Friday, December 13, 2013

Fast moving zombies invade Lenzi's Nightmare City

Director: Umberto Lenzi

Cast: Hugo Stiglitz, Laura Trotter, Fransisco Rabal, Edward Fajardo

Raro Video / All Region / Unrated / 2.35:1 Widescreen / Italian and English Linear PCM Stereo 2.0 / Optional English subtitles / 91 minutes

Extras: Interview with Umberto Lenzi / Fully illustrated booklet / Original trailers


Italian filmmaker Umberto Lenzi is an underrated and under appreciated horror and exploitation director. When casual fans think of European horror directors they normally think of Bava, Fulci or Argento and to a lesser degree maybe Franco or Rollin. Those same people probably at least recognize Lenzi's most notorious film, Cannibal Ferox (aka Make Them Die Slowly) as being the sleazy cousin to Ruggero Deodato's similarly-themed (and arguably better) Cannibal Holocaust. But Umberto Lenzi is much more than that "cannibalsploitation" classic. He has a huge resume that includes giallo, Poliziotteschi (Italian cops and robbers), westerns, war and with Nightmare City, a zombie flick... kinda.

As we all know, zombies are the walking dead. Reanimated corpses who get around and attack people, usually to get to their delectable brains. Now whether those zombies shuffle, amble, walk or even run (in some ridiculous cases) can be argued but I think we can all agree that THEY MUST BE CORPSES. The recently dead. Worm food. In Lenzi's version they aren't really zombies at all but living humans infected by radioactive material. They move like normal people, use weapons, run really fast–some two decades before Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland "borrowed" the idea–and even drive cars and shit. Lenzi himself even recognizes that they aren't the walking dead at all, even though people have pigeonholed Nightmare City as a zombie movie while it's really a sort of "outbreak" film.

The story goes that a radioactive leak has contaminated some parts of Europe and intrepid reporter Dead is sent to the airfield to investigate whether there is a military cover-up. After he arrives, an Army cargo jet makes an unscheduled stop and is surrounded by security and when the door finally opens, out comes a shit-ton of scabby-faced inhabitants who grab anything and everything and start killing and sucking their blood! Dean escapes and finds his wife and the two set off to try to survive the madness that is spreading like wildfire. Meanwhile the military is indeed trying to clean up their mistake, and figure out that the infection is spread when someone is attacked and the only way to kill these things is to shoot, chop or just explode their heads. That pretty much sums up the plot, what of it there is.

Umberto Lenzi gets down to the nitty-gritty right away with Nightmare City and doesn't let off the throttle until the somewhat generic and flaccid ending. These ferocious monsters roam the city and countryside, maiming, sucking, infecting and sometimes killing whoever they encounter. It begins with around twenty of them getting off of the plane and by the end seemingly whole towns are sprinting around overtaking airports, military installations, hospitals and TV stations. That's right, they attack a TV station that is shooting a live Jazzercise show and the leotard-wearing chicks get stabbed, bitten and one of them gets her naked tit cut off. Oh, the humanity! In the tradition of fellow countryman Lucio Fulci, Lenzi also gets into the eye trauma arena with a rather nasty poke and gouge in the ol' socket grape.

A few years ago Anchor Bay (and later Blue Underground) gave us a very respectable DVD upgrade to this little-known gem of Euro-sleaze with a 50 minute interview with Umberto Lenzi and little else in the way of extras. Now Raro Video has remastered and restored Nightmare City with a new high-definition transfer complete with a new and much improved English subtitle translation. They brought along a standard def interview from the Anchor Bay disk for good measure as well as the English and Italian trailers. The biggest and best addition (aside from the fantastic new picture quality) is the booklet included, with an article written by the always interesting (even though we disagree that this is a zombie film) Fangoria editor-in-chief Chris Alexander as well as a Lenzi bio and filmography.

Nightmare City is a fun, non-stop, action-packed gore and sleaze-fest like only a select few can do and Umberto Lenzi is one of them. Just like he brought his special brand of deparvity to the cannibal genre with Cannibal Ferox and giallo with Orgasmo, he debauches the "zombie" genre with the same kind of flair. Pick up this new Blu-ray edition right now whether you're new to the film or need to upgrade that Anchor Bay or Blue Underground DVD.

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