Nightmare City (1980)

A movie which somehow achieves the bizarre status of being ahead of its time and also a slavish copy of more popular contemporaries, Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City proves that the Italian exploitation filmmakers of yore were even better at their trade than anyone at the time even realized.

Coming in the wake of George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead and Lenzi’s fellow Italian legend Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, Nightmare City doesn’t take any pains to hide the debt it owes those two films. Of course, it should be noted that Lenzi himself stated in an interview on the Black Demons DVD that Nightmare City was not a zombie movie at all, but was about contaminated people that ran amok.

See, they ran like contaminated guys are prone to do. We all know that zombies merely shamble. And we all know that’s not just crazy foreigner talk because we saw the exact same thing more than twenty plus years later in 28 Days Later!

And the guy that made that movie went on to win an Academy Award! Lenzi went on to make Cop Target which just proves that awards aren’t everything.

Perhaps not unexpectedly in a film about contaminated freaks murdering scores of Italians, there’s been an accident at a nuclear power plant.

Our hero, the very English, but very hairy and therefore very Italian-looking Dean Miller is a hothead reporter at the local TV station who has to cover the arrival of this scientist from the nuclear power plant at the local airport.

Apparently, whenever there is an accident at an Italian nuclear facility, the guy in charge immediately flies away so that he can appear on the Today show to assure all the zombies, I mean contaminated folks, that just because they all look like they tried to wash their face with lighter fluid and a lit match that everything is AOK. That’s what we in the crisis management biz call “getting out in front of a story.”


At the airport a military transport plane without any identifiers comes in and lands. And wouldn’t you know it, but it’s full up with zombies! I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see these contaminated freaks painting over all the markings on the plane before it took off. How the plane didn’t end up like looking Jackson Pollack went to town on it, I’ll never know.

Dean and his cameraman watch the antics of these guys as they hack up all the airport cops they can get their grubby paws on and decide that the interview with the guy from the nuclear plant can probably be rescheduled and head back to the TV station.

We all remember those TV station scenes on Dawn Of The Dead, right? Well, Lenzi actually goes Romero one better because he has the TV station showing some disco dancing show with ugly Italian chicks in even uglier purple leotards!

Dean tries to interrupt the show with a special report about the massacre at the airport, but is overruled by his boss and gets put on suspension! Doesn’t this TV manager have any decency? Here he had the chance to spare millions of Italians from being reminded of how ugly their chicks are by preempting that awful dance show and he just looked the other way!


Even though Dean was unable to save the viewing public from the disco show, the zombies roll into the TV studio and cancel the show the only way they know how to: by biting, hacking and stabbing everyone involved! I don’t think I’ve been more grateful to see a zombie attack happen than I was when that disco music stopped so that zombie music could play!

Among the other scenes reminiscent of Dawn of the Dead was the big “getting gas scene.” Whenever someone in one of these zombie apocalypse movies needs to get gas it involves a really tense situation where the zombies are trying to give the heroes full service when they’d be satisfied with self service. Once again, it was better in this movie because the heroes managed to not only stop the zombies but also blow up their own getaway ambulance!

Still have your doubts that maybe the wrong speedy-contaminated-guys-take-over-the-world movie director got the Oscar? Behold! I give you the big amusement park scene!

This sequence saw Dean and his wife (she had a really nasty pimple on her face so I kept thinking that she was actually contaminated with a dose of zombie) running around the park while these zombies chased them and even worse, jumped the lines!


I was never quite sure what Dean’s plan was, but for some reason he decided to make his escape by running up the side of the roller coaster. What he was going to do once he was up there, I have no clue, but luckily a helicopter appears and drops a rope down to him and his lady.

I was also wondering where the devil Dean got those grenades he kept chucking at the zombie, but he woke up next to his lady and realized it was all a dream. Unfortunately, his lady’s abysmal skin condition was not!

I was going to complain that the story didn’t make any sense, but I wouldn’t want to give any of you out there the idea that there was a story. And really, I’m not even going to hold it against Lenzi this time.

After all, this was just a dream that the overworked and stressed out Dean had, so it didn’t really have to make sense. I’m sure that the dream seemed real to him, even if like most other people’s dreams it was only interesting to the guy having it.

And Dean – I think you have a lot of anger issues to work out, especially regarding your lady’s facial disfigurement. It’s also clear from the zombie action in your dream that you have an unhealthy obsession with cutting up boobs. That’s not right. Even for an Italian guy with a beard and no respect for live disco TV shows.

© 2013 MonsterHunter

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