Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City is one of the silliest, most ridiculous zombie films I’ve ever seen, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. The infected in this movie aren’t zombies per se, but rather people that look burnt to a crisp and have a penchant for murdering everyone they see and drinking their blood. They can shoot guns, stab people, and have a basic knowledge of electronics and mechanics. The film plays out like a cross between Romero’s The Crazies and Dawn of the Dead only much worse, but in a good way.
Released in 1980, Nightmare City, also known as City of the Walking Dead (and not to be confused with Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead), stars the one and only Hugo Stiglitz as Dean Miller, a television reporter heading to an airport to meet up with a scientist. While waiting, Dean witnesses a military plane land with a dozen or so radiated soldiers emerging. The soldiers immediately begin shooting and killing everyone in their path and thus the outbreak begins. The fact that these zombies somehow have the wherewithal to fly a plane is the first of many illogical and baffling elements of this movie.
After a particularly amusing scene at the TV station involving Jazzercize, more zombies, and a nipple being eaten, Dean scoops up his wife (Laura Trotter) and attempt to leave the city to find safety. They eventually end up at an amusement park which results in plenty more unintentional comedy and the climax of the film.
Like many zombie films of this time, there was some intended subtext with Nightmare City, however it was completely overshadowed by just how bad everything was. Lenzi was attempting to make a statement on the military and nuclear weaponry, but it was all so heavy handed and goofy it’s hard to take any of it seriously. In the end it just feels like a cheap knockoff of a Romero or Fulci film, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to watch. There’s even a nod to Fulci’s famous eye stabbing scene in Zombi, which isn’t as cringe-worthy but still quite painful looking.
The zombies, who aren’t really zombies but more like crazed people suffering from radiation poisoning, are confusing to say the least. At times they simply run around like snarling beasts, and other times they appear to show a level of intelligence not common with your typical zombie. One scene shows them drinking what appear to be 40s and another shows a man gently wiping his mouth after devouring someone’s flesh. Another one somehow knew there was an elevator full of people and smartly went to the basement and manually lowered it so he could get access to the smorgasbord of soft flesh inside.
Nightmare City is a film that makes little sense and is poorly executed on every single level. This alone makes it an utter joy to watch and is perfect for getting a bunch of your buddies together and having a laugh. Make sure you watch the dubbed version as well, to get an even more ridiculous experience.