Both the crypto-zombies of Nightmare City and the film itself are fast-paced sons of bitches without so much as a whisper of a thought inside their heads. Umberto Lenzi’s ecologically-minded trashterpiece doesn’t have the aptitude for the social comment of George A. Romero’s work, but the fuckers fly at their victims. Okay, maybe it’s a little bit of a stretch to call them “zombies.” They’re not exactly dead yet, they’re just contaminated after a nuclear muck-up. The film opens with a tense standoff with an unidentified plane landing at a military base where a famed expert is expected to land and share his thoughts on the state of the industrial scene. The expert slowly emerges from the plane…and then proceeds to burn rubber, slashing away at the military personnel surrounding him and drinking their blood. A torrent of similarly gunk-encrusted pseudo-zombies pour out of the plane and, before you can say “martial law,” the apocalypse begins its rampage through a selfish and overly developed city. One military type reasons (while safe in his bunker) that the afflicted zombies aren’t really undead; it’s just their blood cells that have been paralyzed by radioactivity, hence the need for the zombies to constantly refresh their supply with fresh plasma. In that sense, the creatures in Lenzi’s film are more like anti-charismatic vampires. As one character points out late in the film, humanity reaps what it sews, and the terrified populace has no one to blame for the chaos that ensues but themselves. (Of course they don’t, they seem pathologically incapable of aiming their weapons at the zombies’ heads and can’t run from them for shit. If they could kill with any competence, the plague might’ve been contained at the air base at the beginning of the movie.) Lenzi stresses his “the enemy within” proposition by making his zombie brigade nearly indistinguishable from the rest of humanity, aside from the spreading pool of blackened goobers that envelop their faces if they don’t replenish their supply of blood often enough. Unlike the zombies of the Romero variety—which are slow, lumbering, and seem to have a sixth sense about where human victims are hiding—Lenzi’s mob has all the same advantages and drawbacks that their human victims theoretically possess. They can run, they can hide, and they have a variety of implements and weaponry at their disposal, but they also can’t tell if someone living is hiding in the next room. Ultimately, Lenzi’s political subtext is cheap and noncommittal compared to Dawn of the Dead or Bob Clark’s Deathdream, and he doesn’t come within miles of the sweaty grindhouse veracity of Cannibal Ferox (his answer to Cannibal Holocaust) despite a similar death via breast impalement (this one inflicted on one of the hapless pretty young women on what appears to be a public-access disco instructional series), it does manage to suggest society surprised to find itself on the verge of chaos and annihilation. In practice, it feels like Planet Terror‘s disaster movie-derived uncle.
- 21st Century Distribution
- 92 min
- Umberto Lenzi
- Antonio Cesare Corti, Luis María Delgado, Piero Regnoli
- Hugo Stiglitz, Laura Trotter, Maria Rosaria Omaggio, Francisco Rabal, Sonia Viviani, Eduardo Fajardo, Stefania D'Amario, Ugo Bologna, Sara Franchetti, Manuel Zarzo, Tom Felleghy, Pierangelo Civera, Achille Belletti, Mel Ferrer
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