Nightmare City (1980)


Director : Umberto Lenzi

Stars : Hugo Stiglitz, Laura Trotter, Maria Rosaria Omaggio


An airplane exposed to radiation lands, and blood drinking zombies emerge armed with knives, guns and teeth! They go on a rampage slicing, dicing and biting their way across the Italian countryside.

Zombies? Well that’s what it says in the synopsis, so for the sake of this review I’ll be calling the antagonists of this film zombies, as I’m not one of those people that will argue about the standards that a true zombie must “live” up to. It is alluded to at one point that they might even be vampires, but that’s soon dismissed. These creatures are basically people who have been exposed to crazy amounts of radiation to the point that their faces have become distorted (some even have brown burger like stuff growing on them), and somehow have become impervious to bullets. They run fast, use weapons and drink blood. Rage zombies maybe, or super cannibals? It is directed by Umberto Lenzi after all. Oh whatever, I’m sticking to plain old zombies, and these zombies are top notch!

The beard to be feared.

The beard to be feared.

Right at the beginning of the film we’re introduced to reporter Dean Miller, played by Hugo Stiglitz, who it has to be said is rocking some serious beardage. He’s just found out about a radioactive spillage in South America and is told by his boss to go to the airport to interview Professor Hagenbach, who may have some answers about this. When he gets there he’s soon distracted by a mysterious unmarked military plane that lands on the runway, with nobody on board answering the calls of the air traffic control. Soon the runway is filled with army and police, and eventually the door opens. Hagenbach exits the plane, but he doesn’t look very healthy. What ensues is just the beginning of a relentless onslaught that lasts for the rest of this wonderful film, and we’re only eight minutes in.

So Hagenbach and his radioactive zombie army tear into the soldiers and make pretty short work of them. Miller watches this unfold before he and his camera man make a quick escape in their reporter van and head back to the TV station. It’s there that Miller makes what must be a pretty tough decision, he interrupts the transmission of a quite brilliant program called “It’s all Music” that seems to only involve some guys and gals in leotards, dancing to easy listening organ music. If I lived in this world, I could really see this being one of my favourite shows, and the thought of this rude interruption is simply devastating, even more so than a zombie apocalypse. The stars of the show also seem somewhat pissed off by this and start arguing amongst each other, There really is some classic banter in this scene. Anyway, as Miller starts his broadcast on the incident at the airport, the chief sees sense and takes him off air. The dancers are told they’re back on in twenty minutes and normal service is resumed.

Pure zombie mentalness!

Pure zombie mentalness!

Well, it’s resumed for a little while anyway, as after Miller gets a bollocking off his chief and General Murchison, a top army man, well, he’s a general so.. anyway, Miller quits his reporter job. He immediately dashes to a phone to call his wife, Anna, played by the sultry Laura Trotter,  at home. The Miller’s maid, Liz,  answers and tells him that Anna’s just left for the hospital where she works as a nurse, so he demands she calls her back, will she reach her in time? Well, in a way, yes, she does, but Anna just seems to blank Liz as she screams “Mrs. Milleeeer!” after her. As Anna drives away slowly in her yellow beetle, you know she heard her, but she ain’t got no time for no maid issues this morning, she’s got patients to cheer up… slightly. You know, maybe I shouldn’t dwell so much on the not so important scenes such as this one in the rest of this review/novelization, especially as we’re only sixteen minutes in. Maybe this is why it’s been three months since my last review. I’m learning.

So, next scene we cut to the Holmes home where Major Warren Holmes, another top army person (he’s a Major), is pulling down the dress of his quite ridiculously younger and beautiful wife, Sheila, (Omaggio). She must really like uniforms or something. A short romp ensues and the actor who plays Major Holmes, Francisco Rabal, makes no bones about the fact that he’s very much enjoying this particular scene, yeah, he’s really getting stuck in. Alas, his bedroom fun times get cut short as the telephone rings and he’s informed that general Murchison would like to see him right away. So after a bizarre little conversation where Maj. Holmes tells Sheila that her new sculpture of a zombie’s head… Yes, a zombie’s head, gives him the creeps, he sets off for the army base. Then we cut to… YES!

"It's all Music"... Surely the greatest show on Earth.

“It’s all Music”… Surely the greatest show on Earth.

Sorry, I got excited because “It’s all Music” is kicking off again and the dancers are really giving it some. Everyone’s buzzing and the ultra non specific muzak is blaring, what could possibly go wrong? Well, would you credit it? One of the crew members goes into the corner of the set and discovers the body of one of the dancers with her throat slit, and then a zombie appears from behind a sheet thing and stabs the poor guy in the chest. Well, this really is a devastating scene for me personally, as in the next few moments the cast and crew of my new favourite show are slaughtered by a hoard of the radioactive madmen. However, the fact that these zombies seem to have a tendency to rip off the leotards of the female performers before stabbing them made it somewhat more appealing, and there’s even a tit cutting off scene. Cheers Umberto, I feel better now. Time check, we’re twenty minutes in… This film is brilliant.

So the zombies eventually make their way to the room where Miller is just kind of standing around in. Didn’t he quit? Anyway, two of the zombies enter the room and Miller escapes by throwing a TV with a bomb in it at them. Seriously, the way it explodes is quite impressive and flames even appear out of shot nowhere near where the TV landed. I enjoyed this. Miller soon escapes the building, kicking the odd zombie on the way, and gets in a white beetle. A zombie tries to stop him by hanging on to the front, but Miller’s driving excellence soon puts an end to it’s attempts and the zombie is shrugged off in a fashion that makes me wonder how many injuries the stuntman involved actually sustained. Miller heads to the hospital to rescue Anna.

There, there, everything's gonna be alright.

There, there. Everything’s gonna be alright.

Well, it turns out Anna is actually a doctor, not a nurse as I stated before. What made me think she was a nurse? Maybe I am sexist after all! So Doctor Anna is going about her daily business, making her patients feel slightly better by telling them they’re going to be alright etc. One patient in particular, Jim, tells her that he had a dream where there was an explosion in the hospital and then he had his leg cut off. Anna says everything will be alright. This isn’t important, what is more important is the next scene where Gen. Murchison is giving Maj. Holmes the rundown of what’s been going on. This involves a body of one of the attackers being wheeled out and Murchison confirming that it isn’t an extra terrestrial, and that it’s molecular structure tells us it’s a member of the human race. Thought so! So then this colonel man enters the room and tells them that the body contains immensely high levels of radiation and this gives the creatures super strength. Then he lays down the rules. Basically, the best ways to stop them are a) cut off their food supply, in other words, try not to let them eat people, and b) shoot them right in the brain. Sounds a bit zombieish to me. Murchison then confirms that they’ll be proceeding with plan A, but if things get a bit hairy, there’s always plan B to fall back on. Plan B doesn’t sound too pleasant to me.

After this, Holmes immediately phones his bloody adorable wife, and tells her to lock all the doors and windows and not to let anyone in. Sheila doesn’t take this too seriously and asks if it’s because he’s insanely jealous. Holmes says something along the lines of “just do it” so she agrees. I really hope she listens to him and does what he says, I dunno though, maybe he should have mentioned the psychotic blood thirsty zombies, just to be sure…Well it’s looking good so far, Sheila’s gone to the front door and locked it, now for the back one. Oh no, she’s heard a noise and ran outside. It’s the lawnmower. It’s moving on it’s own. I can’t really explain this, but right now all I can think about is how much I want Sheila… to get back in the house. After a quick look around, she does so and locks the door. It looks solid, good times. Now for the windows, no don’t start on the booze! Oh no, there’s a bang from upstairs. Don’t go up there! Oh no, she has. She’s entered the bedroom and… the zombie head sculpture thing is lying on the floor with a knife in it’s face. There’s blood dripping down from the handle. End of scene. Well that was… weird.

A ghostly gardener perhaps...?

A ghostly gardener perhaps…?

Now it’s time for one of those horribly frustrating film scenes. Miller phones the hospital and gets through to a nurse who’s standing just a few feet from Anna, He asks to speak with her but she instructs the nurse to tell him she’s busy and that he can call later. Miller demands that he must speak to her now, but the nurse apologises and repeats that she can’t come to the phone right now. It’s at this point that Miller gives up and hangs up. Come on Dean, just mention the zombies! Oh well, he decides to hotfoot it to the hospital. What happened to the car?

Quick time check, we’re thirty three minutes in and now we’re introduced to a couple of characters we’ve not seen yet. A girl, Jessica, who’s swimming in a pool and a man who’s name I haven’t heard mentioned yet. Well we soon learn through the art of exposition dialogue, that they’ve been married for three months, and it turns out that Jessica is General Murchison’s daughter. I basically got that from one sentence. Anyway, the phone is ringing from inside the house but the couple decide to blank it. Immediately. a soldier walks up to them and tells Jessica that her father tried to phone her and has grown concerned because she didn’t answer… And oh yeah, there’s a zombie watching them from behind a bush. I want to marry this film.

"I wonder who's on the phone, dear Ha, it's probably your father, General Murchison, who's daughter (you) I married three months ago"

“I wonder who’s on the phone, dear. Ha, it’s probably your father, General Murchison, who’s daughter (you) I married three months ago”

Right so, the soldier tells the couple that he has orders to escort them to the army base, so Jessica tells him to wait for them in the car. She then tries to call her father, but a zombie comes along and cuts the phone line. Thinking nothing of this, they decide to sneak out the back way to avoid the soldier and escape in their camper van. this turns out to be a wonderful decision as the next thing we see is the soldier being strangled to death by one of a group of zombies. The couple’s plan works perfectly and they’re soon on the road, totally unaware of the zombie making a dash after them and, bizarrely, an absolutely random woman having her clothes ripped off and being eaten in their garden. Where did she come from? No honestly, who is she?

Well, it’s night time now and Miller is back in his beetle and pulling up outside the hospital. I guess it was a long distance between their places of work. Maybe he ran for a while, then found another white beetle to commandeer. I don’t know, I need to stop thinking too much about this, I mean he’s there now anyway, let’s just continue. On entering the hospital, Miller is told that Anna is in the operating theatre assisting Dr. Kramer and that she gave strict orders not to be disturbed. By the way, Dr. Kramer is a legend of epic proportions and he demonstrates this in his one short scene, but we’ll get to that. It soon becomes apparent that the staff at this hospital are a lot busier than usual, and this gives Miller the chance to sneak upstairs.

"So you're the little box that powers the whole city? Have some of this!"

“So you’re the little box that powers the whole city? Have some of this!”

After another pretty violent scene where we see a van full of zombies infiltrate a power station and smashing some box on a wall, the whole city’s power goes out. This obviously causes much chaos at the hospital but sly old Miller uses it to his advantage, sneaking his way through looking for his wife. So how’s Dr. Kramer getting on with the operation, seeing as there’s no lights anymore? Well he’s got a young doctor to hold a torch for him as he carries on. What a guy! He then sends Anna out to get more blood or something, anyway, she ends up in a room with lots of bottles of blood and stumbles across some zombies having a cheeky drink. They come at her but she evades them and runs to the ward where she was earlier and sees her patients including Jim, the “explosion and leg chopped off dream kid”, all dead. I guess when she told them everything will be alright, she hadn’t preempted the zombie apocalypse. Oh well, can’t think of everything.

A moment later the Millers are reunited and the zombies have well and truly established their presence in the hospital. Dean quickly escorts Anna out of the building leaving everyone else to be slaughtered. Back in the operating theatre, Kramer is being distracted by all the noise and asks a doctor to tell them to be quiet. I can’t tell if it’s the same doctor that was holding the torch as they’re all wearing doctor masks… just in case you were wondering. Anyway, this doctor is immediately dispatched by zombies and one of them rushes in and clocks the drip filled with blood. Before he can do anything however, Kramer is onto his little game and spin throws his scalpel into it’s chest with beautiful style and accuracy, see, I told you he was a legend! Unfortunately, the zombies can’t be killed in this manner and so it takes out the scalpel and rips out Kramer’s guts with it. Damn you mustard coloured jumper zombie! Damn you for robbing us of this great man!

Kramer's last stand.

Kramer’s last stand.

The zombies have taken over at this point and a lot of fun scenes follow. Yet another lady gets her dress ripped open before being stabbed, A group of people trapped in a lift/elevator are rescued, then annihilated by the zombie mob, but my favourite part in this portion, which can only be described as total bizarreness, involves a random nurse running outside and seeing a random zombie drinking someone’s blood. The zombie looks up and they make eye contact. The camera pans in slowly on the zombie which really doesn’t have anything to do with anything and he starts to chase the nurse, while actually running past other potential victims. The nurse runs away into a pond and some random guy tries to stop the zombie, I seriously don’t know why, but he’s dispatched straight away and the zombie is back in pursuit of nursey. Eventually the zombie catches the nurse and starts eating her neck, then, another zombie who’s tucking in to some other poor bastard’s neck sees this, stops, and kind of looks on awkwardly. What was that all about?!

So the Millers escape in one of those small car type ambulances, and in the next scene it’s daylight again. After hearing Gen. Murchison talking more seriously about “plan B”, we again meet up with his daughter, Jessica. Her and her husband, who’s name turns out to be Bob, and is actually credited as “Bob – Jessica’s husband”, are parked up in a field by the roadside where Bob hears on the radio that the military have declared a state of emergency. Jessica kind of brushes this off and even says she doesn’t want it to ruin her weekend, well about a minute later her weekend is well and truly leveled as her and Bob are stabbed up by two of their friends, who they were apparently meeting, I must have missed that part, anyway, they were zombies, obvs.

Still to come, folks!

Still to come, folks!

So at last, we’re back with the angelic Sheila Holmes and she’s fixing up her previously stabbed zombie head sculpture with still no explanation of how or why it got stabbed so. At least she’s safe though, that’s the main thing. Oh no, now look, there’s more noises coming from downstairs. I can’t take this… Okay, it’s cool. It was her friend, Cindy, knocking on the door, she let her in and she’s not a zombie. Fantastic. Oh now what?! Sheila’s just remembered that she left a window open in the cellar. Schoolgirl error! Oh and yeah, all of a sudden things have gone tits up because as soon as she opened the cellar door, the creepy zombie tune kicked in. That’s it then, I have no hope left. Well, they’ve shut the window now, but it seems to be too late, there’s another bloody noise coming from upstairs. For some reason Sheila tells Cindy to stay in the cellar and goes off to investigate on her own. Well, I’ll make it quick, a zombie appears and stabs Cindy in the tit and eye with a poker. Probably the kill of the film so far, as the effects are pretty gorgeous. Sheila hears Cindy’s death screams, grabs a gun and heads downstairs, end of scene.

We’re back with the Millers and Deano realises that they’re running out of petrol/gas, so they head to the nearest petrol/gas station and in bizarre scene #82, after finding the place abandoned and discovering an axe covered with fresh blood inside, they decide to chill out and have a coffee and a chat. After about seven hours (not really), Dean eventually decides to fill up the car so they can at last get out of town, but of course, as he starts to do so, the zombie crew show up and he runs back inside just in time. It’s like the cannibal village scene in Cannibal Ferox all over again, I adore you Umberto Lenzi! One zombie tries to enter through the door but Dean, in true Dr. Kramer fashion, throws an axe at him and it twats him clean in the face. After barricading the doors, the zombies find some bottles of blood in the ambulance and start necking it, Dean makes a molotov cocktail and chucks it at the car and the zombies perish. The Millers escape alive, but without a car. I just hope that coffee tasted good.

Time for a quick coffee and smoke break.

Time for a quick coffee and smoke break.

There’s a few more dialogue scenes and one where Holmes is in a helicopter circling over a large group of  zombies where you see a dog playing in the middle of them. Some other stuff happens and the Millers end up at a church. Sorry, my fingers are getting tired now, but the finish line’s in sight. As they reach the church, Anna suggests they go in to seek help as maybe the creatures are in fact vampires, and that they wont be able to enter a Jesus hotel. This plan goes to shit as when they enter, they see a priest with a crap face who starts attacking them. I mean he’s a zombie. Actually, the really weird thing about this scene is that they don’t see his face at first, and Anna tries to communicate with him, even though he’s standing with his good half of a face to the camera, and his bad half of a face towards them. He then turns 270 degrees clockwise towards the camera and then back towards the Millers instead of just the normal 90 degrees anticlockwise towards them (keep up). It’s then that they realise he’s a baddie. Anyway, the priest is a rubbish zombie and Hugo Stiglitz chins him. So much for the theory of vampires, not my words kids, they’re the words of Mr. Dean Miller.

Seventy four minutes in and Maj. Holmes meets up with a pilot who’s gonna execute plan B, but the pilot is all paranoid and pulls a gun on Holmes, telling him he’s “one of them” and that he’s not going to die like the rest. Holmes’s mate shoots the pilot in the back with a machine gun and the Major declares the air base out of action. Murchison tells Holmes his mission is useless now and to return to base, Holmes accepts this and sets off to the base, via his home to pick up Sheila. As he reaches his house, Holmes discovers the door is unlocked. Concerned, he pulls out his gun and enters calling his wife’s name. He makes his way upstairs and phew, he finds sheila pissing about with her sculpture. Holmes asks why she left the door open and, oh come on, we all know she’s one of them by now. She turns around and tries to stab her husband but Holmes literally blows her head clean off with his gun, like, it totally explodes from her neck up. We then cut to Sheila lying on the floor, dead, and with her head intact. Really?

Honestly though, I'd have kept Sheila as kind of like a sex zombie, maybe that's too honest.

Honestly though, I’d have kept Sheila as kind of like a sex zombie, maybe that’s too honest.

It’s Miller time again and our heroic duo have reached a fairground. There’s dead bodies scattered all over the place and soon they come across an army jeep. Dean runs over to the jeep and grabs a rifle, he then turns around and tries to shoot his wife in the head, but misses and hits a zombie that’s standing right behi… Oh wait, I guess he was trying to shoot the zombie all along. So all of a sudden they’re surrounded by zombies, so they make a run for it towards a massive roller coaster, eventually reaching the top. Dean has picked up a machine gun at this point and is shooting the pursuing zombies, but they seem trapped, what on earth will become of them? Well, with under six minutes of the film left, Major Warren Holmes and Dean Miller finally meet. Holmes is flying over the fairground in his chopper when he spots the Millers and decides to rescue them. He drops a rope down just as Dean runs out of bullets and Anna grabs hold followed by her husband. All’s going well until Anna realises that she can’t hold on anymore. Dean pleads with her to keep climbing but her attempts are futile and poor Anna, who’s been through so much in the past few hours, falls to her untimely death. The end…

…The Miller’s alarm clock goes off and Dean wakes up with a scream. No, I’m not joking, it really was all a dream… or was it? I’ve honestly tried to use the word as sparingly as possible while watching this film, but I’m sorry, the ending of this film can only be described as bizarre. Dean wakes from his nightmare (city), gets his head together, then remembers that he’s got to shoot off to the airport for an interview with… Professor Hagenbach. Yes, you know it! When he get’s to the airport, Dean learns that there’s an unmarked plane landing and mission control can’t make contact. The police and army surround the plane after it lands and an official demands those on board come out with their hands in the air. Miller reaches the plane just as the door opens. Roll credits… Genius!

Next time on Dallas...

Next time on Dallas…

So that’s Nightmare City, basically it’s everything you need from a zombie based film and much, much more. I mean it has all the standard zombieish stuff, but there is absolutely nothing standard about the actual film, so get it watched and adore it immediately, unless of course I’ve just totally ruined it for you by explaining every minor plot detail, in which case, sorry about that, anyway, this film has really made me feel hungry, I’m off to buy some burgers! (not really, I typed that for the purpose of a not very funny joke based on the appearance of the zombies. It’s in fact half four in the morning and this review has taken me hours, I’m bloody exhausted). Cheers.


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5 Responses to Nightmare City (1980)

  1. Pingback: Cannibal Ferox (1981) | Damian Thomas Films.. Etc

  2. I used to love this, but over the years I’m not as into it. Still a very fun film though.

  3. Pingback: The Bermuda Triangle (1978) | Damian Thomas Films.. Etc

  4. emmakwall says:

    Just heard from someone they’re remaking this!

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