Italian Horror Week is how I got to know Doc Terror. My exposure to Italian cinema is best described as “limited”, and once I decided I wanted to seek out more, Doc’s name kept coming up in my search results. This of course lead me to the Blog of Horrors. I may not have ever met James Harris in person, but I learned more about horror from him than I have anyone else in my life. I am honored to be taking part in this first Italian Horror Week without him. I may not know as much as many of the other contributors, and that should be said up front as you decided as to whether you read on or not, but I owe Doc Terror at least this much. For my entry, i did a first time watch of Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City from 1980.
Following an explosion at a nuclear facility, an unidentified aircraft that’s supposed to have the world’s leading nuclear scientist aboard arrives at an airport. The plane has made no radio contact, and the air traffic control tower calls in the authorities after several attempts to reach anyone inside the aircraft. Standing by is network reporter Dean Miller, who is there in the hopes of getting an exclusive interview with the scientist, professor Hagenbeck. There continues to be no response from inside the plane when the military begin ordering the door to be opened. When it finally does, the doctor and everyone inside emerges in a murderous rage. Dean narrowly escapes, and races to get to his wife who is performing surgery at a nearby hospital. Together the two fight to surive against a growing army of radioactive zombies who are cutting a violent swath across the city.
Ok, so I said “radioactive zombies” there, but honestly, I don’t know what they were. They ran, used weapons, and they drove vehicles. Some acted like zombies, doing what looked like they were eating their victims, others acted like vampires who were in a bloodlust. Nightmare City is a lot of things, but consistent it ain’t. It’s full of plot holes, what plot is there doesn’t make a lot of sense, the effects go from almost non-existant (there are times in scenes with a large group wreaking havoc that knives stab or go across knecks and there’s not a drop of blood to be seen) to comically over-done (a shot from a pistol makes a woman’s head explode). The “zombies” themselves even vary. Some of them just look like regular people holding their eyes wide open, others are covered with this strange brownish green substance that closely resembles clay or mud. The acting is bad, dialog is bad, and it has one of the most unsatisfying endings you’ll ever see.
So how did I feel about Nightmare City? In short, I fucking loved it. Yes, it has all of the problems I mentioned, but it’s charm is undeniable. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that Umberto Lenzi watched George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, immediately left the theater, and started writing. Nightmare City feels like Dawn’s idiot cousin who nobody in the family talks about. I laughed, a lot. This is that kind of movie. If you can have a couple of drinks, get some friends over, and just let the movie be itself, it’s a fun time. If you’re a horror snob, who needs their movies to be perfect, it’s probably best if you move along and leave Nightmare City for those of us who enjoy watching the occasional trashy movie.
Nightmare City gets a thumbs up for me. If you’re still reading, thanks for sticking with me. Enjoy the rest of your Italian Horror Week, I’m sure I will be. Doc Terror Forever.