Nightmare City / City of the Walking Dead (1980)

Nightmare City (1980)‘Aim for the brain. We must be very specific about that.’

A military transport makes an unscheduled landing at a big city airport. When the authorities surround the plane, they are attacked by the passengers, who have turned into flesh-eating mutants. And they’re a bit peckish…

Cheesy Spanish-Italian ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978) rip-off that is never anything but a lifeless copy of the George A Romero classic. Director Umberto Lenzi provides almost no explanation for the deadly outbreak, apart from an early reference to a serious radioactive spill and the fact that one of the hungry passengers is a scientist who was being brought in to investigate the accident. After that, it’s just the usual mixture of survivors on the run (who will be next to get eaten?), serious military types in a bunker (move our forces to zone 7), and lots of extras covered in ketchup overacting outrageously.

Heading up the armed forces is General Mel Ferrer, a respected and serious actor, who had appeared mostly famously in ‘Lilli’ (1953), ‘War and Peace’ (1955) and ‘The Sun Also Rises’ (1957). He was also married to Audrey Hepburn for 14 years. But that had all been quite a few years before and his late 1970’s credits had been consistently embarrassing. For TV, there were guest slots on ‘Logan’s Run’, soap juggernaut ‘Dallas’ and a prominent part in Irwin Allen’s dreadful mini-series ‘The Amazing Captain Nemo’ (1978). On the big screen it was even worse; appearing alongside Lee Majors in chucklefest ‘The Norseman’ (1978), having a ‘close encounter’ with bonkers ‘first contact’ rip-off ‘The Visitor’ (1978), turning up in Italian horrors ‘Island of the Fishmen’ (1979) and ‘The Great Alligator’ (1979) and even headlining for Lenzi before in cannibal shocker ‘Eaten Alive!’ (1980).

However, at least Ferrer doesn’t get directly involved in any of the silliness on display, remaining firmly on the sidelines of the main action. Perhaps it’s telling that the only member of the bunker staff who interacts with anyone outside is Major Francisco Rabal and that’s limited to scenes with his girlfriend Sonia Vivani and a fleeting appearance in a helicopter. Yes, this is ‘patchwork’ filming making at its finest, with the main plot (such as it is) focusing on TV reporter Hugo Stiglitz and his wife Laura Trotter. Unfortunately, the film tells us almost nothing about the pair so there is no audience engagement with their eventual fate. Characters are introduced simply to be killed, while Ferrer and his buddies in the bunker look grave and make decisions to ‘clear sector g’ and ‘pull back from area 5’ etc. etc.

Nightmare City (1980)

🎶..and now…the end is near…🎵

The ‘Z’ word is never mentioned, and our flesh-eaters move at normal speed, which predicts some more recent developments in the genre. However, although gore is plentiful and detailed, it’s not particularly convincing, and the ‘twist’ ending is desperately poor, leaving the distinct impression that either there was no budget to film a notable climax, or the production simply ran out of money.

Director Umberto Lenzi began his career by jumping on the ‘Hercules’ bandwagon in the  early 1960s but then switched to ‘Bond’ when that became popular a few years later. After that, it was Gallo thrillers and ‘Godfather’ pictures throughout the 1970s before horror took over and he started shooting films about cannibals. Nothing wrong with working in different genres, of course, but Lenzi seems to have been little more than a journeyman director with an eye firmly fixed on commerical possibilities, rather than anyhthing else.

Hurried, cheap and undistinguished horror flick aimed squarely at the home video market of the early 1980s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s