The Film (4/5)
A military plane containing a scientist that has just been involved in a nuclear accident makes an abrupt landing at an airstrip. Dean Miller, a reporter played by Hugo Stiglitz is on the scene with his camera operator to catch the landing, and hopefully get a scoop on the accident. However, when the plane lands, and it’s door swings open things do not go quite as expected. The scientist they have been waiting for emerges, but goes on to attack a member of the military personnel waiting on the strip. He is followed by the other passengers on the plane who have been driven mad by radiation exposure, and set out on a violent rampage, and anyone who they come into physical contact with is converted into a radioactive mutant psychopath and begins killing, the only way to stop these mutants is to put a bullet into their heads.
I know what you're thinking, zombies. But these aren't the living dead, these are the radioactive mutated living more akin to something in 28 Days Later or Fallout than the Romero or Fulci films. These mutants begin to take over the city, the military gets involved, and tries to contain them to no avail, while Dean, and his wife attempt to escape the plague by getting as far out of the city as possible.
Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare City is without a doubt one of my favorite 80's Italian horror films. Nightmare City like my favorite films to come out of Italy in the 80's (outside of the ones made by Fulci and Argento) disregards plot, and any semblance of reason to create something violent, fun, and absolutely off the wall insane. We have absurd over-the-top violence from almost the word go, and while there is a story regarding Dean trying to get his wife from the hospital and out of the city, most of the film feels like a collection of awesome set pieces, and there isn't many moments where violence isn't being enacted on some character.
Nightmare City was crafted during the post Dawn of the Dead trend of late 1970's Italy. For those not in the know, Dawn of the Dead, was released in Italy in a cut overseen by producer Dario Argento as Zombi. Lucio Fulci was then hired to direct an unofficial sequel to Zombi, known as Zombi 2 in Italy after the success of that film the proverbial gates were busted down, and zombies became the creature du jour in Italy. The interesting thing about this particular trend is that it managed to keep strands of originality running through each films, Fulci's films post-Zombi 2 had a gothic, almost Lovecraftian feel to them. A film like Zombi Holocaust could be seen a riff on Zombi 2, but blends cannibals and zombies to create a fun splattery cocktail. Nightmare City on the other hand, are basically zombies, without calling them zombies. They are lightning fast, and still have some of their senses about them. They can fly planes, use knives, and guns, and are pretty much chaos zombies, and while I would not go so far as to call Lenzi's effort a suspenseful film, it can be quite shocking at times even in the midst of the non-stop barrage of over the top violence. It also has an interesting humor streak running through the film not even in the 80's could the scene in the aerobics studio have been taken seriously, and the bit with the death by shotgun has always cracked me up.
Nightmare City is one of the great fun, over the top splatterfest of 1980's Italy. It is directed by one of the legends of the genre, and grounded by a lead performance by one of cult cinema's finest.
Nightmare City has been presented in a 2:35:1 1080p transfer with a VC-1 encode. I would love to say that the transfer was everything I was looking for in an upgrade. It was not, but it is certainly a nice step up from the 12 year old Blue Underground DVD release that has been on my shelf for probably just as long. The detail in the transfer is improved, colors are improved as well, but that might only be noticed in the blood reds, and in the more colorful sequences of the film. The film is a pretty drab affair for the most part, and the transfer reflects that. I suspect some digital cleanup was done here, but that is simply because the transfer is not quite as awash in natural grain as I would have expected.
The audio is presented in a LPCM 2.0 mono track in both English and Italian. I've always watched Nightmare City in English, so I gave the Italian track a spin. The dialogue came through nice and clearly, as does the music and splattery sound effects, overall a decent track.
The extras on this disc include a 50 minute interview with Umberto Lenzi that is fairly interesting, and certainly worth your time. There is also a trailer on the disc, I believe it's European, but it's given English and Italian audio tracks... Weird.
Not exactly the upgrade I wanted, but still an upgrade, Nightmare City is still a film that belongs in every Italian horror fans collection. The extras are limited but the interview is good, the trailer is interestingly presented. RECOMMENDED.