Nightmare City (aka City Of the Walking Dead) (1980)

Most of the tried-and-true conventions of the Italian zombie film are tossed overboard in Nightmare City, an Italo-Spanish co-production directed by Umberto Lenzi. Here the living dead aren’t gut-munching flesh eaters but rather blood-drinking vampires. They’re anything but slow and lethargic, no shambling, automaton-like revenants staggering around in this baby. These monsters are as fast and coordinated as normal humans. They run, jump, fistfight, drive vehicles and use weapons! It’s one thing to defend yourself against mindless zombies who just shuffle towards you, trying to grab hold for a snack. What do you do when they pick up submachine guns and start blasting?

Essayed by wooden and/or poorly dubbed performers, you won’t care about the fate of any of them. Nothing makes much logical sense and the characters do incredibly stupid things. This is the type of movie where, in the midst of an apocalyptic catastrophe, people turn off radios broadcasting emergency announcements. The zombies are actually smarter than the humans. They even sabotage the city’s electrical grid, knocking out power and communications. What little we learn about the creatures comes from briefings. Somehow exposure to radiation has turned them into superhuman, living dead vampires who can only be killed by bullets to the head. Anyone slain or bitten by them in turn becomes a bloodthirsty ghoul, driven to kill. Thus the contamination spreads.

Nightmare City is deliriously goofy and all the more entertaining for it. The zombie attack scenes are a riot, one can’t help chuckling while watching them kick human ass. That they’ve a predilection for ripping the blouses and bras from their female victims means there’s a healthy dose of gratuitous nudity as well. The ghouls get a nifty, catchy bit of theme music for the mass attack scenes, too, courtesy of composer Stelvio Cipriani. That’s not all, a small portable TV hurled at one of the creatures explodes with the force of a thermite grenade. Though official orders are to shoot all zombies in the head, troops apparently forget this key point, later shown blazing away to no effect. Despite being virtually immune to bullets, a zombie howls in agony when a door is slammed on his fingers. Yep, it’s that kind of movie. Even the lame, nonsensical ending seems fitting given all the stupidity that precedes it.

One more thing, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the appearance of the monsters themselves. If you’re looking for decayed, maggot-infested Fulci-style ghouls then forget it. The creature makeup here is as silly as everything else in the flick. Many of the zombies have heads that look like charred meatballs. With stuff like this Nightmare City should keep you fairly amused the whole way through.