The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Nightmare City (dir by Umberto Lenzi)


Since Case just reviewed 28 Days Later, this seems like the perfect time to say a few words about the 1980 Italian horror film, Nightmare City!  Though Nightmare City has never been as critically acclaimed or as popular with audiences, it is regularly cited as probably being one of the main inspirations for 28 Days Later.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I can’t say for sure whether it was an influence or not.  I listened to the entire Danny Boyle/Alex Garland commentary track on my DVD of 28 Days Later and neither of them ever mentioned Nightmare City.  As well, there are some pretty big differences between Nightmare City and 28 Days Later.  For one thing, 28 Days Later is a hyperkinetic Danny Boyle film whereas Nightmare City is obviously an Umberto Lenzi film, filled with over the top gore, gratuitous nudity, and nonstop violence.  For that matter, the Infected in 28 Days Later still look human whereas all of the infected humans in Nightmare City are covered with what appears to be burned oatmeal.  (I’m going to guess that it’s meant to be radiation scarring.)

And yet, despite all of that, it’s impossible to watch Nightmare City without thinking about 28 Days Later and vice versa.  Both Nightmare City and 28 Days Later are commonly mislabeled as being zombie films, despite the fact that both of them are about people who have been driven mad by a military accident/experiment.  Where you really see the influence that Nightmare City had on 28 Days Later is in the scenes in which various “infected” humans run through the streets, savagely attacking and killing anyone that they come across.  For all the attention that was given to 28 Days Later‘s “fast zombies,” Nightmare City got there first.  Call them human, call them infected, or call them zombies, the monsters in Nightmare City are relentless, unstoppable, and blood thirsty.  Whatever flaws the movie may have, Nightmare City‘s zombies truly do belong in a nightmare.

(Except for that one scene in which a zombie extra is seen to be kicking a soccer ball while a dog chases after him but you have to look closely to notice…)

But before I say too much more about Nightmare City, I’m going to ask you to watch this tribute to the hero of Nightmare City, journalist Dean Miller:

Dean Miller was played by Spanish actor Hugo Stiglitz.  (If that name sounds familiar, it may be because Quentin Tarantino named a character after him in Inglourious Basterds.)  To be honest, the first time I ever saw Nightmare City, I thought that Stiglitz’s performance was one of the worst in the history of horror cinema.  No matter how violent or bloody the film gets, Stiglitz rarely seems to react.  He might occasionally arch an eyebrow.  But, for the most part, he doesn’t seem to care.  But, after subsequent viewings, I’ve come to respect the fact that, while everyone else in the film was overacting, Siglitz distinguished himself by refusing to act at all.

Nightmare City is a relentless and nonstop film.  It starts out with Dean Miller being sent down to the local airport.  His job is to cover the arrival of a scientist who has been assigned to investigate a recent nuclear accident.  From the minute that the plane lands and a horde of hatchet-wielding zombies stream out onto the tarmac, Nightmare City is nonstop mayhem.

And, quite frankly, a lot of it doesn’t make much sense.  At one point, the zombies enter a television studio and attack what appears to be the most boring dance show in the world and, as bloody and borderline disgusting as the action got, I still couldn’t get over how boring the dance show was before the zombies showed up.  The other thing that struck me about that scene was that nobody at the television studio seemed to be that upset about a bunch of radiation-scarred zombies literally massacring hundreds of people on camera.  Dean may have arched an eyebrow but even he didn’t seem that concerned.

(Fortunately, Dean manages to escape by grabbing a TV and throwing it at the zombies.  Apparently, televisions explode if you throw them, even if they’re not plugged in at the time.)

Then the zombies attack a hospital and it’s the hospital attack that always disturbs me.  There’s a scene where a nurse comes across a zombie raiding a blood bank and he shakes his head almost apologetically.  Oddly, almost all of the doctors turn out to be self-defense experts.  One elderly doctor even throws a scalpel at a zombie with all the skill of an Agent of SHIELD (or perhaps even …. HYDRA!)

Meanwhile, the military is supposed to be doing something but I’m not sure what.  We get a lot of scenes of a general (played by Lenzi regular Mel Ferrer) staring down at a model of the city but he doesn’t ever actually seem to do anything.  His assistant, meanwhile, is worried about his sculptor girlfriend being at home alone.  He should be since there are two zombies in the basement, though we’re never quite sure how they got there without anyone else in the house noticing.

And the mayhem continues.  There’s a zombie priest.  There’s a zombie attack at an amusement park.  There’s many scenes of Hugh Stiglitz staring off in the distance.  At one point, his girlfriend falls off a roller coaster and we are briefly amazed at the sight of an obviously fake dummy crashing to the pavement below.  But fear not because … it’s all a dream!

That’s right, Dean Miller wakes up in bed!


No, I didn’t.  Believe it or not, the movie’s nowhere close to being over yet…..

Nightmare City is a hard film to review because, while it might not be good in any traditional sense, it’s also very much a one-of-a-kind movie.  This is one of those relentless and shameless exploitation films that works despite itself.  It’s preposterous, it’s silly, it’s often offensive, and yet it’s never less than watchable.  If you’re into Italian horror, you have to see this film.  If you’re into zombie cinema, you have to see this film.  (If you’re not into either, you probably stopped reading this review a while ago.)

And, while you watch it, I dare you not think about 28 Days Later

(This trailer is NSFW so watch at your own risk…)

Poll: Which Movie Should Lisa Marie Watch on March 20th?

Anyone who knows me knows that sometimes I just can’t help but love being dominated. 

That’s why, on occasion, I’ll give you, our beloved readers, the option of telling me which film to watch and review.  In the past, you’ve commanded me to watch and review Anatomy of a Murder, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Logan’s Run

Well, here’s your chance to, once again, tell me what to do.  I’ve randomly selected 12 films from my film collection.  Whichever film gets the most votes will be watched and reviewed by me next Tuesday, March 20th.

Here are the films up for consideration:

1) Black Jesus (1968) — This Italian film stars Woody Strode as an African rebel leader who is captured by his country’s right-wing, American-backed dictatorship. 

2) Capote (2005) — Philip Seymour Hoffman was an Oscar for best actor for playing writer Truman Capote in this film that details how Capote came to write his true crime classic, In Cold Blood.  This film was also nominated for best picture.

3) Chappaqua (1966) — In this underground cult classic, drug addict Conrad Rooks seeks treatment in Switzerland while being haunted by a scornful William S. Burroughs.  This film features cameo from Allen Ginsberg, The Fugs, and just about every other cult figure from 1966.

4) Crazy/Beautiful (2001) — Jay Fernandez and Kirsten Dunst have lots and lots of sex.  This was like one of my favorite movies to catch on cable back when I was in high school. 🙂

5) An Education (2008) — In my favorite movie from 2008, Carey Mulligan is a schoolgirl in 1960s England who has a secret affair with an older man (played by Peter Sarsgaard), who has plenty of secrets of his own.  Co-starring Rosamund Pike, Emma Thompson, Alfred Molina, and Dominic Cooper (who is to die for, seriously).

6) Female Vampire (1973) — In this atmospheric and ennui-filled film from the infamous Jesus Franco, a female vampire spends the whole movie wandering around naked and dealing with the lost souls who want to join the ranks of the undead. 

7) Nightmare City (1980) — In this gory and fast-paced film from Umberto Lenzi, an accident at a nuclear plant leads to a bunch of blood-thirsty zombies rampaging through both the city and the countryside.  Hugo Stiglitz plays Dean Miller, zombie exterminator!  Nightmare City is probably most remembered for introducing the concept of the fast zombie and for serving as an obvious inspiration for Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.

8) The Other Side of Midnight (1977) — Based on a best-selling novel, The Other Side of Midnight tells the story of a poor French girl who becomes a world-famous actress and who ends up sleeping with apparently every wealthy man in the world.  Meanwhile, the man she loves ends up marrying Susan Sarandon.  Eventually, it all ends with both a hurricane and a murder.  Apparently, this film cost a lot of money to make and it was a notorious box office bomb.  It looks kinda fun to me.

9) Peyton Place (1957) — Also based on a best-selling novel, Peyton Place is about love, sex, and scandal in a small town.  Lana Turner is a repressed woman with a past who struggles to keep her daughter from making the same mistakes.  At the time it was made, it was considered to be quite racy and it was even nominated for best picture.  This film is a personal favorite of mine and it’s pretty much set the template for every single film ever shown on Lifetime.

10) Rosebud (1975) — From director Otto Preminger comes this film about what happens when a bunch of rich girls on a yacht are taken hostage by Islamic extremists.  The film’s diverse cast includes Peter O’Toole, Richard Attenborough, Cliff Gorman, former New York Mayor John Lindsay, former Kennedy in-law Peter Lawford, Raf Vallone, Adrienne Corri, Lalla Ward, Isabelle Huppert, and Kim Cattrall.

11) Valley of the Dolls (1967) — Oh my God, I love this movie so much!  Three aspiring actresses move to the big city and soon become hooked on pills and bad relationship decisions. Every time I watch this movie, I spend hours yelling, “I’m Neely O’Hara, bitch!” at the top of my lungs.

12) Zombie Lake (1981) — From my favorite French director, Jean Rollin, comes this extremely low budget film about a bunch of Nazi zombies who keep coming out of the lake and attacking the nearby village.  Some people claim that this is the worst zombie films ever made.  I disagree.

Please vote below for as many or as few of these films as you want to.  The poll will remain open until March 20th and whichever film gets the most votes will be watched and reviewed by me.

Happy voting!

Found on YouTube: Dean Miller — Zombie Exterminator

Nearly a year ago, I was searching YouTube for the trailer to Umberto Lenzi’s 1980 zombie film Nightmare City and I ended up coming across a tribute to the film’s main character, the virile and bearded TV news anchorman Dean Miller (played, with a notable lack of enthusiasm, by Hugo Stiglitz.)

The video artfully takes Lenzi’s overlong film and reduces it down to 3 and a half minutes of Dean Miller killing people.  Interestingly, not a hint of nuance or plot is lost in the process.  Anyway, the video has always made me smile so I figured why not share it?  I should clarify that I have no idea who actually put this together beyond the fact that I had nothing to do with it.

Actually, I’m being a little bit too hard on Nightmare City.  For a Lenzi film, its actually fairly entertaining and it does feature one of the abosolute worst endings in the history of cinema.  If a hurricane ever hits North Texas and I find myself having to stay inside for a few days, my survival plan is to pass the time writing up a review of Nightmare City.

As previously stated, Miller was played by actor Hugo Stiglitz.  Quentin Tarantino, of course, later borrowed Stiglitz’s name for Inglorious Basterds.  Tarantino’s Stiglitz, it must be said, was a bit more interesting than the actual Stiglitz.