Sometimes you run across a film that despite not being a very well made film, there is a magical quality to it. Nightmare City is just that kind of film. With the perfect amount of cheesiness, mixed with great gore, nudity, a certain ineptitude in front of and behind the camera that is endlessly entertaining, but also enough skill in certain areas so that it's not too horribly painful to watch, and a deadly seriousness that becomes unintentionally hilarious. You honestly couldn't set out to make a film like this and make it work this well; many have tried and many have failed. You can't force your way into the label cult-classic, you sort of have to stumble your way in, and director Umberto Lunzi and crew tripped right into a masterpiece.
The film starts with reports of a nuclear accident; meanwhile our dashing-news-reporter-hero Dean Miller is at the airport where he's supposed to interview the scientist in charge of the power plant. Once the plane lands, a horde of zombies disembark with axes-swinging, knives-a-stabbing, and guns-a-blazing. Yes, guns. These aren't your typical zombies, they're quite proficient in using a number of weapons. Well, they're not technically zombies either; they're radiated and mutated humans, with zombie like qualities; rotting flesh, cannibalistic tendencies, and quick transfer of infection. They messily dispatch the rescue team sent to their plane, while Dean and his cameraman happily watch the blood-letting, only when one of the zombies (I'll continue to call them zombies for simplicities sake.) gets too close for comfort do they decide to run for it.
Dean rushes back to his TV studio and tries to interrupt his channels "disco show" for an emergency announcement; this was released in 1980 towards the end of the disco movement, this scene is painful to watch now, but the dancer get what's coming to 'em; he is unfortunately overruled by the military, who wants to pretend that everything is hunky-dory as the city is overtaken by the ever growing number of living-dead. When the zombies show up and start munching on all the dancers, Dean decides to escape the city, but first must find his wife who's an emergency room doctor. Where of course, the dead and infected are being rushed to in waves. Dean battles his way through the zombies, to save her and drive off into the country; where they're unable to find peace, as the military is hopelessly inept at stopping the radiation-infection from rapidly taking over the world.
The zombies, or seriously-pissed-off-radiated-humans are just too cool. Instead of trying to make them look like they've freshly risen from the grave, they're supposed to look mutated, which is achieved by basically slopping a bunch of green-crusty-goo on everybody's face; which ranges from slightly dis-nerving to hysterically inept. I love their use of weapons, instead of biting at people's hard skulls, they gouge them with knives and suck at the blood. They also have a tendency to rip girls shirts open, none who bother to wear bras; I mean if you're mutated and angry at the world, you might as well get some cheap thrills while your at it.
The acting is painfully bad; which isn't helped by the fact that it's all been dubbed. I never understood these Italian horror films, where half the time they seem to be speaking in Italian, the other half English, whatever the actors native language is; and the entire thing is then dubbed over, it's an extremely odd effect. The dialogue is deadly serious; it's supposed to be some great warning against the use of nuclear power, but it's delivered in such a ham-fisted way, that it's hilarious. The gore and blood come in great waves, with breasts ripped off and eyes torn asunder. The photography is nothing special, but you can see what's going on, and it's not bad enough to be distracting. The movie moves along at a good pace; there is constantly something gross, funny or both to be watching. Nightmare City is endlessly entertaining for anyone with an appreciation for fine cheese. - Grade: A
Here are two very fine and in-depth dissections of the film from Gangrene Widescreen: Part 1 & Part 2