Monday, 21 May 2012

Nightmare City

1980, Italy/Spain, Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Colour, Running Time: 92 minutes
Review Source: DVD, R2, Anchor Bay; Video: Anamorphic 2.35:1, Audio: DD Stereo

Ace Reporter Dean Miller is sent on an assignment to interview an influential politician upon his arrival at the airport. Miller is immediately aware of a ‘situation’ unfolding as he reaches the airport with his cameraman - there is indeed a plane soaring in to land but it’s not responding to communication of any kind and, possibly worse, it’s an unmarked military aircraft. The army are called in due to the potential security issue and everyone gathers there waiting - machine guns or cameras at hand - as the plane comes to a halt on the runway. Omniscient minutes pass with no sign of activity, until the door opens and out pour a horde of crazed disfigured men - crazed and armed to the hilt. All hell breaks loose as they go about slaughtering virtually everyone in the vicinity - army gunfire proves useless and before long there are scores of bloody, motionless bodies littering the runway. Miller manages to get out alive to head for the TV station with the intention of alerting the public to avoid any lethal delays. Interrupting an important dance show that’s being aired (‘It’s All Music’!) he bags himself about a minute of broadcast time before the boss realises his schedule has gone to shat, and switches the busybody newsman off the air. His efforts were in vain either way as there is a sudden disturbance down on the dance floor - the mutants have invaded the building, ripping apart the dancers (at last granting them a modicum of dignity…) leaving Miller to escape once again as the army try to regain control of the situation - the massacre would appear to be progressing across the city as the horde of creatures show no mercy in their unstoppable motiveless destruction.
People think that the Running Dead phenomenon started with the likes of 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead '04, but it started right here back in 1980 with a vengeance. This film makes up its own rules from the beginning and, despite being influenced heavily by Romero’s second Dead outing, it adds its own spin on the proceedings to craft something that continues to stand out from the rest of the Italian zombie movies that spewed forth from around 1979 onwards. These indestructible monsters have absolutely zero motive, other than to perhaps drink blood but that seems almost like a footnote in the wake of the surrounding madness. The creatures are downright ugly with their rotting putty-mass faces and strange camera poses, but they stop at nothing in the onslaught - all humans can do is fight and die, or retreat, or scream like ninnies as their clothes are ripped off in the case of the some of the dancers. Miller (Mexican actor Hugo Stiglitz) manages to get away from the airport (his assistant stands there shooting film, blissfully ignorant to the threat - with cameramen the job comes first!) and subsequently the TV station to collect his wife so they can leave the city behind as civilisation crumbles. This movie is an almighty ‘SIT ON IT' to critics as it obstinately lies beyond conventional criticism - you can stand there pointlessly outlining its abundant cinematic problems, or you relax your brain and have a great time wallowing in the insanity that jumps off the screen. In that sense, it’s not a ‘good’ film, but you almost can’t help but have a good time as you witness the spectacle: that gob-smackingly ridiculous It’s All Music dance show that has to be seen to be believed (where the cameramen have stone faces and laboratory coats); the female dancers when attacked routinely ending up with their breasts exposed; the doctor who greets an intruder to his surgery not with questions, but by throwing his scalpel across the room into the sod's body; the army colonel delivering his rather non-specific militaristic instructions (Plan H, Plan B, etc.); the list goes on and on. The TV station was probably only written in because Romero had done the same a couple of years earlier, and the conclusion would have been a cliché in any other film, but the sheer audacity somehow gets Lenzi and co. off the hook. Miller and his wife’s journey turns out to be pretty cool, while the final sequence depicting them on the run before climbing a roller coaster structure to get away from hordes of creatures is actually rousing. An apt symbol if ever there was one. Taken on its own unbelievably unhinged terms, Nightmare City is a bit of a winner. Groovy electronic music score too.

Anchor Bay’s UK DVD was a blessing for fans such as myself. Previously I’d only seen Incubo Sulla Città Contaminata (or City of The Walking Dead, etc) on video cassette. VTC released it in the early eighties; good looking for video but cropped at the sides and censored to hell. There have since been a number of uncut DVDs released around the world: for example, EC Entertainment (non-anamorphic 2.35:1, with trailers, stills gallery), Italian Shock (containing gallery, trailer, interview, commentary, plus the entire soundtrack as a separate entity), a rough one from Laser Paradise (with non-removable Japanese subtitles!), and a US Anchor Bay disc that’s virtually identical to the British release. As far as extras are concerned the Italian Shock disc wins out, but transfer-wise the Anchor Bay discs are probably the victors - the film looks stupendous and is a joy to witness from start to finish. The film is dubbed in English but this seems to suit the oddball nature of the production, adding to the enjoyment somewhat. Check it out if you’re feeling brave, but switch off the synapses and get the beers in for maximum effect.

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