A little boy named Tony Washington (Jesse D'Angelo) watches his father William Washington (John Fasano) play in a baseball game. On the way home Tony, William and Tony's mother Louise (Francesca Bonacorsa) see a young girl (Tracy Biddle) about to be raped by two teenagers. William saves the young girl from being raped but is killed when one of the rapists fatally stabs him.
Years pass and Tony (Jon Mikl Thor), now a musclebound teenage baseball player, is leaving a small grocery store where he had helped disrupt an attempted robbery. As he steps out of the store and into the road, he is run over by a gang of reckless teenagers consisting of Bob (Allan Fisler), Amy (Tia Carrere), Jim (Shawn Levy), Peter (Hamish McEwan), and Susie (Manon E. Turbide) and is killed. After his body is brought to his mother, Louise, she contacts one of her neighbors, a voodoo priestess, named Molly (Manuska Rigaud) to save her son. Molly explains to Louise that although she is unable to restore her son back to life, she can keep him between a state of life and death long enough for him to avenge himself. After Louise agrees, Molly resurrects Tony as a zombie, then uses her powers to aid him in his revenge.
The next night, the now zombified Tony is able to track down Peter and Susie at an academy's gymnasium and kills Peter by breaking his neck then Susie by crushing her skull with a baseball bat. The night afterwards, he is able to find and kill Jim by impaling him with the same bat before the latter could rape a waitress. Police detective Frank Sorrell (Frank Dietz) is soon investigating both incidents and initially agrees with a coroner that a large built, drug-fueled man is responsible. Sorrell brings his suspicions to his boss, police captain Tom Churchman (Adam West) and is told by him that they have already managed to find a suspect responsible that matches Sorrell's description and closes the case.
Believing that the case has not been fully solved, Sorrell investigates photos that has Molly at both incidents and suggests to Churchman that they bring her in for questioning. However the captain quickly dismisses her as a "batty, voodoo palm reader that follows ambulances around" and sends him home to rest. Shortly afterwards, Churchman contacts Jim's father, Fred, and informs him of Molly's involvement in his son's death, then tells him to come to the police station. Before Fred could leave his home, he sees Tony approaching him and shoots him with a rifle. Tony quickly recovers and breaks Fred's neck, killing him.
Knowing that they will be next, Bob and Amy decide to leave town. While at a garage getting money, Tony finds them and kills Bob by bashing his head against a car, then does the same to Amy against a door. While monitoring Tony's actions, Molly is held at gunpoint by Churchman to come with him and forced to show where Tony is going. The zombie makes his way to a cemetery with Sorrell following him. Molly and Churchman soon arrive, with both telling Sorrell that the priestess resurrected Tony to not only avenge himself, but also Molly herself as Churchman and Fred were the two that tried to rape her years ago, and that the captain was also the one who had killed Tony's father. Having learned that a zombie will lose its energy once it has avenged itself, Churchman shoots and kills Tony, then Molly as well. Before he could do the same to Sorrell to silence him as a witness, a second zombie rises out of a nearby grave and drags Churchman into the ground with him, presumably to Hell. A shocked Sorrell then inspects the grave and realizes the second zombie was Tony's father, then leaves.Adam West as Capt. Tom Churchman
Jon Mikl Thor as Tony Washington
Tia Carrere as Amy
Manuska Rigaud as Molly Mekembe
Frank Dietz as Frank Sorrell
Shawn Levy as Jim Batten
Linda Singer as Maggie
Alan Fisler as Bob
Hamish McEwan as Peter
Manon E. Turbide as Susie
Walter Massey as Mr. Peters
Thor plays the zombie, and wrote much of the incidental music. This includes heavy metal riffs by his band, and synthesizer music played by the band Thorkestra. Several other heavy metal bands contribute to the soundtrack. The Motörhead hit "Ace of Spades" plays during the opening credits. Other bands heard on the soundtrack include Virgin Steele, Girlschool, Fist, and Death Mask, as well as a track by Thor's then wife and back up singer "Pantera" (not the band).Girlschool - "Future Flash"
Girlschool - "C'mon Let's Go"
Motörhead - "Ace of Spades"
Fist - "Danger Zone"
Virgin Steele - "We Rule the Night"
Thor - "Rebirth"
Death Mask - "I'm Dangerous"
Battalion - "Out for the Kill"
Pantera† - "Midnite Man"
Knighthawk - "Zombie Life"
The Things - "Dead Things"
†The "Pantera" that appears on the soundtrack is not the Texan heavy metal band (which was actually more of a glam band at the time) but Jon Mikl Thor's then-wife, a backup singer in his band Thor whose stage name was "Pantera".
The film was given a limited release theatrically in the United States by New World Pictures and Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment in 1986. It was subsequently released on VHS by New World Home Video.
The film was released on special edition DVD by Scorpion Releasing in 2010.
Reception to Zombie Nightmare were generally negative. Ian Jane of DVD Talk rated it 1/5 stars and wrote, "Zombie Nightmare is a horrible film by any standards but it's so deliciously goofy that you can't help but have fun with it." Brett Cullum of DVD Verdict called it "a charmingly cheap z-grade zombie thriller". Writing in The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia, academic Peter Dendle calls it "painful and toilsome".
Zombie Nightmare was also featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, a comedy television series about bad movies, in an episode broadcast on Comedy Central on November 24, 1994. The episode was included in the 2009 "Volume XV" box set, along with The Girl in Lovers Lane, The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy, and Racket Girls, and in 2017, the episode was added to Netflix.