Joshua Reviews Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City [Blu-ray Review]


The film tells the story of a reporter who has his world turned upside down. When an airplane lands after being subjected to a good deal of radiation after a nuclear calamity, it’s revealed that the passengers on the said plane have become blood hungry monsters with a penchant for brutally killing any human in their way. A gore-filled bit of horror/science-fiction, Lenzi’s film is a picture that takes its well worn narrative and spins it, with its really fun and well crafted effects work, into something genre hounds will be glad to see finally available on home video here stateside.

Each and every year, cinephiles around the globe are not only introduced to hundreds of new films from new, or veteran, voices, but with the rise of niche home video labels, unsung or unseen gems are introduced to the hoards of film nerds everywhere. Labels like The Criterion Collection take to the art house for their dozens of annual releases and companies like Shout Factory take a decidedly genre twist. And then there is Raro Video.

A blend of the two, ostensibly, the Kino subsidiary spans various genres, one week releasing a politically minded Rossellini film, while the next week releasing a film like the have this Tuesday, Umberto Lenzi’s zombie thriller, Nightmare City.

While mining a narrative that feels a bit stale now 33 years after it’s release in 1980, director Lenzi is far and away the film’s biggest star. Lenzi’s “zombies” here benefit from the narrative, allowing them to keep up their speed instead of becoming the typical slow walkers you’d see during this time period, in turn allowing the film’s pace to keep at a relatively high clip. The photography here is solid, and with gore filled effects work and neon red “blood,” the film’s violence is both gut wrenching and also quite thrilling. Again, the pace is never bogged down, which really elevates the otherwise standard and underwhelming narrative and dreadfully cartoonish performances, which do offer up a bit of intriguing political philosophizing, but never go as deep as one would like.

Standard Italian horror fare, the performances here are relatively awful. Starring Hugo Stiglitz, the entire cast is underachieving. Ultimately done a disservice by a superficially thoughtful script, names like Mel Ferrer, Laura Trotter and Francisco Rabal are overshadowed here by a film that is only as interesting as the set pieces that their characters are put in. Lenzi crafts a handful of really fun and camp-filled set pieces that allow the pace to keep the film afloat, but the performances here don’t offer much in the way of connection for the audience.

That said, Raro Video’s Blu-ray is absolutely fantastic. The transfer here allows the film to have new life, looking as crisp and it’s score sounding as fresh and percussive as it ever has before. The artwork will catch any genre nut’s eye at the video store, and the restoration here will make this a must own for many. There is, included here, a 50 minute interview with Lenzi which is actually quite interesting and informative with regards to the filmmaker and his work, and it is paired with two trailers, both English and Italian respectively. Toss in a booklet looking at the film’s creation penned by Fangoria scribe Chris Alexander, and you have a release that itself surpasses the film that it supplements. Admittedly an “oddball” bit of science fiction horror, Lenzi’s film will delight those looking for a bit of gore with their sci-fi, but may in fact turn off those looking for a deeper, more thoughtful bit of horror. I mean, haven’t we learned that zombie pictures, when done well, posit intriguing ideas ranging from consumerism to human survival? Sadly, Lenzi’s exciting thriller never gets its teeth more than skin deep.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.