Return of the Killer Tomatoes

October 20, 2011

My memories of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978) are, I’m ashamed to say, hazy at best, although a few images, such as the giant tomatoes rolling through the streets and terrorizing the local humans, are indelible. But it was a sophomoric, badly acted, ultra low-budget movie with one basic joke: the audacious concept that tomatoes could kill.

You’re not going to believe this, but the sequel, Return of the Killer Tomatoes, is a genuinely funny movie. I’m not quite sure how this happened, since the creator of Attack, John DeBello, is also very much at the helm here. With a little money, a professional look, and decent actors, DeBello has put together a spoof that lands somewhere near Mel Brooks at his middle range, just this side of Mad magazine.

The movie repeatedly makes fun of itself. It opens as a TV-movie show, where the sappy host denigrates the film you’re about to see. Midway through the film, the actors are interrupted by the director, who announces that they’ve run out of money and must find some quick cash to continue filming. Thereafter, this movie becomes the best spoof yet of the practice of Product Placement, whereby companies pay money to have their products displayed in movies. The Pepsi logo promptly begins turning up everywhere.

The story itself has two lunkheaded guys (Anthony Starke, George Clooney) doing battle against an evil genius (John Astin, gleefully hamming) who wants to—dare we say it?—rule the world. Astin’s creating a population of androids out of tomatoes, including a beautiful woman (Karen Mistral)—as someone remarks, “Boy, I’ll say she’s a tomato!”—who chews fertilizer and videotapes the daily farm report.

It goes on this way, and it’s just fast and goofy enough to work on its lowbrow level. The movie’s a little long for what it is, but there’s always something going on, whether it’s a vegetable joke, the inexplicable shrine to Diane Sawyer in Astin’s laboratory, or the other exploitation movie that keeps cutting in: Big Breasted Girls Take Their Tops Off (which has its own theme song). There are just enough daffy jokes in this movie to make sure you’ll be playing (I’m sorry) catch-up.

First published in the Herald, April 1988

Still astonished that this movie turned out to be funny. Nice to see that a young fellow named George Clooney rated mention behind Anthony Starke—whose own career is still busy, by the way, if not at Clooney levels of visibility.