I’ve always considered myself a big fan of the Killer Tomatoes series. So much so that a few months back when I wrote about 5 movies that I’d love to see get the Arrow Video treatment I included the entire Killer Tomatoes franchise. I sort of got my wish in March when Arrow announced that they’d be releasing Return of the Killer Tomatoes on Blu-ray. So yeah, it’s not the whole series, but it is the entry that I’ve always considered to be my favorite. Now that the Blu-ray is out, I’ve finally watched the movie again and I love it way more than I ever did.
1978’s Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is pretty straight-forward. With a name like that you knew what you were getting into – a B-movie about tomatoes attacking and that’s exactly what you got. It’s a silly move for sure, but one that manages to be a ton of fun. Director and co-writer John De Bello followed that up 11 years later with Return of the Killer Tomatoes, which raised the silliness to new heights while delivering on something I don’t think anyone was expecting. Yes, it’s still a B-movie and tomatoes are a large focus of the plot and they do attack, but there is a new interesting twist! This time around the evil Professor Mortimer Gangreen (played by John Astin) is using his science machines to turn your ordinary tomatoes, outlawed since the first film, into an army of ripped and greased up soldiers! Why is he doing this? For world domination of course!
After trying out various experiments in his lab, Gangreen is able to use a chemical concoction and music to transform the tomatoes into the soldiers. The reason he uses music is because in the first film music was the downfall, so this go around Gangreen (who actually isn’t in the first film) decides to use music to help him. The type of music played determines the type of person your tomato turns into. Gangreen uses rock music to get the beefed-up muscle heads that very much resemble the dudes from Contra.
Assisting Gangreen is Igor (Steve Lundquist), a man who doesn’t look like your typical Igor. Gangreen’s Igor is a good-looking guy waiting to get his big break as a news anchor. Also on team Gangreen is a knock-out named Tara (Karen Mistal). As it turns out Tara is actually a tomato turned into a woman and after witnessing the mistreatment of a deformed fuzzy tomato, named FT, Tara grabs FT and the two run away. Their destination – the local pizza joint.
The pizza joint is owned by Wilber Finletter (J. Stephen Peace), the one holdover from the previous film. Working to help run the place is Wilber’s nephew Chad (Anthony Starke) and his best friend Matt (George Clooney). Given that tomatoes are outlawed these pizzas are very strange. Tomato sauce is replaced with things like peanut butter and the toppings are all kinds of bizarre. When Tara arrives at the pizza place it’s a dream come true for Chad as he’s had a crush on her for quite some time. Chad falls in love with Tara but quickly learns she isn’t what he was expecting and before we know it Chad realizes what Gangreen is up to. With the assistance of Matt and Wilber, Chad sets out to defeat Gangreen!
That’s the basic plot of Return of the Killer Tomatoes but there are so many different layers within the film. The movie is extremely meta in a variety of ways. The film opens up like you’re about to watch a Saturday matinee on some small-town public access television station. When they start to play the film they instead play a movie about big breasted women on the beach who take their tops off. This plays for a few minutes before you see them change the reel and put the correct film on. About halfway through the film De Bello walks into frame to halt production because he claims they’re out of money. After some discussion between the crew and actors they determine to start using product placement to raise money and this leads to a number of great jokes with excellent payoffs.
The movie also recycles quite a bit of footage from the first movie which is normally lame but here it used to create more jokes. The host of the Saturday matinee show calls out the fact that the footage is re-used and the theme song is even adjusted to point out that it’s re-used. So while this appears to be a cheap sequel being cheap, it’s actually used to generate more laughs.
Return of the Killer Tomatoes has so many great jokes and little tidbits that you can’t possibly catch them in one viewing. It’s similar to The Simpsons in not only the level of humor it provides but that it’s a movie made for the VHS generation. When I say VHS generation I simply mean home video and the ability to rewind and pause movies. There are a number of sign gags that you can easily miss that you may need to rewind or pause the film to catch. My personal favorite comes in the later third of the movie after Gangreen and Igor have kidnapped Tara. They take her in their vehicle of choice, which happens to be a garbage truck, and there is a small sign on the windshield that looks like one of those “baby on board” signs. After a quick rewind I noticed the sign reads “Kidnap Victim on Board.” That’s genius. It really is jokes on jokes on jokes.
The performances are also top notch. Campy movies like this often struggle when it comes to the acting but that is not a problem at all when it comes to Return of the Killer Tomatoes. Astin is perfect as Gangreen. No one can play an evil comedic scientist like him. He nails it and kills every scene that he’s in. The real stars though are Starke and Clooney. They have so much chemistry and play really well off one another. Starke is way over-the-top and a bit slapstick and that’s juxtaposed nicely with Clooney’s super laid back attitude. The two worked incredibly well together and I’d kill to see them reunite in something someday.
The fact that Return of the Killer Tomatoes is now available on Blu-ray is amazing and Arrow did not disappoint. For the most part the picture looks really nice with the brighter lit scenes really popping. There are moments here and there where things get a little fuzzy, but these scenes are few and far between. Factoring in the budget of this campy B-movie I would say what we have here is a win.
On the special feature side of things here’s what we’ve got:
•High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
•Original Stereo audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
•Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
•Brand new audio commentary with writer-director John De Bello
•Brand new interview with star Anthony Starke
•Original Theatrical Trailer
•Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin
•Fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic James Oliver
The interview with Starke is really cool. He talks about the film and the relationship between he and Clooney. The way Starke tells it the two of them had a lot of freedom with their characters and were able to improvise things throughout the shooting. It’s a short interview, but definitely entertaining. Starke seems like a very cool dude. Then there’s the brand new audio commentary with De Bello which is awesome. De Bello seems like such an awesome dude and it’s fun to hear him give his take on the film and the whole process behind it and the Killer Tomatoes franchise.
Return of the Killer Tomatoes isn’t for everyone. It’s very campy and it’s very silly. If that’s your thing though, I think you’ll love it. It’s well made, very clever and laugh out funny from start to finish. Finally, I have a reason to like tomatoes.
Return the Killer Tomatoes is available now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.