Review Date: May 30, 2001
Released by: Japan Shock
Release date: 12/1/2000
Region 0, PAL
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: No
An accident at one of the country's major nuclear power plants has set a nearby metropolis on edge as the population waits for news of whether or not the incident has resulted in radioactive contamination. Local TV reporter Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz
) is assigned to conduct an interview about the accident with nuclear specialist Professor Otto Hagenbach, who is flying in the next morning,
The next morning, Miller and his cameraman show up at the airport to wait for the scientist. Meanwhile, in the airport's control tower, the air traffic controllers pick up an unidentified aircraft coming in for a landing. The plane refuses to respond to radio requests. The control tower makes visual contact with the plane as it comes in for a landing, and are surprised to see that it's some sort of military transport with no markings. Airport security forces rush out to the runway and surround the plane, and Miller and the cameraman get curious and go with them. The airport security chief shouts through a bullhorn and orders whoever's in the plane to come out. Slowly, the door opens and out walks a man whom Miller recognizes as Professor Hagenbach. As the security officer approaches him, Hagenbach pulls out a knife and stabs him. With only a second's notice, suddenly a horde of people rush out of the plane and attack the security forces with everything from guns to knives to chains. Some of the assailants are more or less normal looking, but others appear to have been hideously scarred and deformed. They're also unable to be stopped by bullets. Miller and the cameraman manage to escape, but the attackers wipe out most of the airport.
Miller rushes back to the TV station and calls a special news flash, going on the air to describe what happened at the airport. Unfortunately, General Murchison (Mel Ferrer
), the local military commander, orders the broadcast abruptly shut off because it will start a panic. Miller objects, saying that in a democratic country nobody can interfere with the freedom of the press, but Murchison has other ideas. He bluntly warns Miller and the station head to keep quiet until the government can figure out exactly what is happening. A little while later, as a live music/dance broadcast is taking place in the studio below, the TV station is overrun by the mysterious attackers, who massacre everybody except Miller, who makes another escape.
Meanwhile, General Murchison has called together all of his various subordinates for a meeting on the crisis at their fortified command post, including Major Warren Holmes (Francisco Rabal
). A military scientist gives them a brief rundown on what's happening - the attackers are not monsters or creatures from another planet, but human beings who have been mutated by atomic contamination, most likely from the nuclear accident. Their cells have been charged, giving them super-human strength and regenerative capabilities, meaning that it's very difficult to kill them. The atomic radiation is breaking down their red blood cells, which is why they're killing, because they need to feed on blood. It's certainly a grim situation, but the man gives the commanders one small hope - there is a definite way to destroy them, and that is with a shot to the head. He shows the officers the dead body of one of the mutants - it's the only one the military has found so far, and it's got a bullet lodged in it's brain.
Obviously, General Murchison, Major Holmes and Dean are all very concerned about their loved ones in the city. Holmes calls his wife Sheila (Maria Rosaria Omaggio
) and orders her to stay inside, while Murchison sends a commando to escort his daughter and son-in-law to HQ with him, although the couple sneaks past him and leaves for a weekend vacation. Miller's wife Anna (Laura Trotter
) is a doctor at a nearby hospital, and he rushes there to get her. Unfortunately, the mutants attack there as well, killing almost everybody, although the couple is able to escape their clutches by stealing an ambulance.
Things are quickly going to hell. The mutants attack power plants and communication facilities, bringing what's left of the city to a halt. Anna and Dean manage to flee the city, but the contamination has already spread and the creatures chase them across the countryside, while back in the city, Murchison and Holmes try to desperately keep the crisis in check. But can they stop the attackers before it's too late for everybody?
, better known as City of the Walking Dead
in the U.S., is a film directed by Italian-cult fave Umberto Lenzi, best known for his action/crime films and several of the country's more notorious cannibal films (Cannibal Ferox
, etc.) Lenzi treats the movie more like an action piece than a horror film, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The movie is very fast-paced and exciting, in fact, it has just as much, if not more vigor and energy as most action films today. Lenzi masterfully paces the mutant attacks, the chase scenes, and the various action set-pieces. The stunt-work is also very good, and there's plenty of gore to go around, including numerous throat slashings, dismemberings and even a cut-open breast. And despite the emphasis on action, there are still scenes of horror that have a genuine impact, such as Anna's discovery of a whole ward full of slaughtered patients during the attack on the city's hospital.
Despite Lenzi's direction, however, the movie in only partially successful due to the extremely phony, badly-done make-up effects for the mutants. This isn't simply a matter of make-up that was sloppily applied, in this case the designs themselves are just plain bad. They look ridiculous, like oatmeal or mud or peanut butter gunked all over the actor's faces. In this case, a "more-is-less" approach would have served quite nicely, since the film does feature a few mutants with less-elaborate make-up designs that are actually fairly effective. The fact that the mutants look so fake undoes any attempt to take the movie seriously. You just can't do it.
The movie's script often tries to ape George Romero's technique of using social commentary, an approach that can either be very humorous or very annoying, depending on your point of view. Like Dawn of the Dead
, which was obviously an inspiration, the movie deals with very broad themes, such as man's relationship witch technology, how society is imprisoned by it, and, as displayed by Dean's argument with General Murchison about freedom of the press, how even seemingly free countries are never truly democratic. But unlike Romero's film, Nightmare City
mostly sounds preachy, like the social commentary was added almost as an afterthought. But, while this can be annoying, it can also add the fun of the movie, with the hokey aspects of the script getting almost as many laughs as the mutants.
is a cult classic today among many fans of European horror. Yes, in quite a few ways it's a bad movie, but despite all it's faults, it's still a very memorable film, and if you view it with the right attitude, it's also a very enjoyable one. So, in spite of my comments, don't be swayed from at least giving the movie a try, if only for a few laughs.
This DVD is an import from Holland in the PAL video format, which means that most people in North America, which uses the NTSC format, will not be able to view this on their TVs without special equipment. The review of the image quality is broken into two sections, one for NTSC televisions (video signal converted from PAL with a decoder card) and one for playback on computer monitors (where the video format is not an issue).
Nightmare City is presented in it's original widescreen ratio of 2.35:1, and is regrettably not enhanced for 16x9 TVs. I can unequivocally state that this release is the best that the film has ever looked on home video. Read on...
(PAL-NTSC with Kingmax ZV-DVD decoder card) - The film looked very good on my TV. The image was very clear and sharp, especially when compared to earlier releases, with nice-looking colors. Grain was remarkably light throughout the film, although there a fair number of blemishes, specks and scratches on the print, as well as an occasional vertical line or two. There were no noticeable compression problems, although the video was occasionally jerky and I did notice some motion artifacts such as ghosting.
(Cyberlink PowerDVD 3.0) - With the exception of the motion/compression artifacts caused by NTSC-PAL conversion, monitor playback was quite similar to TV playback. Colors were strong, grain was at a minimal, and the print damage was no more or less noticeable. However, there was one rather noticeable difference between the two playbacks, and that was that the black level on monitor playback seemed somewhat muddier and less true than on TV playback, but that was it.
The differences between the two were little enough that I'm just going to grade the image quality as a B+ for both presentations.
The only language track provided is the film's original English dub in Dolby 2.0 Mono. Unfortunately, the track has some issues. Although understanding it was never a problem, the dialogue often sounded very hissy nonetheless. There is frequent low-level background noise detectable throughout the first two-thirds of the film, and during the final third there is very noticeable popping and hissing in several scenes. Optional Dutch subtitles are provided.
To start with, this disc contains an audio commentary by Umberto Lenzi. Unfortunately, it's a pretty weak track. I'm guessing that Lenzi produced it himself, because it sounds very choppy and there are noises on it that would seem to indicate it was done with a typical home tape recorder. Aside from the quality of the recording itself, the actual commentary is fairly poor as well. We're about four minutes into the film before Lenzi even starts talking, and after that he comes on only sporadically, leaving lots of silence in between (he also has a very thick accent, but I won't hold that against him). It's too bad that he doesn't talk that much, because when he does he's actually fairly interesting, mostly talking about the actors and how some of the special effects were done.
Fortunately, Japan Shock has made up for the disappointing commentary by including a very good interview with Lenzi. Running just shy of 50 minutes, the interview is certainly no short fluff piece. Lenzi talks about his experiences working on Nightmare City
, as well as what it was like working with actors like Mel Ferrer and Hugo Stiglitz. He also talks about some of his other films, his friendship with Lucio Fulci, and (quite entertainingly) rants and raves about the deterioration of the Italian film industry and the advent of computer-generated special effects.
Next up, we get Stelvio Cipriani's COMPLETE soundtrack to the film, accessible from the main menu. This is my personal favorite part of this release, and not just because it ends my fruitless search for lone tracks on Napster. All 36 tracks are encoded at 192 kbs, which is about the same as a good-quality MP3, and they sound very nice. The ability for a DVD to contain the film's soundtrack is one that is rarely taken advantage of, and kudos to Japan Shock for doing it here.
Finally, the standard assortment of minor extras are included - a theatrical trailer, a still gallery, a very extensive filmography of Lenzi, and liner notes.
Japan Shock should be commended for the work they put into this release. Nightmare City
looks great, and the supplements make this a must for any fan of the movie. Like many Italian horror films, the movie is a love it or hate it affair, but it is definitely worth a look.
Movie - B-
Image Quality - B+
Sound - C+
Supplements - A-
- Running Time - 1 hour 28 minutes
- Rated 16
- 1 Disc
- 15 Chapter Stops
- English 2.0 Mono
- Dutch subtitles
- Audio commentary by director Umberto Lenzi
- Interview with Lenzi
- Complete soundtrack
- Still gallery
- Lenzi filmography
- Liner notes