Directed By: Umberto Lenzi
Starring: Hugo Stiglitz, Laura Trotter, Maria Rosaria Omaggio
Tag line: "Now They Are Everywhere! There is No Escape!"
Trivia: According to the director, both Franco Nero and Fabio Testi were considered for the lead in the film, but the producer insisted on a Mexican leading man to appeal to Mexican audiences
Nightmare City has two distinct personalities. At times an effective horror film with plenty of thrills and enough cringe-inducing gore to keep your eyes either glued to the screen or turning away in disgust, it can also be downright silly, with poor special effects and a fair share of unintentional laughs. It's a strange dichotomy, to be sure, and the film's inherent duality even extends to the creatures at the center of it all. On the one hand, they resemble zombies; they don't speak, need human blood to survive, and can only be killed with a shot to the head. But then, they lack one very important characteristic that most zombies share: they aren't dead. Not only that, but their minds seem to be in perfect working order (they can drive cars, fly planes, and one even manages to cut a phone line at the exact right moment). Yet despite drifting back and forth between the exciting and the ludicrous, let me add, for the record, that Nightmare City was also never, ever boring.
Things get rolling when a mysterious plane lands without clearance at a local airport. Once down, it's immediately surrounded by both the police and the military, all of whom are attacked by the plane's passengers: mutated human beings with burn marks on their skin and an appetite for blood. The event is witnessed from a distance by news reporter Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz), whose attempt to warn the public is thwarted by General Murchison (Mel Ferrer), a by-the-book military man who wants to avoid a citywide panic. Setting up headquarters to deal with the situation, General Murchison and his men soon discover that the mutations are the result of an exposure to high levels of radiation, the effects of which are then passed on to everyone the infected may encounter. As the military tries to gain control of the situation, Miller makes his way to the local hospital, where his wife, Anna (Laura Trotter), works as a doctor. Once together, the two flee the city, only to discover that the outbreak has already spread beyond its borders.
For a prime example of Nightmare City's best and worst qualities, one need look no further than the airport scene that sets the story in motion. Along with some well-handled kills (which have the infected cutting their victim's throats, then drinking from them as if they were vampires), there's a quick shot of a guy losing his arm, the effect for which is hilariously inept. The next attack occurs inside a television studio, and isn't much different from the first (some rather tame stabbings are interspersed with a very disturbing image of a woman's bare breast being sawed off), and even the mutants themselves aren't consistent (some appear perfectly normal save a wild look in their eyes, while others are downright grotesque, sporting green lesions that ooze pus). The rather cliché assertion that Nightmare City “has it all” is nonetheless appropriate; this film does have it all, including quite a bit you didn't even want!
It's a veritable coin toss as to whether you'll find Nightmare City a good film, a bad film, or one that's “So Bad, It's Good”, seeing as it proudly sports elements of all three. I can only tell you I was thoroughly entertained, and even though I laughed a few times when I wasn't supposed to, and rolled my eyes on more than one occasion, Nightmare City contained enough “good” to ensure I'll be returning to it somewhere down the road.