Hey, does anyone remember that bombastic remake of Umberto Lenzi’s NIGHTMARE CITY? You remember, don’t you? A hoard of starving undead threatening to take over the world with only the stoic might of THE INCREDIBLE HULK and fucking ATREYU to save our collective asses? …and directed by none other than the one and only, SEX MACHINE??!!!
If the answer was a resounding NO, you’re in good company ‘cause neither did we, or the rest of the universe. And it’s a shame too, because among the lower budgeted indie films that are produced, this one had an inspired conceit and a pop culture bulls-eye of a cast and crew ta’ boot! As a fan of the original, and Euro Horror in general, I would have been in the front row of my equivalent to a 42nd Street grind house (Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, MA) with a Twix and a beer and in good unconventional company.
But alas, ROUGH HOUSE PUBLISHING was more than just fans on this venture.
What few may know is that for a time, ROUGH HOUSE PUBLISHING was also involved in the fledgling stages of that production and it was no joke.
To this day, one of the longest running questions I receive from the Roughians is “Hey, when is the NIGHTMARE CITY comic book coming out?” as that was one of the first ads we published as ROUGH HOUSE PUBLISHING back in the day.
For years at cons when approached I would respond only with the the vague non-answer, “You’ll see!” which is a dick thing to say, but sometimes necessary when you’re waving the flag for a 3rd party who’s updates and directives were even less vague. Waiting for that trigger to be pulled.
I’ve thought about it for years now and I think it’s time to orchestrate a much better, albeit less satisfying, response to the fate of our comic book adaption and the journey that went along with it. Some of our Roughian brethren even donated to that campaign JUST to make sure they received our comic book prequel perk, so if anything, what happened to our proposed 3rd Rough House Publishing squarebound, full color release is owed to them, above all else.
Before we begin I would like to state that the information expressed in this article is for journalistic purposes only. The opinions expressed in this article are those of Derek Rook and may not be otherwise associated with the views and/or opinions of Rough House Publishing, LLC and/or staff. All information associated with the film project “Nightmare City” is sourced from publicly released promotional articles. All artwork, photography and/or video clips are property of their respected copyright holders and are intended for review purposes only. No infringement is intended.
OK. Buckle up kids, we’re going for a ride.
MAN! What a triple threat right out of the gate! The paint was barely dry on the brick shithouse that was yet to be known as ROUGH HOUSE PUBLISHING and already we’re hopping on planes to Chicago to meet the creators and alumni of the infamous comic book series, DEADWORLD™, to pitch an offer to collect their follow up project, THE DEAD™ into an almost 300 page, old testament size (and equally offensive) Omnibus. THEN, we’re chugging along, trains & automobiles style, to New York to fortify our deal with Tom Skulan to Resurrect GORE SHRIEK®!
But what was waiting for us at home was going to complete a trifecta of putrid gore that literally landed right on our doorstep.
We were doing the comic book prequel to the modern-day remake of NIGHTMARE CITY! Umbero Lenzi’s City of the Walking Dead, for all you video store nastiest!
This was going to be insane!
LOU FERRIGNO (The Incredible Hulk) NOAH HATHAWAY (Neverending Story) JUDITH O’DEA (Night of the Living Dead)
With Director of Photography DEAN CUNDEY (John Carpenter’s Halloween, The Thing, The Fog, Escape from New York)
Directed by, the legendary TOM FUCKING SAVINI!!! Are you kidding me??
The rumors of how certifiably bonkers we were over this news was sinfully underplayed, wildly embellished and well storied to boot!
For the uninitiated, NIGHTMARE CITY (AKA CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD) was part of a massive, but relatively short lived onslaught of Italian zombie/cannibal films that followed in the shambling footsteps of George A. Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD upon its stateside release in 1978. Eventually the craze would return to the grave for about two decades (although you’d never know it now), but not before delivering to us, some of the most wacky-ass, over-the-top brand of low-budget exploitation that only the Italians would have the brass balls and audacity to commit to celluloid.
NIGHTMARE CITY (1980) was one of those films.
The plot was simple enough. A rogue military plane makes an emergency landing after flying through some type of nuclear radiation with no one able to be contacted aboard. News of this planes landing catches the attention of air traffic control, the police, the military and local news reporter, DEAN MILLER, played in painful rigidity by actor HUGO STIGLITZ doing his best impression of Ron Burgundy by way of a dead turtle.
The plane doors finally open and a flood of zombified humans emerge to wreak havoc across the countryside. The movie even has a Shyamalan-style twist ending that suggests that the horrors of the film were all just a horrible Stiglitz nightmare ….OR IS IT?!!!
Ironically, the original NIGHTMARE CITY has MUCH more in common with 28 DAYS LATER than the garden variety zombie fare, despite being released a full 22 years earlier. The “zombies” of NIGHTMARE CITY were less living dead and more “infected” humans decomposing from being dosed in toxic radiation and needing fresh BLOOD to regenerate their dying cells. These zany fuckers, do just about anything to get a splash of warm red viscera including cutting off areolas and “breastfeeding” like bosses to wielding garden tools, axes, scalpels, knives, fire pokers and even guns, all while looking like they jumped out of a 1970’s Sears catalog after being blasted in the face with a mix of hamburger helper and horse poop.
And they run. They all run. Really, REALLY fast! I keep this movie locked under the floor like the GIMP in PULP FICTION, but I’m here to tell ya’, THIS movie TERRIFIED me as a kid and made it painfully obvious that if a nuclear incident would NOT deliver mankind’s eventual doom …the leftover fashions of the late 70’s surely WOULD.
So here we are in 2014, and it’s announced that an Indiegogo campaign has been launched to raise money for a NIGHTMARE CITY remake with original Director, Umberto Lenzi attached as a producer (Lenzi passed away on October 19th 2017 at the age of 86) to deliver the goods in a much more traditional “Romero Style” zombie fashion with it’s own feel. The campaign would go on to raise over $138,000 dollars over several months with several donation levels, incentives and stretch goals, that continued to raise the bar, even so far as to offer higher level donors an opportunity to act in the feature film itself. HEY NOW!!!
During this time, I had worked on some art pages that would eventually end up as the impetus for our “HOSPICE” story in GORE SHRIEK® RESURRECTUS VOLUME ONE. I had posted them online in color (the published work ended up in black &white) and thus caught the eye of a producer working for the company that was spearheading the NIGHTMARE CITY remake and asked ROUGH HOUSE PUBLISHING if we were interested in producing and publishing a comic book that would serve as the PREQUEL to the film, and would effectively explain how the zombie outbreak began before leading right into the film.
The project was to be called NIGHTMARE CITY - HAITI.
They say that art imitates life and what more inspiration does one need for a tale like this than a gnarly flesh eating virus that threatened to take over the world?
At this same time in history, there was an actual Ebola virus outbreak that eventually killed over 30,000 people and shook the population of West Africa to its very foundation. As the virus furiously spread throughout Haiti, there was a mounting fear that we were facing what could become a global pandemic. It was either on it’s way to America, or it was already here.
Mike “Corpse Monger” Waison, Rough House’s resident Scribe and Creative Development guru, crafted what we thought would be the perfect jumping off point for our woe-ridden tale.
Our rejected pitch went something like this:
“In a small village in Haiti, a new strain of the Ebola virus had taken hold and was rapidly wiping out the local population. The virus had mutated and become impervious to any forms of treatment or cure. With the virus aggressively claiming victims at wholesale, the fear of an airborne strain was slowly becoming a reality.
A military quarantine was erected along the boarders of the isle and in desperation, a team of doctors were assembled from around the globe specializing in unorthodox experimental medicine. The idea here was that we would subtly pay homage to the MAD doctor’s of Italian Zombie cinema by naming them DR. MENARD (Zombi2), DR. OBERTO (Zombie Holocaust/Dr. Butcher MD) and DR. BARRETT (Hell of the Living Dead/Night of the Zombies). Italian Cinematic Horror Universe anyone?
The Doctor’s Three develop a serum that when injected into the infected patient, decreases the heart rate slowly to the point of essentially “killing” them, at least long enough for the Ebola strain to die without a living host. The serum then infuses the cells with a self-sustaining antibody that effectively “kickstarts” the patient back to life, assuredly virus free.
At first the experimental drug seems to be a success, but like any good dystonian terror tale, things don’t stay very awesome for very long, and eventually the patients come back to life, but not as originally intended. Hell ensues, and it becomes an all-out war between the living and the living dead as the military desperately fight to maintain the perimeter and eliminate the threat before the dead flood into neighboring villages, and eventually the planet.
Eventually, all the good guys die and the mutant Ebola Zombies shamble off to invade the rest of the world.
In an attempt to cover up the origins of the incident, the doctors are shipped out to three separate remote locations, effectively exiled from the epic failure in Haiti, the bloodbath that ensued and ultimately, ,…each other. (The isles of Matool, Moluccas and New Guinea, respectively). The mission’s sponsor is revealed to have the corporation name and slogan, “Haggenbach: Opportunities for a Peaceful Earth”, branded on all helicopters as they leave the extraction point. It’s acronym -
Mike had a very particular “death-cycle” designed for this particular brand of Zombi. Beginning as traditional living rotted corpses, but then mutate in stages into walking versions of the Ebola virus itself. So without further ado, here’s the CORPSE MONGER himself, and what he had to say of his experience with writing the treatment for the fated, NIGHTMARE CITY – HAITI.
“Alright, so...the thing I remember most from my ill-fated time in the NCH salt mines, was my self-imposed mandate of reinventing the zombie, and without supernatural means at that. So, how the hell exactly was I to do that, whilst ALSO making it seem ‘CLASSIC’? Always a tall order. I had a visual hook in my head that kind of kicked off all the ideas and tied it all together like the dropping of so many fetid dominoes.
That hook - an immediate knee-jerk memory of ONE zombie in particular from the original NIGHTMARE CITY, a crusty, pan-blackened ghoul who resembled nothing so much as a bug-eyed burnt marshmallow in a tailored suit. I thought, ‘This fucker looks like a straight up blood blister after Sunday services.’ “
“So I thought alright...let's push that to the Nth degree...how far can I take that look/idea? And from THERE, my mind instantly went to the final form of BRUCE WILLIS from the GRINDHOUSE film’s (superior segment- sorry, QT) PLANET TERROR (which on its own could have been a remake of Nightmare City). A postulate abomination so over-the-top, that it seemed like a boss monster from a video game. But there were also shades of the vampire, with all the blood drinking, the slasher, with all the stabbing, and even the CLASSIC zombie, with our shift to Haiti...so how in THE actual hell do I blend such dissonant yet vitally important motifs? “
“Welp...our zombies had to CHANGE, like ever-worsening stages of a beyond-terminal illness. So I thought, they'd start off as wide-eyed, weapon-wielding, blood-guzzling killers ...then devolve into brain-addled, throat-ripping, flat-lined, undead killers ...and finally, arrive at a living embodiment of the disease itself, barely humanoid berserkers, and more tumor than human. These creatures could kill not only with brutality, but also by proximity. Fucked no matter what.”
“I pitched all of this, only to be met with feverish enthusiasm from Derek...and general confusion from the Powers-That-Be. We asked for specifics as to what to change, or do differently...and were met with ‘directives’ vaguer than the MPAA handing notes on HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER.”
“It simply was not to be.”
In many ways, Mike was dead on. Our pitch was in radical contrast to the film that I think they were trying to make, which sounded much closer in tone to the Ford Brothers’ film, THE DEAD (2010) IMO., and not to be confused with the comic book of the same name by Arrow Comics. But hell, we were having fun with it and drove it like we stole it in the true Rough House fashion. And eventually, …the wheels of that puss fulled, Ebola-ridden husk rotted right the fuck off.
So it’s now March of 2019 and the Indiegogo campaign has long since closed and the once flourishing news has yielded to radio silence, at least for us. Our email correspondence steadily became much sparser until finally, nothing. Admittedly, we were able to read the green and didn’t push the issue too far, but we left our participation with the production open-ended in the case that it was to resurrect itself once again, as all proper zombies do. “Production Hell” is NOT necessarily a death sentence for would-be films in development, but it does have it’s own department on the Hollywood walk of shame.
At this point it’s fairly safe to speculate that NIGHTMARE CITY - HAITI, as it were, may be the first dead body of a project to lay at ROUGH HOUSE PUBLISHING’S unscathed foundation, thus far. This happens often and is accepted as the price of doing business.
So what ever BECAME of those "ULTRA-ZOMBIES" we'd planned to unleash? I don't think they're quite done feeding yet, we’ll tell you that much. ROUGH HOUSE PUBLISHING has a strict policy that absolutely NOTHING awesome will remain on the cutting room floor, so keep watching the skies. We CAN say that it was an honor having been asked to the party in the first place and if the ghouls in golden corduroy rear their stove-topped, scappy faces again, we’ll be ready to give THE ROUGHIANS something to dismember!
Think Bigger. Live Louder. Rock On!