Retro Review: ‘Nightmare City’

It is fair to say that one of the most prolific directors of Italian horror is the great Umberto Lenzi. In a career spanning four decades he crafted a number of now classic films in the most popular country’s most popular genres of terror, from giallo to cannibal flicks. At the start of the 1980’s he kicked off a period in his career where gore and brutality were definitely kicked up a notch. He started this “most notorious” stage of his filmmaking off with the exciting 1980 cult classic Nightmare City.

When a plane carrying a renowned nuclear scientist lands at a small airport, journalist Dean Miller is there alongside the authorities to cover the scientist’s return. But when the doors open a veritable clown car of irradiated, armed, blood-drinking mutants come pouring out bringing death and carnage with them. As these ghouls overtake the city, Dean and his wife Anna must try to evade the horde of monsters.

Though this shares many hallmarks with zombie movies, Nightmare City is most assuredly not a zombie movie, as the radiation-fueled monsters feed on blood rather than flesh or brains, and have enough intellect to utilize weapons and coordinate attacks. That being said with the premise of this movie being so simple, Umberto Lenzi’s job is simply to delivered blood-soaked chaos which he does in spades. From a TV studio to a hospital we see unsuspecting humans participating in society slaughtered by the ghouls looking for blood. This leads to some great action set pieces, like initial ambush when the ghoul’s airplace lands as well as at an abandoned theme park. Amid this disaster we do see cult film icon Hugo Stiglitz on the run from the monsters to bring the much needed human touch and characters we can get behind as the world goes to Hell.

Ultimately Nightmare City is a fun gore-fest of a horror flick directed by one of Italian cinema’s best talents. There are intentions of larger themes of the film but ultimately it is just a blast of a movie.