Nightmare City falls under the category of “so bad it’s good”. Umberto Lenzi manages to pull off some ridiculous scenes but gets away with it through consistency and dedication.
First off, if you’re new to Italian horror, you need to know that it can be quite off-putting watching a film in Italian with English subtitles, especially when it’s obviously been dubbed from English into Italian. If you’re quick you can read the sentence then lip-read the actors and realise they’re actually saying what is written. It can take getting used to but once you’re past that you’ll quickly realise that the acting is about as bad as you initially thought it was.
The plot doesn’t stray far from the norm for a zombie horror film. A group of humans have been subject to nuclear contamination, leaving them with superhuman strength. They are running riot in an unnamed city and television news reporter Dean (played by Hugo Stiglitz) is trying to survive as the city falls apart. As each person is killed, of course, the victim joins their cause, meaning their strength is ever-growing.
This film contains a number of hilarious shots and it worked exceptionally well in a packed and jovial cinema. A frequent feature is the appearance of young women’s breasts. You never quite know when the next pair is going to appear. The frequency of it was a source of great amusement. I’m not sure if this was common at the time but it definitely seemed out of place.
Equally, barring the main characters, everyone was completely stupid. Getting attacked by zombies? Let’s just run from left to right panicking, then run from right to left doing the same thing until we get attacked. Brilliant.
Our hero, Dean, wasn’t very supportable and lacked the charisma required to get away with the things he was doing. He regularly screws over fellow survivors, at one point he punches his girlfriend in the face, he leaves a group of people trapped in an elevator. It made it hard to get behind him, even when it seemed he was the only one set to survive and we were forced to follow his story alone.
SPOILER ALERT!! The ending was the kind that all ten-year-olds go for when they run out of time and ideas in a story-writing class. Yes that’s right, it was all just a dream. It was disappointing and was rightly met with groans across the crowd. Nobody’s story was tied up. They just must have ran out of money.
It’s a bit of lighthearted old-fashioned gory horror that will no doubt entertain you, but probably won’t change your life. The ending is so disappointing it unravels any of the successes it has managed to pull off.
Nightmare City is available on Arrow Video Blu-ray now.