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Plot: catastrophic homicidal pandemic causes citywide pandemonium

Umberto Lenzi, just as many of his contemporaries in the exploitation field, was a workhorse director who could anticipate what an audience wanted. In a career spanning four decades he contributed to every low-budget genre under the sun. Lenzi, if nothing else, was able to conjure up fast-paced, regressive, and often (unintentionally) humorous genre pieces on a small budget with enough starpower for the international market. Lenzi was a versatile writer and tried his at hand every genre; be it peplum, Eurospy, spaghetti westerns, poliziotteschi, giallo, cannibals and/or zombies. In 1972 Lenzi pioneered the cannibal subgenre with Man From Deep River, a reworking of the plot from A Man Called Horse (1970). As the 1970s gave way to the exuberant eighties Lenzi didn’t stay behind as the horror genre became increasingly more gory and setpiece-based. In the beginning of the decade Lenzi directed two movies, the pulp cannibal exercise Eaten Alive! (1980) and Nightmare City (1980). Of the two Nightmare City combines Lenzi’s workmanlike direction with deliberate borrowing from other sources and some striking imagery.

Nightmare City has, perhaps unjustly, been classified as a zombie film, and most of its detractors tend to focus on its handling of that aspect. However Nightmare City is rather Lenzi’s take on earlier American pandemic epics I Drink Your Blood (1970) or The Crazies (1973) and their European counterparts The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974), and Jean Rollin's The Grapes Of Death (1978) than an imitation of Lucio Fulci’s classic zombie tryptich. It goes without saying that Nightmare City is ludicrous and often borderline cartoony. Taken on its own merits, and if one is prepared to meet it halfway, Nightmare City is actually a surprisingly striking and effective little shocker when it wants to be. The rest of the time it is either obnoxiously stupid, plain dense or an unguided projectile. As always Lenzi was able to rope in reliable players from the continental European scene.

A leak at the State Nuclear Plant in some undisclosed, apparently unnamed city has the authorities, both scientific and military, desperately trying to contain and keep a lid on the unfortunate incident. Investigating the strange going-ons surrounding the nuclear plant are journalist Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz) and his cameraman (an uncredited Antonio Mayans). When an unmarked Hercules military cargo plane disgorges not the member of the scientific community he was scheduled to interview, but a murderous horde of pustulent mutants instead it sends Miller not only on a citywide mission to rescue his wife Dr. Anna Miller (Laura Trotter), but also from stopping the city from tearing itself apart from the inside out. Contrary to earlier exercises in pandemic chaos Nightmare City doesn’t concern itself much with the workings of the military or the government during such catastrophic event, but focuses on the resilience of the family unit instead.

It is under these less than ideal circumstances that Major Warren Holmes (Francisco Rabal), spends a day off at home in company of his artist/sculptor wife Sheila (Maria Rosaria Omaggio) before the military brass summons him back to headquarters. The scene largely exist as a pretext for then 26-year old Omaggio to take her bra off with Rabal, then 54, engaging in a pertinent case of cradle robbing. Not taking her clothes off is Sheila’s friend Cindy (Sonia Viviani) whose demise is a classic piece of exploitation filmmaking both in setup and delivery. In an other part of town Jessica (Stefania D'Amario) - the daughter of General Murchison (Mel Ferrer), himself occupied with trying to contain the rapidly escalating situation – and her boyfriend are on a roadtrip just to spite her old man. Meanwhile an elite team of scientists, led by Dr. Kramer (Eduardo Fajardo) is desperately seeking a cure. As the ravening mutant hordes expand in numbers with alarming speed, and society starts collapsing in on itself, will anybody be able to survive to save the Nightmare City?

Like any good exploitation director Lenzi was able to assemble a strong cast of fresh new faces, old veterans of the genre, and a reliable leading man. Lenzi wanted Franco Nero or Fabio Testi, but the producers insisted on Hugo Stiglitz in order to appeal to the Mexican market. Mexican character actor Hugo Stiglitz, whose career spans nearly 5 decades and over 200 credits, commenced his acting career in movies from René Cardona Jr., and Rubén Galindo, but also appeared in John Huston’s Under the Vulcano (1984), and a seemingly endless array of spaghetti westerns and violent crime movies. In Nightmare City Stiglitz often looks more haggard and vagrant than the mutants he ends up fighting, and for a journalist he’s a damn good marksman. Antonio Mayans, here in an uncredit role, once acted in legitimate productions as King Of Kings (1961) and El Cid (1961), but by the late 1970s became a stock actor in Jess Franco movies. Laura Trotter, an Italian dime-store equivalent to Veronica Lake, debuted as a murder victim in the Umberto Lenzi giallo Eyeball (1975), and starred alongside Ray Lovelock, Sherry Buchanan, and Florinda Bolkan in Franco Prosperi directed Last House On the Beach (1978). Further Trotter appeared in The Exorcist (1973) knockoff Obscene Desire (1978) with Marisa Mell, and had a supporting role in Tinto Brass’ Monella (1998). Trotter is dubbed in the English version by prolific voice actress Pat Starke.

Sonia Viviani, a former glamour model that appeared on the covers of Skorpio (April 1983), Blitz (1984) and Interviu (1984), had starred and would star in far better and worse genre offerings than Lenzi’s enjoyable Nightmare City. Viviani starred in The Sinner (1974) with Zeudi Araya Cristaldi, the Alfonso Brescia commedia sexy all'italiana movies Amori, letti e Tradimenti (1975), Frittata all'italiana (1976), and L’Adolescente (1976) but also as bereft of both dialog and clothing in Pier Carpi’s controversial and budget-deprived The Exorcist (1973) knockoff Ring Of Darkness (1979). One of Viviani’s most memorable parts was that of seductive Amazon warrior Glaucia in the Luigi Cozzi scifi peplum The Adventures of Hercules (1985) with Lou Ferrigno, and Milly Carlucci. Also making an appearance is Viviani’s The Adventures Of Hercules co-star Maria Rosaria Omaggio.

In a career spanning two decades, from the mid-1970s to the mid 1990s Sonia Viviani worked with a host of infamous directors including Bruno Mattei, Umberto Lenzi, Sergio Martino, and René Cardona Jr.. Eduardo Fajardo would go on to star in the little-seen superior Spanish version of the Jesús Franco Afrika Korps gutmuncher Oasis Of the Zombies (1983). Stefania D'Amario, famous for her role as profusely sweating nurse Clara in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (1979), had starred in the Walerian Borowczyk nunsploitation classic Behind Convent Walls (1978). In her post-acting career D'Amario reinvented herself as a wardrobe – and art department assistant working on Caligula’s Slaves (1984), Miranda (1985) from Italian master of eroticism Tinto Brass, and on the romantic drama The English Patient (1996).

Alternatively obnoxious, atmospheric, or nearly toxic in its lunkheaded creativity a lot things can be levied at Nightmare City, but never of it being glacially paced. Stelvio Cipriani’s main theme to Nightmare City makes the upbeat disco theme to Cannibal Ferox sound like an example of good taste and restraint in comparison. However before the carnage gets well underway Lenzi treats the viewer to one of those typical eighties aerobic dance shows complete with spandex costumes and irritating music. Some of the aerial shots are a bit keen in their earnest imitation of George A. Romero’s earlier Dawn Of the Dead (1978). As always the military brass and government procrastinate far too long instead of immediately deploying armed forces on the ground to contain the pandemic. The mutants retain most of their faculty and wield guns, knives, machetes, and other deadly utensils. In exploitation tradition girls frequently are stabbed in the chest, and when it is revealed that the mutants can be killed by a shot to the head, the military forces, of course, continue to shoot in them in the torso and body. Lenzi and cinematographer Hans Burmann manage to conjure up a few memorable scenes, interesting use of lighting (that sometimes is reminiscent of giallo), and the scene composition is far more creative than one would expect in the genre. The double-whammy ending is either the best, or worst, part about Nightmare City, depending on who you ask. If anything, it fits with exactly the sort of deranged atmosphere that Nightmare City goes for.

Plot: boarding school pupil discovers the outside world. Hilarity ensues…

Honneponnetje (released internationally as Honeybun) was the third movie for director Ruud van Hemert who became famous for Schatjes! (1984) and Mama Is Boos! (1988). His two previous movies were satirical black comedies about the dysfunctionality of the typical 1980s Dutch nuclear family and saw the director dealing with his kids and with a particularly nasty divorce, respectively. Honeybun is much lighter fare as it is a rather straightforward raunchy teen comedy. Despite its naive charm and innocuous outlook on modern city life Honeybun would effectively bury van Hemert’s cinematic career for a good 17 years. Honeybun launched the career of Nada van Nie, the titular starlet – but in retrospect ended hurting her as she was typecast almost immediately after.

During the credit sequence we are introduced to Honneponnetje (Nada van Nie) in the middle of bathing. Since this aims to be a somewhat respectable movie Honneponnetje (Dutch word for Honeybun, or sweetheart) - a pupil at the strictly Catholic Anna Regina boarding school for girls, an elite institute presided over by a convent of uptight, pedantic nuns - is covered in a semi-transparent gown. Ensuring that the audience knows exactly the kind of humor Honeybun is aiming for, van Nie’s chest pops out, much to the chagrin of the nuns in congress, while reading a penny dreadful by the name of “Annet’s Liefdeszang” (“Annet’s Lovesong”) during morning mass. We learn that it’s Honeybun’s 16th birthday, and the tacky novel pushes her to discover the many wonders of the big city, in this case: Amsterdam.

Nada van Nie was a young television actress whose star had risen high enough to warrant an excursion into cinema. Van Nie was the daughter of filmmaker René van Nie, who wrote/directed 5 movies from 1974 to 1982. In the late 1980s, and mainly thanks to her work in Dutch and German sitcoms, Nada van Nie (who, like many a starlet, attempted to launch a singing career parallel to her acting) was held up as the new promise for Dutch cinema. Unfortunately her choice of roles would effectively kill her career in 1991. After the disastrous Intensive Care (1991) van Nie reinvented herself as a TV host (for RTL 4 and SBS 6), columnist (for Top Santé, Femme, and the saturday edition of VROUW Telegraaf) and as an ambassador for MYBODY. Van Nie has only acted sporadically since the early nineties. Not that her semi-retirement should be considered an irreparable loss for Lowlands cinema.

The screenplay, which isn’t exactly high art and banks almost entirely on van Nie’s considerable natural assets, is rife with running gags and stock characters. Van Nie’s Honeybun is your stereotypical good-natured but naive and not terribly bright small-city girl. Half of the movie’s gags revolve around the fact that van Nie has breasts. This is thoroughly emphasized when after having fled the boarding school Honeybun sheds her restrictive school uniform for the latest in candy colored 1980s fashion. The camera takes a good long look at van Nie’s plump chest ensuring that we’ve noticed that she’s wearing a crucifix, but not a bra. This is supposed to convey that she’s a good but naive Christian girl. Every male character, with exception of Harry (Marc Hazewinkel), almost without fault acts as a potential predator. At the end of the second act Honeybun meets an actual sexual predator, the entire thing is played for laughs for the most part. Another running gag is that every male, including Harry, will take a good long look at Honeybun’s chest, cos that is supposedly what passes for humor. Authority figures, be they law enforcement, the convent at the institute, or even parental figures, are more of a hindrance than help. Minorities are drawn in broad, often derogatory strokes.

Characterizations mostly depend on all the known stereotypes. Harry is painted initially as a denim, leather jacket wearing bad boy – but he turns out to be the nicest male character by a wide margin. When Honeybun meets Apollo Romanski (Herbert Flack), a thinly-veiled caricature of Polish-American director Roman Polanski (who in 1977 was arrested and charged with statutory rape of a 13 year-old girl), a producer of adult entertainment who very much wants to audition Honeybun, is a sleazebag of the highest order. Flack is visibly having a blast playing the part as he parlays himself into giving Honeybun an oil massage in his ornately decorated loft. Both parents appear estranged from their daughter. In a scene that serves to set up a third act running gag Honeybun is urged to call home. When she does, her father interprets her demand for “loose change” for “ransom” in the movie’s cleverest linguistic joke. The script never bothers to explain why the disappearance of a random 16 year old girl would be a concern of National Security, nor why it would warrant a citywide lockdown, complete with the police force and military working together, and aerial support.

1786180,z+Bg4oJPl3Uow68TZvwwLwUroV4SU8PL9AvPW44uu0r37f0lxjx99739iAnbLhL0RGx37Cc1sqYCy1AsbIYeeA==To its credit the screenplay does play up Honeybun’s interaction with the world and the people inhabiting it for maximum comedic effect. Most of the jokes are derived from the good Catholic girl's naiveté and sheltered upbringing. The most prominent of these are that every time another character says something racy/tacky/dirty, Honeybun will do the Sign of the Cross (as they do in prayer). In return, every time Honeybun says something unintentionally racy/tacky/dirty, Harry will spit out his drink/food. Parental - and authority figures are cursing all the time with a specific word, which roughly translates to “damn!” or “darn!" The police detective assigned to the case will always tell what time it is by looking at the arm opposite of the one his watch is on.

When walking around in a bad part of town, Honeybun is repeatedly offered drugs, or mistaken for a hooker – although not always in that order. Men and women alike lust after Honeybun. It's all charming and innocuous, if it weren't so downright insulting. The entire second act is contingent on conjecture by Mother Superior (Nora Kretz) that Honeybun must have been kidnapped following her disappearance from the institution. No one bothers so much as to canvas the perimeter, or talk to Honeybun’s friends at the Anna Regina boarding school. Then again, Anna Regina is such an elite institute that the nuns have to work construction in a wing under renovation during the off-hours. One of the second – and third act b-plots is that Anna Regina urgently needs a cash injection to finish up said renovations on some of its wings. As it turns out Honeybun’s parents (Hans Man in ’t Veld and Marijke Merckens) are, of course, the prime benefactors. An eleventh hour ecclesiastical rescue mission would be lifted almost wholesale in Sister Act (1992).

Scene-to-scene continuity is shaky in parts. In a chase scene early on the weather is alternatively either a torrential downpour or completely dry. Harry sustains a minor head lesion that curiously changes place as the movie progresses. As a lead up to one of the gravest continuity errors (one perhaps kept in to appease the censors) Honeybun sheds her figure-fitting pink top in Harry’s apartment. This leads to the iconic scene where she observes her magnificent globes in the mirror for the first time to her own general wide-eyed bewilderment. Later when Honeybun is sleeping Harry gives in to temptation and snaps a polaroid picture of his half-naked and uninhibited guest. Even though she was clearly topless when the picture was taken, the finished polaroid strategically covers her most visible assets. For some reason Honeybun’s top is back on when she wakes up the next morning. As Honeybun was aimed at a teen audience it never becomes sleazy or smutty. It would have benefitted tremendously from abstaining from its heavy-handed moralizing.

Honeybun is regarded as the second to worst Dutch movie ever, even though it attracted a respectable 300,000 viewers at the box office. Filmed in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and at the abby Bonne-Espérance in Vellereille-les-Brayeux, Belgium – it launched the brief career of starlet Nada van Nie. Open casting sessions were held at Hotel Krasnapolsky in Amsterdam, van Nie won the part without having officially auditioned. Nada van Nie was 21 at the time of the shooting. The wide-eyed, and nubile Nada van Nie isn’t much of an actress and is more famous for her considerable chest and posterior than her acting skills. Kenneth Herdigein was cast for the role of Harry, but he hurt his knee jumping off a ladder for a scene. He was replaced at the last minute by Marc Hazewinkel. The movie was distributed in North America by Cannon Films, the (now-defunct) company owned by trash moguls Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, as Honeybun. Cannon Films specialized in action b-movies, but dabbled in a variety of other exploitation subgenres. Honeybun was released the same year as the Jean-Claude van Damme actioner Bloodsport. Nada van Nie would star in the infamous Dutch-Belgian horror co-production Intensive Care (1991) some three years later. No wonder van Nie would act only sporadically after crashing so legendary and so spectacularly...