Saturday, December 01, 2018

The Running, Problem Solving Dead

Zombies are bad but at least they're slow and they can't operate machinery. Unless you're talking about 1980's Nightmare City (Incubo sulla città contaminata). These walking dead are different from the living only in that they don't speak, many are covered with grotesque sores, and they have a violent, insatiable appetite for human flesh. Especially women's breasts, for some inexplicable reason. For the most part, it's an effective tale, certainly one relevant to modern times, when a faction of humans may suddenly commit terrible violence for reasons that never really become clear.

One character, a doctor named Anna (Laura Trotter), reflects on the folly of warlike humanity utilising nuclear power, apparently because the zombies got their initial infection from a radioactive spill. But this is a tenuous moral at best. The effective point of the film is the pointlessness. Anna's husband, Dean (Hugo Stiglitz), the film's most central protagonist, is a journalist who's present at the first sight of these creatures. An unmarked military plane lands and someone Dean recognises as a professor steps out, looking perfectly normal if weirdly silent, before suddenly and without any warning he attacks one of the military officers who's come to greet him.

More zombies pile off the plane, some of them with uzis which they fire with aim and discrimination. These things can think. Later in the film, one of them even operates a manual elevator crank to access a group of civilians caught in the elevator.

This is an Italian film--I watched the English dubbed version available on Amazon Prime. Of course, like a lot of Italian genre films from 60s, 70s, and 80s, clearly not all the actors were speaking the same language, and one guy who's clearly speaking English is none other than Mel Ferrer. He turns up in this movie as head of the military, General Murchison, of whatever country this is supposed to be.

He's in charge of trying to put down the menace that quickly spreads through the city but in a recurring theme of mindless censorship the government doesn't allow him to declare a state of emergency or inform the populace of the true nature of the threat. Earlier, Dean's attempt to report the zombie attack in a special news bulletin is interrupted for some kind of gymnastics dance show.

It seems to be five or six people in formation doing some unremarkable routine. Who watches this? Those people in wherever this is sure are easily entertained.

There are some surprisingly dreamlike elements to the film which may actually make sense of the ambiguous location. One of Murchison's subordinates (Francisco Rabal) is married to a sculptor named Sheila (Maria Rosaria Omaggio) who has begun sculpting a weird, disfigured head before the zombie attack that seems to presage the incoming horror.

Some of the characters do the usual foolish horror movie things, like Murchison's daughter and son-in-law who blow off the old man when he begs them to come to army headquarters, preferring to go camping instead. You can imagine how that goes--mainly, though, the violence feels arbitrary, and certainly anyone who gets eaten alive doesn't seem like they deserve such severe punishment. A lot of horror movies use the word "Nightmare" but it turns out to be especially fitting here.

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