This delightfully bizarre Italian/Spanish co-production from Umberto Lenzi starts off with the local news station reporting a leak at the state nuclear plant. A Professor Hagenbeck is arriving back into the city by plane after going with his team to investigate the leak. TV reporter Dean Miller (Stiglitz) is sent to interview the professor. Miller arrives at the airport just as an unidentified military plane makes an emergency landing. Airport security and a small number of army personnel surround the aircraft and demand whoever is inside to open up. Big mistake, because inside is the Professor and his team who have now become murderous zombie type creatures!
Worse than that though is their skin condition, as the Professor and friends now look like they have fallen face down in a bowl of chocolate oatmeal! The horror!! Before the startled eyes of Miller the Chocolate Oatmeal Faced Toxic zombies (who we shall call COFTZ from here on in) are hacking, stabbing and shooting their way through the troops and drinking their blood. Yes I did say shooting. None of your slow shambling unarmed rotters here, these COFTZ brandish weapons and run after their victims!
Soon the COFTZ are running amuck through the city, wearing really bad jumpers and shirts, as the military, headed by General Murchison, ( Ferrer, wondering where his career vanished to) try to contain the marauding killers. The powers that be discover the zombies need blood from their victims to replace their own red blood cells that radiation has destroyed. Poor dears. To make matters worse it turns out the COFTZ can spread the toxic curse by their touch, as well as having superhuman strength and healing powers. It seems the only way to kill them is to, yes you've guessed it, shot them in the head.
This discovery leads Ferrer, doing a commendable job at keeping a straight face, to utter the immortal command "Aim for the brain".
A Major Warren Holmes (Rabal) is drafted to help as Murchison tries to locate his AWOL Daughter and her Husband while at the same time trying to save mankind. Miller and his doctor wife, Anna, (Trotter) attempt to flee the city as a state of national emergency is called and all seems lost.
Well what can we say? Undeniably trashy though this film is, it delivers the fun time groceries in spades. We have copious amounts of zombie action tarted up with wonderfully gratuitous topless shots and barking mad dialogue. Action highlights include an attack on the TV station that results in the wholesale slaughter of a troop of appalling workout dancers (dubbed with outrageous Bronx accents) jumping about in leotards while filming something called "It's All Music". It's all rubbish more like.
As well as exploitative breast baring, this scene has some great gory violence as our prancing fools are sliced up, the gore highlights being a nasty bit of breast slicing and a spurting axe in the head effect.
An attack on a Hospital features some riotously violent action and yet more completely unnecessary breast exposure as loads of unfortunates get sliced and diced. The nastiest gore scene in the film is when a women is attacked in a cellar and has a huge nail rammed into her chest before it is used to gouge out her eye. She ends up, bent over a box being slurped on by two COFTZ, breasts of course on display. Gotta love these Italians!
Also look out for an hysterical scene where a contaminated women is shot and whole back of her head including all of her hair flies off into the camera!
The best of the splatter though is saved for the final chase/shootout in a fairground that has loads of delightful exploding zombie heads as Stiglitz and Trotter run up a roller coaster to escape the toxic terrors while blasting away with machine guns.
As for the cast, Ferrer spends almost the entire film pacing around in one room uttering dreadful dialogue. As well as the aforementioned "Aim for the brain" he tells his men to act out plan H and if that fails to go to plan B! No wonder the army is failing to halt the zombies, what happened to the rest of the alphabet and why are they starting at H and going back to B? Crazy guys!.
Other hysterical dialogue is given to Anna who Lenzi and his three (count 'em) scriptwriters have uttering meaningful words of doom about how man is to blame and that we are reaping the harvest of our selfish, power mad, thinking we are god way of life. See this film is deep. Stiglitz, who appeared in various Mexican films like "House of 1000 Cats", is suitably stoic in his attempts to inform the public of the danger against the army's wishes and makes a valiant stab at trying to add a bit of seriousness to the camp proceedings.
The music by Stelvio Cipriani is wonderful stuff. Filled with those familiar bass beats and electronic goodness that is uniquely Italian. Yet again listen out for Al Clivers ("Zombie") iconic dubbing artist (a staple of great Italian exploitation cinema) doing not one but three dub jobs! A character at the airport, a voice over the hospital speakers and a radio announcer. Whatever happened to this guy when Italian horror films dried up!?
Lenzi moves the story and action along nicely and piles in more gore and violence in the first 20 minutes than he did for almost the entire first hour of "Cannibal Ferox". He isn't going to win any awards, but he does what he needs to do efficiently enough.
Which brings us to the ending. Much criticized though it is, it's also completely in keeping with all the trashy, cheesy goodness that has gone before. Sure it's a cop out, sure it's a slap in the viewers' face, but what a delightfully trashy cheese scented slap it is!
Films like this exist for one reason only (well two if you count making money) and that's to entertain, and entertain is what "Nightmare City" certainly does. Simply and unpretentiously as only 80's Italian exploitation cinema can.