This is a profoundly bad movie, directed by Umberto (Make Them Die Slowly) Lenzi. And while it's basically an irredeemable mess, I feel I should point out that it contains probably
THE MOST HORRIFYING MOMENT IN MOTION PICTURE HISTORY
...and if you don't believe me, read on.
It seems there's been a wee nuclear accident in some grim, unnamed European city. A joint military/scientific cleanup crew has been dispatched to bring the situation under control. A reporter named Miller (played by Hugo Stiglitz, a veteran of many dismal René Cardona, Jr. films) is assigned to interview the head of the cleanup crew, Dr. Hagenbeck, as soon as he arrives back at the airport.
Miller goes to the airport, but there is no sign of Hagenbeck or his team. Suddenly an unidentified aircraft appears and makes an emergency landing. Miller follows police and emergency personnel to the strange aircraft: nobody seems to be aboard! Tense seconds pass. All at once, the door of the plane swings open, and Dr. Hagenbeck steps out. He peers about for a moment and then...
Zombies jump out! Dozens of 'em! Like clowns out of one of those little tiny cars! In fact, the scene would be much more effective if Lenzi had replaced Stelvio Cipriani's music with "Entry of the Gladiators" played on a steam calliope.
I know what you're thinking: zombies can fly a plane? But that's not all: they also stopped somewhere and had all the plane's insignia painted out! Clever zombies! You generally don't see that kind of planning among the living dead.
It turns out that these zombies, who wield knives and guns and move faster than ordinary humans, aren't really zombies at all. They're irradiated humans whose cells have gone into overdrive, making them very strong, and increasingly crusty. But although they have superhuman strength, the radiation has damaged their blood. They must renew their supply by drinking it from the living. Oh, yes, of course: the oral method of blood transfusion! Just as effective as the oral method of artificial insemination, proposed under the Clinton Health Care Reform. Or was that under a desk in the Oval Office?
Back to the airport: around the plane there's a massacre. Guns are going off left and right, knife-wielding zombies are slitting throats everywhere... and there stands Miller, with his cameraman, ten feet away from the slaughter. "Hmmm," he says, after everyone around him has been slaughtered by zombies, "maybe we'd better get out of here." Whereupon he saunters away.
Again, I know what you're thinking: why is he standing there while all this carnage is happening around him? Actually, I think this was an inspired bit of realism on Lenzi's part. Miller is one of those TV reporters who greet calamity with a studious frowny face, and then move on to the weather and sports.
Thinking of calamity, let's see what else this movie has in store for us: we've got...
So. We have a city full of zombies who move like the wind, can out-think your average Z-movie actor, who can fly planes and drive cars, and who occasionally turn up dead for no reason (perhaps they drank the wrong type blood?). We have an hour and a half gouged out of the audience's lives and devoured by a ravenous, brain-sucking movie. And even if we called in the Civil Defense Squad to kill the movie, it wouldn't matter if they shot it in the head. It doesn't need a brain. It doesn't even have a brain. And I haven't even mentioned
Sheila, wife of Civil Defense officer Major Holmes, and also the world's worst sculptor. Her husband warns her to lock her doors and not go out. This being a horror movie (and she being a woman in a horror movie written by and for men), she promptly goes out -- where she sees an unattended lawn mower puttering across her lawn. This would be enough to awaken most people's suspicions, but not our Sheila. She goes back inside, only to find that while she was out, someone has jammed a bloody knife in her sculpture. You'd figure this at least would give her a clue. Then again, judging by the quality of her artworks, she's probably used to people jamming bloody knives into them. What the heck -- she just pulls out the knife and keeps sculpting!
Mel Ferrer as General Murchison. Mel was once married to Audrey Hepburn. He's a veteran of some of the same lousy René Cardona, Jr. films as Hugo Stiglitz. In this movie, though, he plays one of the...
Military leaders who stand around in one room for days at a time, pointing at maps while all hell breaks loose around them. Their only decisive action is to try to bring their own families to safety... and in this, they fail miserably.
Soldiers who, in spite of being ordered to shoot the zombies in the head, neglect to shoot the zombies in the head. Considering this is practically the ONLY directive issued by their leaders in the whole course of the movie, they should have been able to remember it.
Zombies who take the trouble to burst into a television studio and munch on the dancers in some painful European version of Solid Gold. If there's anything worse than the pitiful acting and dismal makeup effects of this movie, it's the music and "dancing" we're forced to endure before the zombies arrive. Now, personally, I'd like to see the cast and crew of several bad television shows be eaten alive by zombies, but in this case the bloodletting is inept -- the sort of thing where we see knives and teeth and blood but no broken skin. There's also a staggeringly pointless nipple dismemberment that must be seen to be believed.
THE MOST HORRIFYING MOMENT IN MOTION PICTURE HISTORY -- it's coming, it's coming.
Some interesting dubbing for an emergency room doctor: "Hold your socks on!" he says, and later (about his patients), "They're coming in like flies!"
The bizarre antics of General Murchison's daughter and son-in law. Murchison tries to warn them of the zombie invasion, but they refues to answer their phone. So Murchison sends a squad of armed men to get them. Naturally, they figure it's all just a gag -- why else would Dad send men with machine guns? -- so they slip out the back door. In the meantime, the incredibly efficient armed guards Dad sent are being eaten, almost without a struggle (Be All That You Can Be: All That We Can Eat!). Having escaped from almost certain salvation, our duo hears on the radio that they're in terrible danger. STILL they decide to ignore everything. Next, friends of theirs drive up out of nowhere, and one of them is carrying a spear gun. Evidently their friend is an art critic (see SHEILA above), because the spear gun hardly causes them to lift an eyebrow. Naturally, they end up zombie kebabs, and not a moment too soon.
And by the way:
Has anybody noticed by now that all these continental types have English names?
Back to the art criticism: watch for the scene in which the zombies eye Sheila's bust. Literally.
THE MOST HORRIFYING MOMENT IN MOTION PICTURE HISTORY:
Just when things look their bleakest, just when Miller's wife has plunged to her demise from the top of a roller coaster (don't ask), just when it looks like the goddamned movie is finally about to end... Miller sits bolt upright in bed. Yes. It was all a bad dream. Get it? Nightmare? In the Contaminated City?!! AAARRRGH!
So Miller gets up, goes out to the airport, and... hey, wait a minute. This isn't going to be one of those Dead of Night endings, is it?
Oh, but sure enough, the mysterious plane lands again, and the door swings open, and it looks like they're going to start this WHOLE PUTRID MOVIE OVER AGAIN! We're going to have to watch the whole mess from the beginning! And then they're going to follow it with City of the Walking Dead, Invasion of the Atomic Zombies and Nightmare City... and... and... and it's ALL THE SAME MOVIE! Nooooooooooo!
But wait: what's this? The credits? It's over! It hasn't started all over again! We've been reprieved! But, for just a moment, there was the awful possibility that this movie might never end. And that has got to be
THE MOST HORRIFYING MOMENT IN MOTION PICTURE HISTORY
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