by Lee Hazell
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was a 1978 B-Movie spoof that tackled the reddest red menace of them all. The radicalised tomato. It was more of an absurdist comedy than a satire on the anti-communist propaganda fuelling America’s paranoid fantasies. It was far more concerned with sending up the tropes of the genre than it was lampooning the flawed ideology that motivated a political witch hunt. Return of the Killer Tomatoes ups that ante to take on the entire industry and the direction it’s heading in Reagan’s America.
It’s been ten years since both the Great Tomato War and the release of the first film. One of the heroes of that saucy conflict, Wilbur Finletter, used his fame to propel the success of his pizzeria, a dark and dystopic place that serves pizza without pizza sauce. He’s not even thought of barbeque sauce either, his bases of choice include raspberry jam and peanut butter. If this is to be the future of humanity, then why didn’t we just let the tomatoes turn us all into salad?
His nephew, Chad, is his delivery boy. Chad’s best friend is George Clooney. Chad has a crush on a girl called Tara. Chad doesn’t know that Tara is a tomato. Chad finds himself the protagonist in a plot that makes less sense than a man who slowly shouts at foreigners who can’t speak English. I really have no idea why I’m trying to explain it to you. The film even decides to retroactively add an antagonist to the franchise, someone who’s not only responsible for the events of this film, but the events of the previous one as well, despite the fact that he wasn’t even mentioned in it!
If you come to Return of the Killer Tomatoes looking for a consistent story, then you are going to McDonalds looking for a Whopper. No film has thrived on narrative anarchy more than Return… since The Kentucky Fried Movie. You thought Deadpool broke the fourth wall. This film never bothered building one. We are given a front row seat to watch the process of making a movie, from inside the plot of a movie.
To pull this off you need to go for it with the conviction and enthusiasm of a hyperactive nun handing out canings in a Catholic schoolhouse. And they do it with gusto. There is no situation they can’t pull a slapstick fall out of, no convention they can’t turn on its head, no line of dialogue they can’t squeeze two or three gags out of. And with movie making far more focused on the almighty dollar now than it was in 1978, they’ve got so much more fertile ground to dig for comedy gold in.
Entire chunks of the movie take time out of the narrative to explain why the film is suddenly filled with advertisements for mopeds, Crunch bars and the cool, refreshing taste of the amber nectar that is Foster’s. Good Call. The film starts off with a meta movie night special that ums and ahs about showing us ‘Big Breasted Girls Go to the Beach and Take Their Tops Off’ instead of the featured movie. George Clooney and John Astin (the original Gomez Adams) take it in turns to slather more ham on this four pork Banh Mi as they lech over girls in bikinis and tell all manner of lies to have sex with them.
OK, so those last two come with a warning. This is a 1980s low budget comedy. Things have a tendency to get a little Porky’s in places. It is crude, sexist and horribly outdated. That said it did provide me with a few shock laughs as I struggled to believe they could get away with some of it.
Return of the Killer Tomatoes has everything a comedy like this needs. An irreverent attitude towards filmmaking conventions, genre expectations and downright decency. The manic energy of the Marx Brothers. The wilfully gleeful stupidity of the Zucker films. The playfulness of Mel Brooks. The only thing they don’t have is action scenes with murderous tomatoes. For some reason, the plot dictates that they all get turned into Chippendales with machine guns. So that takes off a point.
Dir: John De Bello
Scr: Stephen Andrich, Costa Dillon, J. Stephen Peace, John De Bello
Cast: Anthony Starke, George Clooney, Karen M. Waldron, John Astin
Prd: J. Stephen Peace
Music: Neal Fox, Rick Patterson
Runtime: 94 mins
The Return of the Killer Tomatoes demands you sit on your intelligence on DVD and Blu-ray now.