Terrifying Tuesday: Nightmare City (1980)

Hello folks, I wanted to take a moment to make a special announcement. The ol' Bugg has an article that just came out over on BthoughZ, and I hope you folks will go check it out. I cover the excellent blaxploitation flick J.D.'s Revenge, and I'll be contributing to their site monthly. They have lots of great stuff over there. Our good friend Rev. Phantom has an excellent article on David Hess that I would encourage everyone to look at.....well, after you read mine of course. Now on with the show!  

I used to have nightmares when I was a kid. Usually they had to do with ventriloquist dummies or ghostly gloves chasing after me. Yeah I was scared of gloves and dummies. Nowadays, I have licked my fear of gloves (although a pair of black leather ones in the right context could bring on giallo flashbacks), but my fear of dummies still remains. I have no idea why they scare the heck out of me (although the empty eyes and the head that can do a 360 are two good reasons).

Right about now you might be wondering what this has to do with the price of ice cubes in India, and I'll tell you. Tonight's feature is not Anthony Hopkins in Magic, and I can assure you it never will be. Instead we have a different kind of nightmare, and this one is brought to us by that stalwart Italian director, Umberto Lenzi. So if you all would leave your gloves (just to be on the safe side) and dummies at the door, we will embark on a journey to....

Nightmare City (1980) starring Hugo Stiglitz, Laura Trotter, Mel Ferrer, and Francisco Rabal. Directed by Umberto Lenzi. 

It's an average kind of day in the city when reporter Dean Miller wakes for work, kisses his wife Anna, and heads out the door. He is slated to do an interview of a famous nuclear scientist, but when he arrives at the airfield to meet the man, a mysterious plane is making an emergency landing. The police and military swarm the plane as does Miller and his camera man,  but when the door to the aircraft finally opens they are all greeted with a grisly surprise. The doctor and all the passengers have been infected with something that turned them into deformed killers with a thirst for blood. 

Miller narrowly escapes and races back to the television studio. He interrupts the disco dancing show that is on the air to deliver a breaking news report, but he is quickly pulled from the air. The station and the Defense department want to keep the crisis under wraps. Miller quits his job and heads out to find his wife at her work, but everywhere around him the infection is spreading and the nightmare has only begun. 

Film Facts

--The film's original Italian title is Incubo sulla citta contaminata which translates roughly to Incubus on the Contaminated City,

--Umberto Lenzi considered Fabio Testi and Franco Nero for the lead role, but went with Hugo Stiglitz to appeal to a Mexican audience. 

--Laura Trotter also appeared in Last House on the Beach (1978) and the sexploitation film The Virgin, The Taurus, and The Capricorn(1977).

--Umberto Lenzi and Mel Ferrer had a busy year together in 1980. Ferrer also appeared in the director's film Eaten Alive!

The Bug Speaks

Umberto Lenzi, like most of his contemporaries, tried his hand at every trend of film that came down the pike, but unlike many of them, Lenzi almost always brought something new to the genres he worked with. In Nightmare City, Lenzi reshapes the zombie as a pack of homicidal killers who live off the blood of humans. Some might even think they are not zombies, but they seem intended to be even with all their differences. They plot, they plan, the strategize, and they will get to you. That is unless you shoot them in the brain of course. I have never seen another take on the zombie outbreak like this, but I think that bits and pieces of Lenzi's film have returned in films like 28 Days Later and, dare I say it, Land of the Dead. While the makeup on the zombies left much to be desired (although I loved the zombified faces rising up out of late '70's cardigans), there was something unnerving about the way they behaved which made up for it. 

The film really works because of the strong script that Lenzi was working with. Piero Regnoli and two other writers, Corti and Deladago, worked on it, but I feel that Regnoli, the scribe behind Burial Ground (1981) and The Playgirls and the Vampire(1962), probably deserves most of the credit. The story is a well balanced tale. It weaves several stories of unrelated characters neatly into a  single story arc without feeling the need to make all the characters interact with each other. This gives the film a nice spectrum of events happening around this zombie outbreak. 

The actors all turn in fine performances, but the two leads were both a revelation to me. Hugo Stiglitz carries the weight of the film on himself. His character is well rounded and fun to watch. Talk about being an Action News Reporter, Stiglitz's Miller is the only character who seems to be able to foil the creatures. If there's any wonder how bad ass this guy is, he throws an unplugged monitor at a pair of baddies, and it explodes into a ball of fire. Now that is the stuff of heroes. Laura Trotter gets much less screen-time as Miller's physician wife, but when she does get a chance to work, she gives it all she's got. It probably doesn't hurt that she is a stone cold fox even though she spends a large portion of the film in scrubs. 

This is a film that will please zombie lovers, and those out there that are tired of the shambling dead. The well paced story, ingenuity, and good acting will more than make up for the bright red blood and oatmeal faced zombies. I say check it out, but if this is not for you, find something in Lenzi's catalog that is,

The Bug Speaks


  1. I'm realy torn on this one. There are aspects of it that I loved and some that I flat out hated. Overall it's a fun Italian Zombie B-movie.

  2. I love this one personally- I usually go for the slow moving aim for the head Romero style zombie but this is more like rage in 28 Days Later.

    Here is a little fun fact from the movie:

  3. That is freakin hilarious Nigel. Thanks for sharing that 'cause it gave me quite a good laugh.

    Rev, I can see why you wold be torn on this one. The last 5 minutes of the film nearly ruined it entierly for me, but there was too much here I enjoyed. I gave it kind of a generous 3, but with a better ending it could have come in much closer to 4.

  4. This is a great film. There are some aspects of this movie that are totally laughable, and it's got an almost perfect mix of action, horror and absurdity. Also, the accuracy of the thrown weapons in this one are unmatched.

  5. I've always wanted to see this.

    Good write up.


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