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Fright Fest: Nightmare City (1980)

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Nightmare City

Director: Umberto Lenzi

Also Known As: City of the Walking Dead


Are you bored of zombies yet? I am. I am thoroughly fed up of them. Sick to death. If a zombie horde wanted to kill us, they could just wander around and re-enact parts of 90% of the zombie films released in the last 10 years. We’d die of brain fatigue, being forced to watch the same troupes re-trod time and time and time again. I’m not saying all new zombie material is terrible, it’s just that the sub-genre is so flooded it’s harder to find. 

It wasn’t always like this.

Going back a few decades zombies were just another part of the horror cannon, and although rules were creeping into place, people were still being inventive with them; still playing with ideas and trying new things. And Nightmare City fits exactly into that inventive category. Why? I hear you ask.

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Well these ‘zombies’ are a little different. The blighters run, drink blood not eat brains and they use weapons. Not just axes and knives, but machine guns!

Yeah that’s got your attention.

Nightmare City is a film directed by Umberto Lenzi (the man behind Cannibal Ferox) and was released in 1980. With the director and date mentioned then I hope you understand the style of Italian horror we are about to see. Yep, it’s going to be bloody, outlandish, have some sex thrown in for no apparent reason and display a fine repertoire of cheesy dialogue.

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Its premise starts with an unmarked plane landing and found to be full of radioactive mutant zombies. Within the first ten minutes these hamburger faced mutants are running amok causing death and mayhem. They’re shooting guns and slicing throats with the movements of well-trained athletes. Want to get away from these monsters? Good luck.

Some of the gore effects are much better than others with some pretty good head shots near the end of the movie but some terrible fake stabbings at the start.  Still nothing could be as horrific as the wonderful menagerie of moustaches on show.

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Memorable bloody moments come with a zombie having their arm shot off and an unlucky dancer’s nipple being sliced from her breast.

The synth heavy soundtrack is what you would expect from this era of movie and works a charm.  There are some classic moments of craziness in this such as a TV exploding and bursting into flames when thrown at a zombie and a fight with a candle and candlestick holder. It would appear the holder is by far the mightier of the two weapons. Poor choice zombie priest.

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The dialogue is equally laughable, although I’m never sure whether this is the fault of the original script or merely the translation.

Also be on your guard as characters that you spent some time investing in get offed at the most unpredictable moments, decades before Game of Thrones made it a weekly event! I’m not one to spoil films by revealing too many details but the ending was unexpected, amusing and left a lasting impression, that made me happily re-watch it when asked to do this review.

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All in all a good bad movie. A classic (in my mind) of Italian zombie cinema and one worth checking out if you want to see an inventive zombie film; one that was made before the rot really did set in.

J. R. Park

J. R. Park is a writer of Horror Fiction based in Bristol, UK, and co-founder of the publishing imprint the Sinister Horror Company. His novels have all been well received by readers and reviewers, even if the sick bucket hasn’t been too far away from their bedsides. Art house, pulp and exploitation alike inform his inspirations, as well as misheard conversations, partially remembered childhood terrors and cheese before sleep.

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