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.

The Norseman (1978)

The Norseman (1978)“It will be written that the name of Olaf shall live on in the land of the Norse.”

Thorvald leads his viking warriors across the sea in search of his father, King Eurich. After surviving a storm in their longship, the intrepid band discover America, name it Vineland and get into it with the local population, who have blinded Eurich and his companions and are holding them as prisoners.

Lee Majors was a big TV star in the late 1970s. He’d first found fame as one of the Barclay boys on ‘The Big Valley’ but it was as Steve Austin, ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ that he gained international stardom. By 1977, that show had been running for almost 5 years and was coming to an end, so it must have seemed a logical move to step into feature films. Unfortunately, Majors chose ‘The Norseman’ (1978) as his flagship project and his movie career was over before it began. A couple of other films followed but Majors soon headed back to the small screen as ‘The Fall Guy’.

So what went wrong? Well, Majors had never displayed a great range as an actor so it was not likely he could convince as a Viking warrior from the frozen Northlands. He’s clean shaven (apart from a porno moustache) and his hair looks impeccably styled. This wouldn’t be so bad if co-star Cornel Wilde and the rest of his crew didn’t look like Bigfoot’s long lost cousins. Also, Majors delivers all his dialogue in a flat monotone, staring off into the distance when it’s significant and not trying on any kind of accent at all. In fact, he has difficulty with what would appear to be straightforward pronunciation (‘Noarsman’ for instance). All this would be forgivable if he had the personality to fill the screen but he just appears vaguely uncomfortable throughout the entire tedious proceedings. The whole thing put me in my mind of John Wayne’s immortal turn as Genghis Khan in ‘The Conquerer’ (1955).

But it’s unfair to put everything on to Major’s shoulders. Writer-Director Charles B Pierce had first come to notice as the man behind drive-in smash ‘The Legend of Boggy Creek’ (1972) and had since worked as a set dresser for Clint Eastwood. But his skills as a writer were not so well developed. The plot is paper thin and displays little logic or credibility. But what really derails the entire enterprise is that these vikings are not the vicious marauders you might expect; their greatest combat skill seems to be running away! But as they do it in slow motion, it’s obviously heroic. The battle scenes we do get are staged with the bloodless excitement of watching a historical re-enactment society and the musical score seems to have been lifted from somewhere else and dropped on to the film from a great height.

The Norseman (1978)

Gentleman, we can rebuild him. Oh, actually, let’s not bother… fancy a pint instead?

Various Hollywood names in need of a paycheque are dragged into the fray. Apart from Wilde, we get Jack Elam, Mel Ferrer, Irish actress Kathleen Freeman as a Native American, ex-Tarzan Denny Miller and former NFL stars Deacon Jones and Fred Biletnikoff! The heroine was once married to Sonny Bono and the director’s son appears as ‘Young Eric’. You may remember him from ‘Boggy Creek II: And The Legend Continues’ (1985) as the teenager with the strange allergy to wearing shirts.

Some things I did not know about A.D. 1006: vikings wore wristwatches, there were palm trees on the Canadian coast, native tribes used archery arrows, a viking could be killed by getting one of these up his bum, no viking can see a wizard’s face despite the fact that his hood doesn’t cover it properly, vikings invented breastplate armour a couple of hundred years before everyone thought they did, vikings wear helmets with cow’s horns and fluffy earmuffs, longboats have a lower deck with cabins(!), there were black vikings and being hit by an arrow always makes you move in slow motion.

Apparently, there’s even an oil tanker making a cameo appearance at one point but, as I saw a fairly hideous ‘pan and scan’ print, I’m afraid I missed it. Obviously, I’m keen to watch the whole thing again just so I can spot it, but, just on the off chance I can never be bothered, if someone could point out when it happens I’d be most grateful.