Nightmare City (Region B) Blu-ray Review

One of Eli Roth’s favorite Italian slaughterfests from Director Umberto Lenzi

Note: Arrow’s Nightmare City Blu-ray is available direct from their website and is locked to Region B

Prolific Italian director Umberto Lenzi made one of the more insane zombie films of all time in Nightmare City. It is not a great movie, it is not even a good movie by most standards. For those into Italian genre cinema, the non-stop violence and off-the-wall “script” mark Nightmare City as a memorable b-movie that has found a cult following over the years. Hollywood directors Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth both name it as one of their favorite Italian splatter films. Which is inexplicable on some level. Nightmare City’s distinguishing characteristics are a host of cheap gore effects, poor acting and multiple story lines that go nowhere. On the cool side it does have rampaging radioactive ghouls for almost its entire running time.

A mysterious military airplane lands at an airport without identifying itself. If Nightmare City has anything going for it, this dramatic opening is about the coolest, most original element in what is mostly a confused, derivative story. When the military surrounds the plane, a horde of radioactive zombies come streaming from the plane. It’s a simple, effective idea for a cheap horror film. They swarm every human in sight, apparently immune to bullets and knives. The rest of the plot has the hideous ghouls running around town, graphically drinking the blood of anyone that gets in their way. Are these vampires or zombies? They really don’t fit either category.

Made in the wake of Romero’s successful zombie films, Lenzi was dead-set on avoiding Romero’s zombies. These half-vampire, half-zombie creatures are the product of nuclear contamination. Instead of the slow, rambling zombies seen in Romero’s films, these ghouls have some mindless intelligence behind them as they go on killing everyone in sight at a faster pace. The stark difference makes these creatures less zombie-like and more like a bunch of crazed, invulnerable maniacs loose from the insane asylum. One telling scene is when a ghoul makes sure to strip a woman of her clothes before going in for the kill. Nightmare City is filled with so many moments like that one the film is hard to take seriously.

Mexican actor Hugo Stiglitz stars as Dean Miller, a reporter that serves as Nightmare City’s nominal protagonist. He is there when the ghouls first come out of the plane and hopes to warn everyone of the coming terror by television broadcast. Someone from the army immediately puts a stop to that good sense, a General Murchison (Mel Ferrer). The army wants to keep a lid on dozens of radioactive ghouls killing everything in sight. The cynical view of the military feels like something taken from Romero’s films but without any of the intelligence or insight seen in those better films.

While the story is weakly developed and filled with poor editing, it does move with a kinetic pace that delivers a lot of gore…

Some people enjoy bad films for how much they flout convention and their sheer audacity. The endless amount of violence and a bevy of naked female victims mark Nightmare City as typical for a cheap Italian genre flick. While the story is weakly developed and filled with poor editing, it does move with a kinetic pace that delivers a lot of gore and attractive women getting killed in various states of undress. The 1980 film is pitifully made but does have a germ of an intriguing idea, which is one reason a remake is possibly in the works by Tom Savini. At the end of the day Nightmare City is a pretty bad movie about half-zombie, half-vampire mutants rampaging over a city. That sounds cool but the execution is weak even for low-budget Italian cinema of the late 70s. This is a movie strictly for those seriously into low-budget Italian fare.

Movie★★★☆☆

Nigthmare City Blu-ray screen shot 4

Normally the best solution for a Blu-ray transfer is using the original camera negative. Arrow Video has used a novel solution for Nightmare City, providing two entirely different film transfers from differing elements. The reason becomes clear the minute you see Arrow Video’s new 2K restoration from the 2-perf Techniscope camera negative. Sadly, the Italian film’s negative was improperly stored over the years.

The 1980 negative suffers badly from yellow splotches and film emulsion problems. 2-perf Techniscope was a cheaper 35mm format that had half the vertical resolution of normal 35mm film. It was commonly used in Italian movies back in the day since it was much cheaper. Arrow Video’s James White supervised a new transfer of this battered negative. Twenty to twenty-five percent of the film’s 91 minutes are affected, especially the opening reel. This is a strange amalgam of a grindhouse film experience with the better detail and color fidelity inherent to a transfer directly from the negative.

What of the other film transfer included for Nightmare City? A much softer-looking 1080P presentation results from the only other surviving elements known for Nightmare City, a 4-perf dupe reversal negative. A dupe reversal negative is not exactly the best solution for producing extreme film-like fidelity or detail on Blu-ray. This alternate, secondary transfer is softer but the print elements are in much stronger condition, lacking the notable film damage of the first transfer. Arrow Video provides a nice little featurette detailing the visual differences between the two, which I recommend watching before seeing Nightmare City. I think average people may well choose the softer dupe transfer despite the lack of better detail.

The video score below mostly reflects the reality of what Nightmare City looks like in 1080P resolution. Arrow Video provides superb AVC video encodes for both transfers on a BD-50 in the movie’s native 2.35:1 aspect ratio. There is no current process that could restore Nightmare City to its original pristine state, Arrow did everything they could with digital tools to ensure a consistent presentation. You have to hand it to them for going the extra mile on a fairly obscure Italian zombie movie. A good chunk of the original negative transfer’s presentation is quite acceptable with moderate detail and acceptable definition.

Video★★☆☆☆

Original Italian and English soundtracks are included in mono PCM audio. The dubbed soundtracks are obviously brassy, older recordings with a hint of harshness. Fans into older Italian films know what to expect from the limited fidelity and unusual mixing of dubbed audio. Dialogue remains comprehensible, if a bit low in the mix compared to the louder Foley work. The score is an interesting one from noted Italian composer Stelvio Cipriani. He did a wide range of horror films and his work here is one of the only professional parts of this b-movie.

Newly translated English SDH subtitles for the Italian soundtrack are provided in a white font. They stay within the scope framing at all times.

Audio ★★★☆☆

This Region B UK release is a combo pack with a Blu-ray and DVD. At the moment, Nightmare City has been released by Raro Video in the United States. It is believed that Arrow will eventually release this Blu-ray in the United States, possibly in 2016.

  • New audio commentary by Fangoria editor and fan Chris Alexander – Alexander’s second commentary for Arrow Video is a patchy affair, though his enthusiasm for the awful movie is obvious. He is good at pointing out the cast’s other work but too often this slips into musings that would work better with a partner.
  • Radiation Sickness – a brand new interview with director Umberto Lenzi (28:41 in HD) – Arrow interviews the elderly director in Italian, English subs are included. The director goes over Nightmare City’s genesis and how much he wanted to avoid duplicating Romero’s work, which is strange as several shots are direct rip-offs.
  • Sheila of the Dead – A brand new interview with star Maria Rosaria Omaggio (07:41 in HD) – The actress talks about her memories of the cast and preventing her mother from seeing the film. In Italian with English subtitles.
  • Zombies Gone Wild! – Director, producer and actor Eli Roth on Nightmare City and the wild cinema of Umberto Lenzi (10:33 in HD) – Essential viewing, Eli Roth actually makes the film sound better than it is with his clear enthusiasm.
  • Nightmare City and The Limits of Restoration – featurette looking at the differences between the two transfers included on this release (04:34 in HD) – A side-by-side comparison and explanation for the differing transfers’ presentations. Fascinating for videophiles.
  • Alternate Opening Titles (02:11 in HD)
  • Original Trailer (03:45 in HD)
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by John Martin, author of Seduction of the Gullible: The Truth Behind the Video Nasty Scandal, illustrated with original archive stills and posters

Extras ★★★☆☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review as a screener copy that may not completely reflect the retail package. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

[display_rating_form]
[display_rating_result]

Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.