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1 review, 4 user ratings

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Nightmare City
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by Jay Seaver

"Zombies... on a plane!"
4 stars

Usually, my trouble with zombie movies is that it's hard to believe that the situation is really apocalyptic - most zombie outbreaks, from "Night of the Living Dead" to "28 Days Later", look like they could be contained. "Nightmare City" has the opposite issue - I have a bit of trouble believing it could be contained as long as it is. Neither is really a big problem, since the people we meet are still in danger.

The first person we meet is named Dean Miller (at least in the English-dubbed version shown), a reporter for a local television station. He's covering the arrival of a plane filled with government scientists and military types, which turns out much more interesting than it sounds: After landing without any contact with the control tower, it disgorges a cargo of atomically-mutated zombies, eager to chew on flesh and drink blood. When Dean (Hugo Stiglitz) tries to get this on the air, he's taken off the air by General Murchison (Mel Ferrer), who doesn't want a panic started, but still sends the message to his daughter Jessica (Stefania D'Amario) and her husband Bob (Pierangelo Civera) to barricade the doors and let no-one in. Murchison's assistant, Major Holmes (Francisco Rabal), delivers roughly the same message to his young artist wife Sheila (Maria Rosaria Omaggio), while Miller takes what is likely the more sensible route of going to the hospital where his wife Anna (Laura Trotter) practices and trying to convince her to get the heck out of town.

All of these places, of course, are spots zombies particularly enjoy turning upside down in movies: Hospitals are multi-level mazes where "sick" people are brought for examination; houses generally have one forgotten method of ingress and can seem much less safe once the power goes out; television stations have studios full of pretty girls shooting a live disco-dance hour whose flimsy tops can be pulled off by clawing mutants just before the biting starts, inciting the panic that the military had hoped to avoid. Director Umberto Lenzi has a grand time throwing his marauders at the place, since it gives him the opportunity to jump between chase, siege, and ambush sequences, rather than settling for doing them in relatively predictable sequence. He's good at giving each the sort of energy they need, and jumping between them does make things like the friend showing up at the door a little less predictable because one's head is still in "chase" mode.

Lenzi's zombies are the fast, inarticulate, tool-using kind. They're not particularly smart - being able to fire a machine gun seems to be mostly motor memory - but despite the radiation burns that give them the proper grotesque look, they're spry enough to run the living down. Some of the action scenes are thus pretty intense, because in addition to being as full of contaminated blood as one would expect from an Italian zombie movie, there's no time to pause for breath. The zombies make for good threats individually, but the bigger-scale action works too.

It's tough to gauge the quality of the acting in a dubbed horror movie like this; the English-language dub was pretty unobtrusive - I only noticed lip sync not matching a few times - but it often made for awkward phrasing or pacing when the primarily Italian and Mexican cast spoke. Even through that, though, the chemistry between Stiglitz and Trotter is pretty good.

The script and Lenzi's direction are a bit clumsy at times when the zombies aren't attacking; it's trying to go for irony with Sheila's sculpture, I think, but it comes off as a bit of a waste of time and attempt to look more clever than it is by referencing Art. The ending feels like a bit of a cop-out for trying to have things both ways, but it's just the last couple minutes.

There's plenty of fun for the blood-and-guts crowd here. It's an early argument (1980) that fast zombies can be fun, too.

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originally posted: 06/08/07 11:08:48
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User Comments

2/12/12 matthew Thompson Dalldorf OK, but nothing special (great by Umberto Lenzi standards) 3 stars
7/10/09 mr.mike Good ... Damn good. 4 stars
4/06/09 Chris F plenty of gore good make up effects zombies look so real, a must see for zombie film fans! 5 stars
7/24/08 chris f not a bad zombie flick worth a watch 4 stars
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  18-Nov-1983 (R)
  DVD: 06-Aug-2002

  N/A (18)


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