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Subj: Sci-Fi Cinema #28 - Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978)
Posted: Wed Oct 28, 2020 at 06:18:53 pm CDT (Viewed 183 times)
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! (1978)
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a bad movie, and yes I just watched The Green Slime, but this is on a whole other level. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes may defy criticism since it’s not really a movie, more of an anti-movie. Definitely a spoof of monster movies.
The plot, such as it is, involves tomatoes revolting against human oppression and trying to take over the United States. They don’t grow teeth or claws so it’s unclear exactly what they are doing when they attack, which is probably why the attacks are mostly off-camera. That, and the low budget. The first half of the movie almost works as a radio drama since it’s mostly characters talking about the attacks that we don’t actually see.
There’s a bit of Monty Python to some of the satire, especially the parts dealing with government ineptitude. There’s a running joke about a congressional committee meeting to discuss the matter of the tomatoes but they can’t seem to get the meeting started or remember why they’re meeting. We keep cutting back to this throughout the movie. There’s also a lot of that Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker style of humor like when they offer “this space available for rent” in the opening credits. Comparing this to either of those troupes is a little too much praise, though.
Press Secretary Richardson (George Wilson) is given the task of controlling the flow of information so the nation doesn’t panic. This leads to press conferences where he says nothing and denies everything. He also visits a PR firm to spin the situation in the public eye and ends up watching some of the firm’s previous films, which feels like a place to dump some comedy sketch material, such as one about a blind policeman directing traffic. The PR guy also breaks into song, one of I think three musical numbers in this flick.
Mason Dixon (David Miller) is the ‘top man’ in charge of handling the situation, and I don’t know if he’s supposed to gather information on the tomatoes or take action but he doesn’t do either. He leads a crack team that mostly consists of Lt. Finletter (“Rock” Peace), a guy in paratrooper gear who drags his parachute behind him the whole movie and tries to stab everybody with his sword. They head to a hotel to get some sleep and spend most of the movie there.
Lois Fairchild (Sharon Taylor), a reporter from the society section of her paper is the only one available to find out what’s really going on. She follows Dixon and Finletter so it turns out, not much.
The last section of the movie sees them finally break out some oversized tomato props and we see troops and tanks deployed for a final assault and some money is finally spent. The finale where Finletter leads a charge of hundreds of extras is reminiscent of the final scene of Monty Python and the Holy Grail where Arthur finally summons reinforcements.
I like what this move attempts to do, but the humor doesn’t always work, and this cast is no Monty Python. Maybe not bad for a freshman effort.
Memorable bits include the meeting of the Joint Chiefs in a room that’s way too small for all of them to fit. A reporter asking a wife if her husband is dead and how soon she plans to remarry (seen in the trailer). The ‘master of disguise’ and his amazing tomato outfit. A car chase where both cars are going so slow that the guy in the rear car gets out to run the other man down on foot. And of course, a cameo appearance by Superman.
I was wondering how they could afford to crash a helicopter as seen early in the movie. It turns out the crash was unintentional and they just happened to catch it on film so they included it. It ate up about half of the film’s $100,000 budget.
The trio of John De Bello, Costa Dillon and Stephen Peace seemed to be the main force behind writing, producing, and directing this thing which was based on a short film version of the same story. They were able to resurrect it about 10 years later as an animated series and a trilogy of sequels: Return of the Killer Tomatoes!, Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! and Killer Tomatoes Eat France!. Pearce also plays wacky soldier Finletter in the movie.
The theme song, also written by De Bello, is pretty classic. It’s in my Halloween mix every year.
Edit: I wasn't going to tag this as Sci-Fi Cinema but in hindsight, they did say the rampage started because they were trying to grow bigger tomatoes, probably through chemistry. And I know the sequel was pretty sci-fi.