Joe’s Blog

Nightmare City aka City of the Walking Dead (1980)

June 17, 2011 4:49 am

Nightmare city

It was quite odd for me to not enjoy The Walking Dead earlier this year. I’d been led to believe this was a new pinnacle in televisual entertainment, and, as a zombie fan, it would be the ultimate gut-munching experience. Well, I found it to be glossy, watered-down, derivative and, dare I say, a tad boring. To me it seemed to be the zombie thing for people who don’t really like zombie things.

It also signalled the ultimate public acceptance of zombie stories into the mainstream. It’s been a long road, and people like to talk about why the turn of the millenium has seen a sudden surge of zombies into the popular consciousness. To which I say “Bugger off, I’m watching Zombie Flesh Eaters“.

The noughties is NOT the high watermark of zombie cinema. That’s like saying the rash of slasher remakes clogging up multiplexes the world over is signalling the high point of the genre. It’s just lazy Hollywood.

The true peak of zombie cinema was the turn of 70s into the 80s, starting with Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. So popular was it in Italy, that they took the mantle upon themselves to batter audiences into submission with a succession of rip-offs of varying quality, but consistent gore quotients.

Nightmare City is a lesser example of spaghetti zombie-fests, but just as important, as, contrary to its US title, and to the best of my knowledge, it was the first zombie film to feature RUNNING zombies. No Haitian voodoo and shuffling worm eaters here. These radioactive rampagers could probably rundown Usain Bolt if his blood was tasty enough.

Not only that, but they still seem to have their brains intact too.  They can use weapons (or rather they utilise everything they can lay their hands on as a weapon) and even to have a plan of attack!


Nyom nyom

But, I’m getting ahead of myself here. First the plot. A radioactive leak has led to a plane load of ‘infected’ people running amok in an unamed city. That’s pretty much it.

Our focus initially is a TV reporter (Hugo Stiglitz) as attempts to rescue his doctor wife, after his attempts to broadcast the news of what’s happening our thwarted by The Man. Here the part of the once big star parachuted in to make the film sellable to the USA will be played by Mel Ferrer.

Along the way Mel’s daughter is given a sub-plot, as does another Army bloke who’s sculptress wife get’s her top off and mopes around the house.

It’s pretty episodic stuff, with no real narrative thread beyond Stiglitz rescuing his wife, then trying to escape the city, whilst Ferrer points a stick at a model of the city and initiates “…Plan H. We’ll keep Plan B in reserve”. Ferrer’s scenes were clearly filmed in about two days as, bar one scene, he’s never featured outside HQ.

 Mels pointy stick

“We’ll go with Plan H. Hitting them with a pointy stick.”

What it does have is an avalance of ridiculous set pieces, squirm-inducing dialogue and moments of bad movie gold.

After the zombies have seized the airport, they turn their attentions to a TV station. We are treated to an example of the station’s output, which, during the day at least, features a god-awful dance troupe in purple leotards. While it’s certainly more watchable than Loose Women, there’s no need to give us TWO extended views of it (totalling more than five minutes screen time). And handily the leotards have a habit of falling off and exposing the dancers chests as soon as the zombies attack. One poor woman runs direct into camera letting it all hang out before being grabbed and having a nipple sliced off. It’s nowhere near as nasty as it sounds, honest.

Loose women

Loose Women.. Italian style

In fact, the women do come off very badly in this one. Whilst the men tend to get shot, or battered about the head, before the zombies feed on their necks like vampires, almost all the female victims have the indignity of having their tops pulled off, before being stabbed in the chest for a handy feeding hole (to be fair though, if they didn’t want their boobs exposed maybe they should wear bras. Not one woman in this film wears a bra). It’s worth mentioning here that director Umberto Lenzi is one of the less talented, but massively successful, Italian directors, who often created ultra-exploitative rip-offs of better films. the best known example is probably the abhorrent Cannibal Ferox, which he made next. This is far more fun.

Of course, this happens to be the TV station wear Stiglitz works, and he’s on hand to hurl an exploding TV at some zombies and make his escape.

The zombies continue on, taking over a power station, then the hospital where Stiglitz’ wife works. And so it continues…

It’s worth mentioning here, the wonder that is Stiglitz’ acting ability. This man makes Mark Wahlberg look like Jack Nicholson as far as emoting goes. he appears to have only one expression.

Here he is witnessing the zombie attack at the airport (note how his ‘top camerman’ isn’t filming this exciting breaking story)…

Stiglitz 1

Or here, as the zombies attack the TV station he appears to ring for a pizza (or the military, I can’t remember which)…

Stiglitz 2

Or here, where he’s very disappointed that the gas station they’ve found doesn’t stock Ginsters sausage rolls…

Stiglitz 3

It’s an odd film in that it doesn’t seem to know which zombie mythology it’s following. Early on a scientist examines one they caught and explains about their regenerative qualities but also suggests the infection can be passed on. What’s odd is that we never see a dead body get up. Each set piece seems to feature different zombies, but still, you need to see the effect on their victims.

In the plus coloumn, it features a line which has permeated popular culture (at least if you like zombie films). This must be true as I used it for the title of a zombie essay at Uni, and I’d never even seen this film: “Aim for the brain!”. (Oddly, I have vivid memories of the video cover from when i was a nipper. The cover, in it’s skin ripping glory, made it look utterly horrendous. It’s a wonderful piece of trash artwork, which is why I chose to use it above, over its better known equivalents.)

It’s far from the best example of Italian splatter, but it’s certainly not the worst, though it probably has the worst ending to a zombie film I’ve ever seen. Seriously… the worst ending. EVER. In the right frame of mind, and a few shandies down, it can be entertaining. It’s certainly not dull, and you’re never more than ten minutes away from either some outrageous gore, or some ridiculous dialogue.

NB. If you’re wondering why the name Hugo Stiglitz sounds familiar, it’s because he was the name of one of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds

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