Written by: Michael Den Boer on August 30th, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, 1980
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Writers: Antonio Cesare Corti, Luis María Delgado, Piero Regnoli
Cast: Hugo Stiglitz, Laura Trotter, Maria Rosaria Omaggio, Francisco Rabal, Sonia Viviani, Eduardo Fajardo, Stefania D’Amario, Mel Ferrer, Antonio Mayans, Ted Rusoff
BluRay released: August 24th, 2015
Approximate running times: 91 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: LPCM Mono English, LPCM Mono Italian
Subtitles: English, English SDH
BluRay Release: Arrow Video
Region Coding: Region Free
Retail Price: £17.99 (UK)
Synopsis: A city is overrun by flesh eating people who have become contaminated due to radiation exposure and their only hope for survival is dependent on ingesting uncontaminated blood.
Nightmare City was co-written and directed by Umberto Lenzi is a versatile filmmaker who has worked in just about every prominent genre from Italian cinema’s golden age of cinema. A few of his more notable films include A Quiet Place to Kill, Almost Human and Cannibal Ferox.
Key collaborators on Nightmare City include, cinematographer Hans Burmann (Thesis, Open Your Eyes), composer Stelvio Cipriani (Bay of Blood, What Have They Done to Your Daughters?) and screenwriter Piero Regnoli a filmmaker in his own right who is most remembered for directing The Playgirls and the Vampire.
Alternate titles that Nightmare City is also known by include, City of the Walking Dead and Invasion by the Atomic Zombies.
Nightmare City was made during an era where zombies films where in high demand due to the world wide success of Dawn of the Dead. And though it was often the tradition in Italy to jump on whatever was successful in American cinema and then churn out countless clones. Umberto Lenzi was one filmmaker who refused to follow the trend and instead he got them to make Nightmare City, a film that transcends all of those aforementioned clones.
Though not as well regarded as his contemporizes and at times maligned as being nothing more than a workman like director. These are just a few things that have plagued the legacy of Umberto Lenzi, a filmmaker whose contributions to the Giallo and Poliziotteschi genres should have cemented his legacy as one of his generations’ best filmmakers. Not to be overlooked is how his film The Man from Deep River started what would later become known as the Cannibal film cycle. Years later he would return the Cannibal film cycle with Cannibal Ferox which upon its initial release was banned in thirty one countries.
One criticism that has been unfairly lobbed at Nightmare City over the years is how poor the zombie makeup looks? Unfortunately this film is not a zombie film and even in its opening setup it is clearly stated that they contaminated due to radiation exposure. And more importantly Lenzi this film’s creator clearly states on numerous occasions that this is not a zombie film. For further proof those who have become contaminated run at a brisk pace, while zombie’s when this film was made where known to move slowly. This now bring us back to the aforementioned comments about the makeup, which upon closer examination one could easily see that said disfigurement is due to radiation.
From a visually stand point Lenzi makes sure that every inch of every frame is exploited for all they are worth. And this includes the way he holds on gore related moments or how the camera’s leers when there is eye candy to be devoured. Also the frantic pacing to the story at hand ensures that there is never a dull moment. With one scene that shines brighter than any other in the film. And that scene is when the dancers who are performing for a T.V. show are ambushed and bludgeoned to death by those who have become contaminated.
One thing that you can almost always rely on from Italian cinema from this era was that there was never a shortage of recognizable talent. And Nightmare City more than delivers in this regard when it comes to their cast which features Mel Ferrer (The Big Alligator River, The Visitor) in the role of a general named Murchison, Francisco Rabal (L’Eclisse, Belle de Jour) in the role of Holmes another high ranking military official, Maria Rosaria Omaggio (Rome Armed to the Teeth) her character is Rabal’s love interest, Antonio Mayans (Devil Hunter, Sex is Crazy) in the role of a camera man and last but most definitely not the least would be Hugo Stiglitz (Cyclone) in the role of this film’s protagonist a reporter named Dean. Performance wise one would be hard pressed to fault any performances in this film as everyone involved give their all and then some!
Nightmare City comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. For this release Arrow Video offers two transfers. The first transfer is a newly created 2k master that was created using the camera negative. The good news when it comes to image clarity and an image that retains film like textures this new transfer is easily the best this film has ever looked. The bad news throughout this transfer there are instances of density fluctuation, colors instability and worst of all chemical staining. This now brings us to the other transfer provided for this release and it was sourced from the same master that Raro Video used for North American Blu-Ray release.
This release comes with two audio options, a LPCM mono mix in English and a LPCM mono mix in Italian. Both audio mixes are in very good shape as there are no issues with background noise or distortion. Also dialog comes through clearly, everything sounds balanced and the film’s score sounds robust. Range wise both audio mixes do a good job handling the more ambient aspects of the soundtrack. Also for this release two subtitle options have been included, English and English SDH.
Extras for this release include, a trailer for the film (3 minutes 45 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen, in Italian with English subtitles), alternate opening title sequence (2 minutes and 11 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen), a featurette with filmmaker Eli Roth who discusses Nightmare City (10 minutes 33 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen), interviews with director Umberto Lenzi (28 minutes 41 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen, in Italian with English subtitles) and actress Maria Rosaria Omaggio (7 minutes 56 – 1080 progressive widescreen, in English with optional English subtitles), a featurette titled ‘The Limits of Restoration’ (4 minutes 34 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen) and an audio commentary with Fangoria editor Chris Alexander.
Topics discussed in the extra with Eli Roth include, his thoughts on Lenzi as a filmmaker, Nightmare City and his thoughts on various other films that Umberto Lenzi also directed.
Topics discussed in the interview with Umberto Lenzi include, how he was approached to make Nightmare City due to the success of George Romero’s zombie films / Dawn of the Dead, how he got changes made to the screenplay to suit his artistic ambitions, his film is about contaminated victims because he had no interest in making zombie films, how Nightmare City has influenced other filmmakers to the point where they have recreated scenes from the film for their film, the cast and why he choose Hugo Stiglitz as this film’s lead, locations featured in the film, special effects and his thoughts on a few of his films being remade.
Topics discussed in the interview with Maria Rosaria Omaggio include, how she does not like Horror films, how the screenplay and who is directing a film determine if she will appear in a film, the dangers involved in filming her characters death scene in Nightmare City and how difficult it is for her to watch films that she has appeared in.
The featurette titled ‘The Limits of Restoration’ is a fascinating and detailed look into the extensive work that went into creating a brand new transfer for this film. This extra also provides a side by side comparison of the two transfers included with this release.
Here is a rundown of what is discussed in this extra, “Only two original 35mm film elements survive for Nightmare City: the Techniscope camera negative and a dupe reversal negative. Where conventional widescreen systems used lenses that squeeze the image, while Techniscope does not use lenses to squeeze the image. Instead Techniscope fits two widescreen frames in the same space usually occupied by one frame. With the end result is that Techniscope process has half the vertical resolution of a standard 35mm. Unfortunately large sections of the Techniscope camera negative have suffered chemical deterioration and this damage that now exits on the camera negative is irreversible. And this brings us to the dupe reversal negative was in very good shape. There source is not without its own issues which are a softening of the image due to the image being enlarged from 2-perf Technscope to 4-perf 35mm.”
Rounding out the extras is a reversible cover art and twenty page booklet with cast & crew info, an essay about the film titled ‘Fade Away and Radiate: Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City’ written by John Martin and information about the restoration / transfer. Also included with this release is a DVD that has the same content included on the Blu-Ray included as part of this combo release.
Where most companies would pass on a release due to unsuitable elements to work with or worse yet put out a release from an inferior secondary source. This is not the case with Arrow Video’s release for Nightmare City which faced those aforementioned problems and meet them head on. With the end result being a perfect example of hot too overcome obstacles and still delivering exceptional product, highly recommended.
Note: Screenshots one through seven are taken from the transfer that was sourced from the Camera Negative.