Zombies are played out. Plain and simple.
Whenever I meet someone and they tell me they’re working on a zombie project I groan. Zombies are over. They’re done. Leave them alone. Maybe in twenty years there will be a fresh perspective on them, but for right now they’re played out.
That being said, I love zombie movies. Love them. I love the Romero ones, the Lucio Fulci ones, Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead is genius, and Return of the Living Dead 3 might by one of my favorite movies ever. I’m a big zombie buff. I’m a big zombie fan.
But I’m tired. I’m so inundated by zombies. They’re everywhere. Every person with half a brain thinks they’re gonna make the next big zombie franchise. It really drives me up the wall.
If I’m being honest, which I usually try to be, I’m a bit of a purist. Zombies walk, they don’t run. Ever. It ruins the mob mentality metaphor. They don’t just eat brains. That’s only in Dan O’bannon’s Return. I’m kind of a stickler. I can’t enjoy Zombieland, which I’m sure is a good movie, because they say Zombie every five minutes even through the quick moving rage virus infected individuals who populate the film are not in fact zombies. I can’t do it. I’ve tried to watch that movie like four times and I never get more than fifteen minutes in before slamming the DVD player off in frustration. I’m a zombie purist.
But this is something I’ve been attempting to push past. I’m attempting to grow as a person. Crazy thought, right? Right.
That’s why the subject of today’s review is Nightmare City. Or at least that’s what my DVD copy of it has the title as. It’s also been released as City of the Walking Dead. Either way, this movie came into my life on one of my famed I’m-going-to-buy-a-bunch-of-weird-DVDs-on-Amazon-at-4am-and-regret-it-the-next-day impulse buying sprees. And after initially watching it, boy, did I regret it.
The film opens with a plane landing in an unnamed city, the cargo bay doors opening, and zombies (that are really just actors in weird crackly face masks) bounding out of the pane wielding machine guns, knives and other instruments of blunt force trauma.
I hated it. What is this? Why are these zombies running? Why are they killing people with screwdrivers? Why are they running?!
And then it gets worse. The narrative jumps to a news station where apparently instead of commercials you have awkwardly long dance numbers with women in bathing suits. Not dancey leotards, mind you. Straight up blue swim suits. They awkwardly gyrate on screen for a good five minutes before the news people figure out that an army of the living dead is descending upon the city.
The film follows a reporter Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz) as he attempts to first warn everyone about the zombie invasion, but is prevented by the government. Eventually, his quest shifts to attempting to find his wife, who is supposedly located deep within a hospital already overrun by the undead.
The most frustrating part of the film isn’t its over the top approach to everything, or its strange makeup decisions, or its refusal to think through anything logically. The most frustrating aspect of the film is the ending.
Our intrepid reporter, after rescuing his wife, flees to an amusement park, because that’s the safest place around. Where they are chased by zombies onto the top of a roller coaster. They’re cornered. They’re going to die. And then the cavalry shows up in the form of a life-saving helicopter. YAY! They’re saved!
And then what happens?
Dean Miller wakes up. It’s all been a dream. None of this was real. Don’t you feel great that you just sort of invested in the last two hours? We duped you, filmgoer! It’s all a ruse.
Or is it?
The final scene of the film is Dean Miller going to the airport where he was supposed to meet a scientist at the beginning of the film. The plane makes an emergency landing, and zombies pour out!
So the whole movie is real! Don’t you feel so surprised? You got your monies worth, filmgoer. You got two twist endings!
And this is the most frustrating element. If Dean Miller dreamed all of what happens that means that he has some sort of precognitive psychic power. Which means I want to see that movie ten times more that I want to watch the movie I just sat through. I want a movie about a psychic reporter Doctor Strangeing his way through armies of the undead in order to save his wife from legions of the undead.
How cool is that? That makes sense to me. That makes all the goofiness, the weird make-up choices, the running zombies, and the dancing in swimsuits make sense to me. The protagonist needed to be a master of psychic manipulation. Maybe it’s just precognitive or maybe he can manipulate the undead too. Maybe he could herd them around like some sort of zombie controlling Aquaman. How amazing would that be?
Amazing. Really amazing.
Well, that’s not what we got. And that’s not what I got when I bought this crappy movie. But that’s where I’m choosing to believe things will go. I’m choosing to believe that Umberto Lensi secretly shot another movie while shooting this movie but the studio or the producers or the magnanimous powers that be prevented him from releasing it because it would be too good. It would blown too many minds. It would have changed the face of global culture too radically. I’m choosing to believe that Umberto Lensi is not, in fact, a third tier Italian director but one of the greatest cinematic minds of all time.
I’m choosing to believe that that really weird dance number in the television station was Dean Miller mind controlling those poor dancers in order to get this rocks off.
You’re free to believe whatever you want, but I’m choosing to look at the psychic glass half mind controlled.