Incubo sulla cittą contaminata (1980)

a.k.a. - Nightmare City (USA) City of the Walking Dead (USA)

Umberto Lenzi's unique and very Italian entry to the the post Dawn of the Dead zombie boom. Arrow UK region A/B/C Blu-ray release.

The Film

There has been a problem at a nuclear power plant, reporter Dean (Hugo Stiglitz) travels to the airport to interview the lead scientist as he arrives. Instead a mysterious unmarked military plane lands and the sciensit, followed by a group of people emerge, brutally attacking and killing the emergency forces who have arrived on the scene. The Civil Defence forces try and censor the attack, but when these creatures attack the TV station, Dean is forced to run for his life as the city descends into seemingly unstoppable chaos...

Co-written by Piero Regnoli (who also penned Andrea Bianchi's notorious zombie opus Le notti del terrore (1981)), Nightmare City was one of a number of films seeking to cash in on the massive success of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978) and particularly Dario Argento's Goblin scored European version, Zombi. In a variation to the established genre formula however, the script here preceeds and outdoes Return of the Living Dead (1985) and the more recent Dawn of the Dead (2004) remake by having its creatures as fast moving, 'supermen' able to run, fight and even fire weapons, more akin to the 'infected' of 28 Days Later (2002) rather than living dead.

Although the setting is left kept ambiguous (it seems to be trying for an American flavour, but nothing is ever stated) the script has a distinctly Italian flavour with a somewhat discordant flow in places - we are introduced disaster movie style to a few seperate characters whom we follow for much of the action although while the film seems to be building to a Threads (1984) or Day of the Dead scenario with scenes of military officers in a secure bunker they seem to get phased out by the film's end. In the first half a few second-unit zombie attack sequences are thrown in to add a little more mayhem, but these disappear later on.

Although never going down the surreal route of Fulci's Paura nella cittą dei morti viventi (1980), there is no real continuity to the flow of time or progression of the infected which lends an unreal quality and there are certainly a handful non-sequitars - in particular, no explanation is given for the airborne arrival of the zombies in an unmarked military plane at the start. There is at least a clever explanation for why the creatures are attacking people, although why some are so much more disfigured and only a few seem to come back to life is never made clear. Fortunately the script maintains a brisk pace throughout, avoiding the languorous pacing of many other contemporary Italian horror films, there are plenty of zombie attack sequences and some genuinely creepy moments as it builds up to a suitably dramatic climax, only to be let down by a silly and unnecessary epilogue.

Umberto Lenzi was a well established genre director by 1980 and had worked on a variety of Giallo and Poliziotteschi during the 1970s - evidence of both of which show up here, with pitched gun battles and stalking death scenes. Gore is certainly prevelent in places, although Lenzi does not dwell on it as long as Fulci for example would and he seems just as interested in getting in plenty of gratuitous topless shots as well. Direction as a whole is unremarkable but solid, he keeps the film flowing smoothly despite the somewhat jumpy script. Italo-cult regular Stelvio Cipriani provides a suitably funky contemporary synthesised soundtrack that fits the tone of the film perfectly.

The lead role is taken by Mexican actor Hugo Stiglitz who suits the part okay, although his performance is rather wooden in places; Laura Trotter as his wife never gets much to do and is similarly rather unremarkable in the part. A few familiar faces crop up in supporting roles, including Eduardo Fajardo (Django (1966)) and Mel Ferrer (L'anticristo (1974)) as the senior military officer.

Incubo sulla cittą contaminata is a typical 1980s Euro-cult horror with a somewhat surreal and jumpy script, obvious dubbing (no matter what language you watch it in) and rather wooden acting, which will doubtless put off some fans of slick modern horrors, while its visceral gore and gratuitous nudity will be too much for others. For fans of horror films of the period however there is plenty to enjoy here with lots of zombie attacks and a good pace, it is only a pity about the silly ending and the fact that Franco Nero or Fabio Testi did not get the lead role as originally planned. Zombie film collectors should enjoy this unique take on the genre and there is plenty of action throughout.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Hugo Stiglitz - a Mexican actor who also appeared in horror film La Noche de los mil gatos (1972)
Directed by anyone interesting? Umberto Lenzi - one of the best known Italian exploitation directors, he created the Italo-cannibal genere with The Man From Deep River (1972) and helmed a number of crime films including Napoli violenta (1976).
Any gore or violence ? Numerous very gory death scenes.
Any sex or nudity? Several brief topless shots.
Who is it for? Fans of Italian horror films will really enjoy this and certainly of interest to zombie movie fans as the first 'smart zombie' film.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour. 1080p HD
Two versions of the transfer are included:
  • A new 2K transfer from the original negative - has very good colours and detail but quite frequently shows some print damage (mostly in the form of yellow stain marks on the print). Nothing that gets in the way of watching the film.
  • A transfer from the 35mm reverse dupe negative - less damage, but slightly reduced detail.
The former is certainly preferable for its better resolution and any viewers used to watching scratchy old prints on Vipco discs and tapes will not even notice the damage.
Audio English LPCM 1.0 Mono
Italian LPCM 1.0 Mono
Both audio tracks come through clearly.
Subtitles English HOH for the English audio
English translation for the Italian audio.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Interview with director Umberto Lenzi - discussing this film and his career in general. (30 minutes - Italian with English subs)
  • Interview with Eli Roth (director of Hostel and The Green Inferno) talking very enthusiastically about this film. (10 minutes)
  • Interview with actress Maria Rosaria Omaggio (7 minutes)
  • Audio commentary with Fangoria editor Chris Alexander disucssing the film and its background in great detail.
  • Original trailer as Nightmare City with English and Italian audio with English subs (4 minutes 1080p)
  • Alternate English language title as Attack of the Zombies (3 minutes 1080p).
  • The disc case page booklet with new writing on the film by John Martin.
The features are duplicated across a DVD included in the same packaging.
Region Region A/B/C (ALL)
Other regions? Released on Blu-Ray in the US by Raro Film, with a different transfer and different Lenzi interview. Many DVD releases are available with a variety of transfer qualities and extra features.
Cuts? The film is believed to be fully uncut. Previous cuts required in the UK have been waived. Print language and credits are Italian.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 10th September 2015.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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