Home Year 1980 Nightmare City (1980) movie review

Nightmare City (1980) movie review


Facts and Comments
1. Watched on 21 May 2018
2. These zombies have surprisingly perfect teeth. They must use Colgate.
3. Invisible lawnmowing zombies – I knew it!
5. Priest with a candle takes on bearded man with a candlestick. Check and mate.

Plot Summary in 280 characters
Not-quite zombies attack the living. Meanwhile a reporter tries to escape the attack with his surgeon wife.

Atomic power is a bad thing! It’s messing with nature, man!

Fast or Slow zombies?

I’ll admit, and long time readers will know, that I am partial to a bit of zombie action. The best zombie things have two things – plenty of gore and violence, and a theme that makes a point about something. George Romero was the best at doing this. His series of zombie movies covered everything from racism to commercialism to the widespread and occasionally ludicrous use of social media (go on, check out Diary of the Dead).

The success of the zombie genre throughout the 1970s led to low budget Italian zombie flicks flooding the market. Two of the most notable names from that era are Lucio Fulci and Umberto Lenzi. While Fulci is responsible for some of the best low budget Italian horror movies of that period, Lenzi also made a significant impact. All those films played on specific themes, and Nightmare City is no different.

The theme is nuclear power and the dangers it presents. Now, it’s highly unlikely that nuclear energy would ever create a zombie apocalypse, but just go with it, okay? It’s entirely representative of the time it was made, so nuclear power is always going to be the big bad.

And of course, all the trappings and clichés of the sub-genre are present. Crash zooms abound, albeit perhaps used slightly more sparingly than Fulci. Lots of people are killed in a gruesome manner, even if many of those deaths could have easily been avoided. Most of those bitten by zombies go to their fate almost willingly, half-heartedly fighting the undead off whilst offering a glimpse of flesh for them to nibble on. There’s even a Goblin-esque soundtrack to emphasise that this isn’t an entirely original production.

The zombies look pretty good for the time, like they have all suffered horrible radiation burns and then decayed. In many respects they are like a living dead version of the Toxic Avenger. It’s fine work from the makeup and/or special effects teams on the film crew, but not spectacular. That’s all fine until you see their teeth. These zombies must have an incredible dentist, because despite the horrific injuries to their skin their teeth are all perfect. You’d think a detail like this would have been spotted, certainly after going to so much effort to make the zombies look properly dead. But alas, that’s not the case.

There are also the unfortunate misogynistic aspects that are prevalent through the grindhouse and video nasty type movies released at this time. Women are bit-part characters, there mainly to scream and be saved by their husbands or other burly men. This is despite them often working in quite high profile roles – in this instance the lead female character is a surgeon. Inevitably this approach leads to lots and lots of women – rather unnecessarily – being stripped of their clothes by zombies before they are bitten. In some instances they are bitten on the chest and… well, bits are ripped off. It’s unpleasant not because of the gore but the gender politics at play.

There’s a fine line between an enjoyably bad film and a painfully bad one. Nightmare City falls just about on the right side of that divide, a cheese-infested guilty pleasure.

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