. Nightmare City was made just before his most revered excess the ‘banned in 32 countries’ opus that is ‘Cannibal Ferox’ and naturally the director was getting geared up here unleashing no shortage of eye popping gore. Whereas there is a feeling of grim reality to Ferox you won’t find any in this co Spanish and Mexican production at all as it is quite a preposterous film.


Swarthy Mexican lead Hugo Stiglitz is a hapless journalist Dean Miller dispatched to interview a scientist following a nuclear accident. When his plane mysteriously lands with no sign of life or radio contact the surrounding army are suddenly attacked by its irradiated occupants and butchered beyond belief, Dean just managing to escape with his life. These are the fast moving variety of bastards and one of the first examples of such going completely against conventions set up by George Romero. Although you cannot call these things zombies as they are not the living dead they do adhere to the shoot them in the head, set em on fire and blood drinking activities that we are all au fait with. This film stood on its own for a number of years until other directors decided it was not such a bad idea and the likes of Danny Boyle (28 Days Later), Zack Snyder (Dawn Of The Dead Remake) and Robert Rodriguez (Planet Terror) all took inspiration from it. It works too as this lot are totally lethal and can use weapons including axes, knives, machetes and even guns.

Before long they are running roughshod in a TV studio no doubt giving viewers a much needed break from the awful dance aerobics activities they were screening. Leotards are ravaged and all manner of things are bitten off here as they are in a hospital as the monsters infect others. A surgeon’s instant reaction to having his operation disrupted is a delight to see and should have you chortling no end. As for the plot, well who needs one? Dean hooks up with his wife Anna played by Laura Trotter and the military bumble about no end mainly getting gorily dispatched as the world teeters on the brink of cataclysm. Moving the survival action into an amusement park and utilising a rollercoaster as an escape route is one of the films many memorable scenes and the action and pacing here is fast all the way through with non-stop action.


There are some downsides and the main one is the fact that this is a lot like many children’s BBC TV programmes around at the time, with added splatter. Firstly the monster effects are straight out of the Blue Peter ‘couple of packets of cereal and a bit of glue’ school of form and things do descend both in this fashion and plot wise into what is like an extended version of Tom Baker styled Dr Who with Dean and Anna the Dr and hapless assistant and head of defence General Murchison (the excellent Mel Ferrer) and his troops Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart and UNIT. Now where’s that sonic screwdriver when you most need it?

This is not a film to be taken in any way seriously, indeed even Dean deadpans the camera as the ghouls first escape proclaiming “Oh my god I don’t believe it, it’s absurd” but it’s stacks of fun so who honestly gives a flying one? You can try and look at it as an ecological warning, disaster movie in much the same way as Mattei’s Zombie Creeping Flesh but that would be equally fruitless and daft! As for the ending, jeez Louise! The best way of approaching Nightmare City is with beer, bud and friends; you are guaranteed a hoot of a time.


On to the extras. First up we get radiation sickness with a half hour interview with Lenzi who is quick to point out that he had never seen Romero’s work (and he does not mention if he is a Dr Who fan either). He changed an original ‘zombie’ script to differentiate his picture from the many others around not wanting to do something that would not add to his “artistic career.” He makes things very clear to us and Tarantino who got his facts wrong, that these creatures are not Zombies but are more similar in need for blood sustenance, to vampires than anything else. Apparently scientifically this is a lot closer to reality as the director claims he never made fiction or horror films like Fulci! Yeah I have to admit that I was somewhat staggered by this too but you can’t knock the old chap’s enthusiasm and dedication to his craft. He has a good memory of the film, cast and Madrid locations considering this is now 35 years old and even more interesting is talk of a proposed remake involving Tom Savini (see link below).

Maria Rosaria Omaggio plays Sheila the wife of one of the military bigwigs and a contaminated ghoul who gets blasted right between the eyes. She talks briefly of her role here when she was just 17 years old. Not a fan of horror films but star of various Poliziotteschi with the likes of Tomas Milian it can’t have been easy for her doing a nude scene with the much older Francisco Rabal or getting her brains blown out but she says she enjoyed working on the film even if she has never watched the finished product! Thankfully Quentin is not dragged out to be a fast talking, swearing uber-geek but we get the less annoying Eli Roth instead. He packs plenty of info and knowledge of Lenzi’s oeuvre into his segment and it’s interesting to note that he thought of this as his one of his favourite films when considering adapting Stephen King’s Cell to the screen.


Complete with trailer, alternative intro sequence, commentary track by Chris Alexander and the normal great reversible sleeves and booklet provided by Arrow there’s plenty to enjoy here. Just don’t call this a zombie film or City Of The Walking Dead and you may survive the course. Nightmare City a film allegedly with a serious message behind it; yeah right!

(Pete Woods)