(A.k.a. CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD; INCUBO SULLA CITTA CONTAMINATA; ATTACK OF THE ZOMBIES; INVASION OF THE ATOMIC ZOMBIES)
The military are called in to an unspecified European airport where it's been reported that a plane is about to land, after having been subjected to inhuman levels of radiation. Intrepid TV news reporter Dean (Hugo Stiglitz) is there too, his trusty cameraman in tow, to interview a scientist said to be at the heart of this environmental calamity.
What happens next takes everyone by surprise. After an initial quiet, the door of the plane opens and its passengers leap out onto the runway - their faces are boil-ridden and mutated, the looks in their eyes maniacal. Chaos ensues as the infected members sprint around their dumfounded onlookers, slashing throats and stabbing people randomly. Gunshots ring out but these ghouls are insatiable - feeding off the bloody wounds they're creating in their victims.
Dean, fortunately, has the good sense to flee the scene without delay.
Back at his TV studio workplace, Dean rushes in with the intention of cutting short the current broadcast and televising an urgent announcement warning people of the danger outside. At this point he's hauled into his boss Desmond's (Ugo Bologna) office. Desmond is there with military commander Murchison (Mel Ferrer). Between them, they insist that Dean must remain silent about what he's witnessed. He resigns and walks out in protest.
As the city starts to learn the hard way that these blood-hungry contaminants are on the rampage - including during an exhilarating attack on a dance studio - Dean races to the hospital where his wife Anna (Laura Trotter) works, in a bid to ensure her safety.
Meanwhile, Murchison meets for strategic talks with Major Holmes (Francisco Rabal) and several other army bigwigs. It's here that we learn the nature of their problem: a radiation spill at the nearby nuclear power plant has caused the infected to mutate into blood-crazed ghouls. The government wants the whole thing curtailed as quietly as possible...
Umberto Lenzi, like all good exploitation filmmakers, could lend his hand to any popular genre in the name of making a quick buck. In the 60s and 70s he successfully dipped his toes into the likes of biker exploitation (SYNDICATE SADISTS), fumetti (KRIMINAL), Eurocrime (ALMOST HUMAN), giallo (SPASMO; EYEBALL), war-is-Hell knock-offs (FROM HELL TO VICTORY) and the cannibal flick (EATEN ALIVE BY THE CANNIBALS). Furthermore, with that latter genre, Lenzi actually kick-started what would become a lucrative trend for low budget Italian filmmakers throughout the next decade, with 1972's MAN FROM DEEP RIVER - itself a cash-in on 1970's successful A MAN CALLED HORSE.
So, come the tail-end of the 1970s when George A Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD troubled box offices worldwide and Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS proved to be a financially worthy cash-in, Lenzi was swiftly drafted in by producers Diego Alchimede and Luis Mendez to direct this frankly insane addition to Spaghetti cinema's living dead cycle.
Whether these are traditionally "zombies" or not, Lenzi's monsters certainly look and attack like Romero's creatures do. Only, they're much faster in motion - anticipating the quick-moving zombies of THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD by five years. Consequently, the action is often exciting, benefitting greatly from slick editing, taut direction from Lenzi and Stelvio Cipriani's pulse-pounding, hummable score.
Gore comes frequently and although the ropy special effects make clear what a low budget production this was, they retain an endearingly enthusiastic charm. The same can be said of the confused performances, banal script and crappy dubbing.
It's all utter nonsense, of course, the hectic pace and messy sub-plots effectively obscuring any serious ecological message struggling to poke through the perfunctory screenplay. But, who cares when a film delivers this much unadulterated, cheap and cheery fun?
Just don't mention the ending. Infamous in the annals of exploitation cinema's most "what the fuck?" moments, it's a real rug-puller that will make viewers either laugh or wince. Or both...
Following on from Raro's US blu-ray of a short time ago, Arrow Films Video now bring this cult favourite to UK dual format blu-ray and DVD.
Their release offers two presentations of the film, both of which are fully uncut and frame events in their original 2.35:1 ratio. The picture in each case is, of course, enhanced for 16x9 televisions.
The first transfer relies on a new 2k scan from the film's original negative. This has been conducted by Arrow for this release, but problems were encountered when it was discovered that the materials had been irreversibly damaged by chemicals at some point during storage. The result is a transfer which often looks great - sharper, cleaner and more colourful than ever before - but does suffer from scenes where the colour grading wavers significantly. These moments are, bizarrely, almost exclusively limited to sections where Dean is in conversation. They're more prominent during the film's opening third, but do rear their ugly heads infrequently afterwards too. If you can past the flickering of the odd scene here and there, this offers an impressively clean and vivid version of NIGHTMARE CITY, filmic and satisfyingly detailed throughout.
The second transfer was struck from a 4-perf duplicate negative and used previously - I believe - for the Raro release.
It's a more stable, albeit softer and slightly duller-looking affair. If you've seen the Raro release and are happy with it, then clearly you'll be pleased to know this transfer looks the same ... and you get the added bonus of the better, though unavoidably problematic, new 2k scan as an alternative viewing option to boot.
Both transfers are presented as nicely sized (26gb for the new scan; 17gb for the older one) MPEG4-AVC files with full 1080p HD resolution.
The issue around the negative scan is explained better in a 4-minute featurette entitled "The Limits of Restoration", which can be accessed either on the main menu page when selection which transfer you'd care to view, or via the extras sub-menu. In it, Michael Brooke's text details the problems that Arrow encountered while split-screen comparisons between both film versions help illustrate his points.
Audio for the film is proffered - for both transfers - in options of English and Italian. As the film's audio was synched up in post-production, either track will suffice. Each mix is a lossless 1.0 mono affair and sound good. There is a clearer, cleaner playback evident for the Italian track but the English variant isn't overly muddy itself. Optional subtitles are presented in English (for the Italian track) and English-for-the-Hard-of-Hearing (for the English track).
An animated main menu page makes good use of Cipriani's memorable score; pop-up sub-menus include a scene selection option allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.
Along with the short restoration featurette doubling up as a bonus feature, extras in this set also include:
A lively, affectionate commentary track from Fangoria editor - and self-professed fan - Chris Alexander.
An excellent new 29-minute interview with Lenzi, in Italian with English subtitles. This finds the affable old chap insisting his ghouls aren't actual zombies, and speaking of how he tried to distance the film stylistically from traditional living dead fare. It's an entertaining chat that will leave you with a fond smile on your face.
A 7-minute interview with actress Maria Rosaria Omaggio gives her opportunity to express distaste for horror films in general and speak with mixed feelings about working with her co-stars on NIGHTMARE CITY. She speaks in English but her heavy European accent is accounted for with optional English subtitles.
Eli Roth is present for a new 10-minute address on why Lenzi's film is "one of my all-time favourite movies". His list must be at least as big as his pal Tarantino's. Anyhow, he speaks of the appeal of Lenzi films in general - the fact that they're never dull, always racing from one action scene to the next - while showing a few titles from his personal DVD collection. Of NIGHTMARE CITY, he cites its fast-moving zombies and the fact that it was called CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD on American VHS as reasons he loves it so much. He also points out a character name from Tarantino's INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS that should be familiar to all NIGHTMARE CITY fans...
The film's original trailer is a masterpiece of high-octane action, clever editing, Cipriani's score and spoilers galore. It clocks in at just under 4 minutes in length.
We also get alternate opening credits (2 minutes in length), baring the ATTACK OF THE ZOMBIES title.
Although not available for review, this release also comes with reversible cover art and a collectors' booklet containing new writing on the film by John Martin (author of "Seduction of the Gullible").
NIGHTMARE CITY finally arrives on UK blu-ray, uncut and looking better than ever before. Arrow have been extremely upfront about the headaches they've encountered while restoring the film from its original negative. Furthermore, they've offered the alternative 4-perf dupe negative scan as a secondary option - so no-one can tell you the Raro blu-ray is the better buy.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|
|see main review|