The Film: Nightmare City – AKA: City of the Walking Dead
The Principles: Hugo Stiglitz, Hugo Stiglitz’s beard, Laura Trotter and Mel Ferrer. Directed by Umberto Lenzi.
The Premise: An airplane exposed to nuclear radiation lands in a major Italian city and a swarm of rampaging zombies emerges armed with a wide array of weaponry. They proceed to shoot, stab, slice, dice, bash and devour every thing that crosses their paths. Before long the contaminated fiends have the entire city under siege and the only thing that can stop them is a bullet to the brain.
Is it any good: It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of gore, gun battles, insane violence, nudity and aerobics! Nobody made a zombie film quite like the Italians did and Nightmare City is one of the most game-changing, rule-smashing examples they ever created. Horror auteur Umberto Lenzi, the man responsible for such grindhouse classics as Eyeball and Cannibal Ferox, dared to make a movie that really pushed things to the next level. It was as if the filmmaker asked himself, “What would be more frightening than zombies attacking a major city?” and then realized, “Extremely energetic zombies that use weapons and are capable of conductive reasoning!” The result is an instant gut-munching classic.
The film begins with a local television news journalist named Dean (Hugo Stiglitz) who’s sent on an assignment to cover the arrival of a famous nuclear scientist at the city airport. The scientist supposedly has some information for the public about a recent radiation leak at a nearby nuclear power plant. When the plane lands there is no communication from the flight crew, so the craft is surrounded by a group of police and emergency workers. A door opens and suddenly everyone is under attack from a raging horde of flesh-eating zombies who are armed to the teeth with automatic machine guns, pistols, axes, knives, a harpoon gun, clubs, pipes and a variety of blunt force objects. Once the zombies shoot or slice or beat your face in, then they proceed to eat your flesh. It’s some seriously inspired badass awesomeness and is definitely the first of its kind.
After an exhausting scene where a group of government officials spend about ten minutes figuring out that the only way to stop the zombies is to shoot them in the head, a General orders his men to proceed with emergency plan H, while keeping plan B in reserve. Why don’t they just move on to plan I? Fuck it, it doesn’t matter because those crazy, methed-out zombies assault a power plant and knock out a portion of the city’s electricity. After that, the zombies invade an aerobics show at the T.V. station and eat the hot spandexed girls live on camera. Then they attack the shit out of a hospital. In one particularly fucked up moment the zombies devour a poor schmuck who’s in the middle of being operated on. They even drink his transfusion blood out of the bottle!
The zombies kill everyone they come across and I’ve never seen such incredible non-stop carnage before in my life. It’s a total splatter fest! Lenzi even manages to out Fulci Fulci in one scene involving a particularly nasty eye-gouging bit. There are tons of throat slitting, decapitations, eviscerations, gunshot wounds, and one ghastly sequence involving a young girl who gets her nipple carved off by a zombie armed with a machete, who then proceeds to eat it like he’s at a serve-yourself prime rib buffet. Wild, wild, stuff.
This film’s lead is the amazing international acting legend Hugo Stiglitz, whom I’m sure you all recall, is the name that Quentin Tartantino gave that cool German character from Inglourious Basterds. He previously starred in the amazing Tintorera, which is a movie about two guys and a girl having a three-way aboard a boat while there’s a deadly shark swimming around. It’s like a soft-core version of The Deep. Here Stiglitz is really allowed to take full advantage of his unblinking, thousand-yard stare, emotionless brand of acting, as well as his incredible beard. I’ve witnessed some fine beard acting before, but Stiglitz’s whiskers are really on fire here and threaten to steal every scene they’re in, making it simply one of the finest facial hair performances ever filmed.
There’s an outrageous conclusion in an abandoned amusement park and a twist ending that’ll rip your brain a new anus. The Italians have crafted some of the greatest, craziest, wildest exploitation films ever made and Nightmare City is another perfect example of their amazing ability to fuse style and trash together into a unique visceral explosion of genre-bending madness. This is an unrelentingly entertaining zombie flick from start to finish and I’m sure you’ll notice more than a few recent films that have obviously been inspired by it. I know Robert Rodriguez has seen it, because Planet Terror wouldn’t have existed without it.
Is it worth a look: If you’re a zombie movie fan and you haven’t seen it, then what the fuck are you waiting for? It’s one of the most insane zombie flicks ever conceived by the Italians and it’s head-exploding awesome! I’ve had the pleasure of watching a 35mm print of this epic with a packed audience of grindhouse geeks and it destroyed everyone in attendance. Special credit must be given to the maestro Umberto Lenzi for creating the first and only film that features zombie-terrorism. How visionary!
Random anecdotes: Umberto Lenzi originally wanted to cast Franco Nero (Django) as the lead, but the producer insisted on a Mexican leading man to appeal to Latino audiences. Hence, the role went to Hugo Stglitz. I had no idea until checking out this trivia fact that Hugo Stiglitz was Mexican. Every role I’ve ever seen him in has been dubbed, so I always assumed he was German because of his last name and the fact that he’s the most Anglo-looking Mexican ever. Go figure.
Cinematic soul mates: The Crazies, Dawn of the Dead, Zombi 2, Zombie Holocaust, Hell of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later and Planet Terror.