By chance, this week I viewed two movies back-to-back: Nightmare City (1980) and David Cronenberg’s Shivers (1975). These two films made for a fantastic and appropriate double-bill because they both provide an interesting spin on the Zombie flick.
Umberto Lenzi is credited with establishing the Italian Cannibal genre with 1972’s Deep River Savages (aka The Man from Deep River) but, in-between two other Cannibal romps – Eaten Alive! (1980) and the notorious Cannibal Ferox (1981) – he tried his hand at the Zombie film. The plot goes like this: after an unidentified plane exposed to radiation lands at the airport of an unnamed city, a horde of zombies emerge and go on a rampage, attacking anything in their way.
This film is different from a lot of the other Walking Dead movies from around the time. The creatures in Nightmare City are not the same as George Romero’s undead or of other Italian gore films like Zombie Flesh Eaters or Zombie Holocaust. Lenzi’s ‘Zombies’ are not the dead rising from the grave, but living people who have mutated after being exposed to radiation which has enhanced their strength but also given them an insatiable thirst for blood. These, as Lenzi puts it, ‘infected people’ are not living corpses, shuffling about, relying on impulse; no, they can run and retain the mental capacity to use weapons and even communicate with each other. They do, however, retain some of the hallmarks of Romero’s flesh eaters: they can infect a victim with a bite and can only be stopped by a gunshot to the head.
The movie plays on a common theme in 1980s horror flicks: fear of the dangers of nuclear power. The people on the plane were exposed to high levels of radiation and thus became mutated and developed a taste for human flesh. The film also briefly explores themes such as freedom of the press, the military industrial complex and human-kind’s tendency to play God.
Nightmare City is a fun film to watch and is (ahem) a feast for the gore-hounds out there. It’s an orgy of over-the-top violence as the Zombies, sorry ‘infected people’, rampage through the city. Necks are bitten, guts are chewed, eyes are gouged and there’s even a scene of a woman’s breast being ripped off! It’s a spectacularly awesome Italian exploitation flick; with loads of action and thrills. People who love this sort of movie will have a blast.