Nightmare City from Arrow and Everybody Else (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Ugh. When I look at all the recent and upcoming zombie movies like Maggie, Rec 4, The Battery, Pride and Prejudice With Zombies, Scouts Guide To the Zombie Apocalypse, World War Z, World War Z 2, Pandemic, Resident Evil Part... 8?, Rise Of the Zombies, Navy Seals Vs Zombies, Cockneys Vs Zombies, Pro Wrestlers Vs Zombies (yes, these are all real movies), Zombies Vs Strippers, Warm Bodies, Zombie Hunter, Night Of the Living Dead: Resurrection, Night Of the Living Deb, Night of the Living Dead: Darkest Dawn, and so forth and so on, I just want it to end. All these hacks with their cute, little pun titles need to have stopped like ten years ago. But, on the other hand, I've found I still have time for the classics. Having just picked up Arrow's recent restoration, I'm happy to say I can still have as much fun as ever with Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare City.
If you don't know, 1980's Nightmare City is known as the original "fast zombies" movie, where they run, plan and use weapons. I had a film professor tell my class that 28 Days Later was the first, but he was off by about 22 years. And yes, I know, the director insists that these monsters aren't zombies, just people who can only be killed with a shot to the brain and that are infected with a virus that turns them into an army of literally blood thirsty killers whose bite turns their victims into more of them... but that's practically is the definition of the modern zombie. It's certainly what you have in 28 Days. I mean, I see it, but it's a very thin distinction; and come on, in America, this film was released under the title City Of the Walking Dead. You can't blame us for seeing them as zombies now.

But anyway, besides the fact that these zombies run, what's this movie all about? Well, it's a Spanish Italian co-production (hence it's star, Hugo Stiglitz) where zombies basically enter a city and lay waste to it for the entire film. Our hero's a reporter who really can't do anything but try to stay one step ahead of the tidal wave of death that's wiping everybody out. Even faster than the zombies is the pace of this film, which just rushes from one wild set piece to another. This is a big film with tons of extras and plenty of locations, all chock full of zombie mayhem. Occasionally, the film eases off the throttle to give us a more suspenseful moment, but then it's right back to the chaos.
It's not exactly a deep film, and of course the dubbing can only further spoil performances that probably weren't very good in the first place. But, who cares? It's a blast. You've got a great soundtrack by 1/4 of Goblin, a unique look for the zombies, and one thrilling set piece after another. This film successfully creeped me out as a kid, too; because it's just so nihilistic. Characters are introduced, just to narrowly escape the fate of dozens of others getting killed all around them, just to run into another situation they can't escape. There's no getting away from it, and the situation's only spreading and getting worse. But if you're worried this film is going to get too grim for you, just look at this shot of zombies rampaging through a TV studio chasing spandex-clad disco dancers:
Now, this isn't my first time at the Nightmare City rodeo. I used to own the old VHS tape, which I happily upgraded to the awesome, widescreen special edition DVD from Italian Shock. But when televisions made the switch from full to wide, I realized it wasn't anamorphic, so I begrudgingly double-dipped on the 2008 Blue Underground DVD, which was just a reissue of the Anchor Bay DVD I originally passed on. But then when I read about Arrow's new high def restoration with a bunch of fresh, new extras, I was happier to triple-dip. But Arrow's is an interesting case: they actually wound up giving us two different transfers to choose from. And it's a blu-ray/DVD combo pack, so that's four. Plus, I've got the two older DVDs... Hoo-boy, if you're not already sitting down, you really should now, because we've got a lot of screenshots to compare.
Wash those windows, man!
Before we begin, though, you might be asking why is Arrow giving us two transfers in the first place? Well, it's like this. They first made a brand new 2k scan of the original camera negative, which looks mostly awesome. But unfortunately, the negative has been chemically damaged while in storage, so you get stains and discoloration like that yellow junk in the shot above. It's most noticeable in the first and last minutes of the film, but recurs intermittently throughout. Because of this, they went to Raro, who already released this film on blu in 2013 and licensed their transfer. That one's an alternate HD transfer taken from the 35mm reversal dupe negative, which doesn't have the damage... but also doesn't have the same level of detail or quality image, and also has had some DNR and other effects done to the image (by Raro, not Arrow). So do you want to watch the higher quality but damaged version, or the lesser but cleaner version? Arrow lets us choose. Personally, though, I'd go with the new 2k scan of the damaged negative and pass over the older HD transfer as nothing more than an academic exercise. But here, let's have a look.
1) Italian Shock's 2000 DVD 2) Blue Underground's 2008 DVD 3) Raro's 2013 DVD
4) Arrow's 2015 dupe DVD 5) Arrow's 2015 OCN DVD 6) Arrow's 2015 dupe blu 7) Arrow's 2015 OCN blu
So the first set of shots gives us a look at some of that chemical damage, or lack of, depending on which disc we're inspecting. It's honestly not too intrusive, though it's definitely strong enough to catch your attention. Besides the obvious yellow stains, it also cause the image to flicker, which you can only see in motion, and the color sometimes drops out of areas of the picture, turning almost black and white for a few frames. Personally, I didn't find it annoying, and I am the type to notice these things.  😉

Every release preserves the film's 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which is nice. Well, the Italian Shock and Blue Underground are a smidgen off, at about 2.33, but it's close. Blue Underground finds a little touch of extra information on all four sides, and then Arrow finds even a little more. Of course, being non-anamorphic makes Italian Shock pretty unacceptable right out of the gate anyway. It's also got a lot of edge enhancement and other nonsense; you'd never mistake it for a new release. Blue Underground, meanwhile, is a bit excessively true to their name with a bluer-looking image.

Between the two blus, the Arrow's Raro transfer looks very smoothed over. Grain and detail are much clearer on Arrow's blu. I'd almost even take Arrow's DVD of the OCN transfer over the blu of Arrow's Raro's dupe. Almost, not quite. The compression issue still puts the blu-ray over the top. So, just suck up the damage. The negative is now intrinsically damaged, so it's not like we can hope for Scream Factory or anybody else to come along and fix it. Well, maybe Synapse could come along and give it a frame by frame digital cleaning, but realistically; I don't think we'll see this movie look any better than this.

Another nice improvement we get with the Arrow blu (and, to be fair, the Raro blu) is the inclusion of the Italian language audio track with English subs. The previous DVDs only featured the English dub. Both blu-rays offer both in LPCM mono.
So now let's look at the extras! I'll start with the Arrow set, because that's the edition you really ought to be getting. First, it's got an audio commentary by former Fangoria editor-in-chief Chris Alexander. It's fairly entertaining, but not as interesting as his commentary for Contamination. There's a brief interview with Eli Roth, too, which is engaging enough but not terribly enlightening. Actually, the interview I was most excited for was Maria Rosaria Omaggio, because we've never heard from her on any past releases. Then there's an interview with the man himself, Umberto Lenzi, which is quite good - he seems pretty on board for Tom Savini's upcoming remake - but of course we have heard from him before. Then there are a few smaller bits, like a brief featurette explaining the two transfers, an alternate opening credits sequence with a different on-screen title, and the trailer. The set comes with reversable artwork and a 12-page booklet. All in all, a pretty strong package.

Speaking of strong packages, I'm hanging onto my Italian Shock disc. That has a long, 50 minute interview with Lenzi and even an audio commentary by him! Admittedly, it's not the best commentary, with literally the most extended periods of dead air I've ever heard on an audio commentary in my life (and I've heard a lot!). But when he's going, he's pretty interesting, and between that and the interview, you get more from him than on any other release. It also has the complete soundtrack album (on the DVD), plus a photo gallery and the trailer.

Blue Underground's disc (and the Anchor Bay one before it) just has their own interview with Lenzi, which is good, but doesn't contain anything not said on the other discs. Well, that and the trailer. And the Raro blu-ray has the longer Lenzi interview from the Shock disc, but lacks the commentary. It also has two trailers, plus a booklet.
Basically, the Arrow set is all most people interested in Nightmare City will need, in terms of transfers, audio options and special features. And it's a clear step up from everything that's come before it. But if you're a hardcore Lenzi fan, you might want to track down the old Italian Shock disc for the other extras. Once you've got those, you can totally forget the other releases, unless you're just collecting for collecting's sake. Arrow has handily claimed the "Definitive" title on this one.

1 comment:

  1. I personally go for Arrow in every situation, but happen to own the Raro copy and totally diagree about there being any DNR whatsoever - same with people at

    From Raro Nightmare City overview:

    "Raro's approach here is mostly natural— a straight telecine transfer, some light color balancing, and NO digital noise reduction and noticeable edge enhancement."