Starring David Miller, George Wilson, Gary Smith, Stephen Pearce
Directed by John DeBello
Distributed by MVD Visual/MVD Rewind Collection #2
It isn’t often that a title can carry a film on to have a long life in pop culture, especially when the film in question isn’t even good, but through some minor miracle Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978) managed to capture public consciousness and parlay notoriety into a legitimate franchise. Following the first outing (which was really the filmmakers’ third try… more on that later), there have been three sequels, a cartoon series, three video games were developed, and there have been talks of a remake. All, arguably, off the strength of a ridiculous title. Despite the inane premise, and the uniquely terrible film it spawned, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes deserves credit for doing Abrams-Zucker style comedy before that trio hit it big with Airplane! (1980) a couple years later. Tomatoes is a zany road tripper, relying heavily on sight gags because god knows the writing isn’t enough to support the feels-lengthier-than-it-is 83-minute running time. It’s a madcap musical that employs every trick in the book to distract viewers from the clear fact these “killer tomatoes” aren’t ever shown killing… or eating… or doing anything aside from rolling around the set.
After a woman is killed in her kitchen, police investigate and find the body covered in blood. No, wait, that’s tomato juice! Citizens are being attacked across the country, terrorized by a roving red menace looking to destroy the American way of life: tomatoes. Jim Richardson (George Wilson), press secretary to the President, tries to calm the growing public outcry while secretly assisting the President in putting together a squad to combat the growing epidemic. Mason Dixon (David Miller) leads the team, which also consists of disguise expert Sam Smith (Gary Smith), scuba diver Greg Colburn (Steve Cates), swimmer Greta Attenbaum (Benita Barton), and paratrooper Wilbur Finletter (Stephen Pearce). Mason teams up with Wilbur and sends his other operatives off to different places of interest.
Someone is trying to stop Dixon from finishing his job, attempting to assassinate the man as he travels the countryside. Meanwhile, the tomatoes are beginning to grow in size with some reaching a diameter of over six feet, running down hapless victims with ease. Eventually Dixon is captured by Richardson, who was behind the plan to off him all along. He has a plan to control the tomatoes and seize power, but Wilbur shows up just in time to save the day. Dixon, remembering something from earlier, acts on a hunch and plays the song “Puberty Love”, the sound of which drives the tomatoes away. Armed with this new “weapon”, Dixon and dozens of San Diego citizens band together to stomp the crimson wave into ketchup and end our national terror.
This is a film that requires viewers to pay attention; you aren’t going to hear these jokes as much as see them. Think The Naked Gun (1988), only with killer tomatoes and no competent actors. Having a cast of greenhorns works well in this case, since no actual actors are in the cast others can’t look worse by comparison. Thankfully, even though the roster has no experience they’re all of the “entertainingly bad” variety. A few even manage to inject some memorably weird life into minor roles. If you throw enough shit at a wall something has to stick, and the filmmakers have a dump truck full of it. Even with so much to groan at most viewers will find themselves howling at a handful of scenes. Not a single lick of this comedy is sharp or witty but the laughs are earned through sheer stupidity and sometimes the best tool is the only one you have.
Speaking of stupidity, I was floored by how not only how amazing that helicopter crash looked but also that a production of this size could afford to crash a helicopter. Turns out that wasn’t planned at all. The pilot came in too low, hit a hill and the tailspin went out of control when the rear rotor tore off. Actors were inside. Luckily, no one was hurt. Thinking shrewdly, as any producer would, camera were rolled on the burning wreckage and actors spouted off a few new lines to secure all that valuable production footage. Hey, might as well since as they mention in the bonus features, the $60K that mistake cost was more than the rest of the budget.
The musical numbers are amusing enough, done in an Old Broadway style reminiscent of the convicts of Manhattan in Escape from New York (1981). Expect to see plenty of kick lines and choreography. The presence of musical numbers might seem too out of place, but then so is just about everything in this movie.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, a film made in 1977 for around $100K, has no right looking this good. The 1.85:1 1080p image is astonishingly defined, offering crystal clarity and an image that is nearly free of damage. Colors are vibrant and richly saturated. An appreciable level of depth can be seen. I was amazed by how good this movie looks; better than films with ten times the budget. From what I have read this is because the filmmakers decided to shoot on negative film stock, versus the positive stock most low-budget films went with. The 4K scan done by MVD is stunning.
An English LPCM 2.0 mono track has no problem handling the film’s annoying and unforgettable theme song, which you will find yourself singing long after the credits have rolled. Dialogue is presented cleanly, with no distortion or hissing. The musical numbers feel all too close, like the performers are in your living room.
There is an audio commentary featuring writer/director John DeBello, writer/co-star Steve Peace, and “creator” Costa Dillon.
“Legacy of a Legend” is a retrospective piece, revealing information on how the film got started (it began as nothing more than a title), with input from main trio behind the franchise. This isn’t a long piece but it is packed with good information.
“Crash & Burn” covers the infamous helicopter crash, including news footage from the incident.
“Super Duper 8 Prequels” features the original precursor to this feature, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes the 8mm version, available with or without filmmaker commentary. Also included is Gone with the Babusuland, another short film from the same filmmaking team, although this can only be watched with commentary.
“Famous Fowl” is an interview with the San Diego Chicken, who was present for the filming of the finale.
A reel of deleted scenes is available, with optional commentary.
“Killer Tomatomania”, “Where Are They Now?”, and “We Told You So!” are satirical extras that are vaguely amusing.
Invite your friends over and play one of six sing-alongs included here!
Finally, there is “Slated for Success”, focused on Beth Reno, slate person on set.
Also included are a DVD of the feature film and a fold-out poster of the cover art. The disc has a slipcover that makes it look like an old video store rental, which is a lot of fun.
- NEW 4K RESTORATION of the film
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of film (1.85:1)
- Original 2.0 Mono Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
- Audio commentary from writer/director John DeBello, writer/co-star Steve Peace and “creator” Costa Dillon
- Deleted scenes (SD)
- Six exclusive featurettes:
- “Legacy of a Legend” (14:13, SD) is a collection of interviews, including comments from John DeBello, Costa Dillon, film critic Kevin Thomas, fans Kevin Sharp and Bruce Vilanch, future Tomatoes mainstay John Astin and actors Steve Peace, Jack Riley, and D.J. Sullivan
- “Crash and Burn” (3:40, SD) is a discussion about the famous helicopter crash that could have killed everyone because the pilot was late on his cue
- “Famous Foul” (2:21, SD) is about the San Diego Chicken and his role in the climatic tomato stomping ending
- “Killer Tomatomania” (4:33, SD) is a smattering of interviews with random people on the streets of Hollywood about the movie
- “Where Are They Now?” (2:51, SD) fills viewers in on what the cast and crew have been up to over the past couple of decades
- “We Told You So!” (3:07, SD) takes a hard-hitting look at the conspiracy of silence surrounding the real-life horror of killer tomatoes
- “Do They Accept Traveler’s Checks in Babusuland” (the original 8mm short that inspired Attack of the Killer Tomatoes) (with optional audio commentary) (SD)
- Original theatrical trailer (SD)
- Radio spots
- Collectible poster
It doesn’t matter how bad this film is (answer: very) because the completely ridiculous idea alone warrants viewing at least once. The humor plays dumb and occasionally strikes a chord; it actually got better for the sequel. MVD’s release is a hit, though, with stellar a/v quality and a heaping portion of worthwhile bonus features.
Victor Crowley Blu-ray Review – Killer Special Features Make This a Must-Own
Directed by Adam Green
Distributed by Dark Sky Films
Like many of you horror fans out there, I was surprised as hell when Adam Green announced that there was not only going to be the fourth entry in his famed Hatchet series but that the movie had already been filmed and was going to be screening across the country.
Of course, I wanted to get to one of those screenings as soon as possible, but unfortunately, there were no events in my neck of the woods here in Gainesville, Fl., and so I had to bide my time and await the Blu-ray.
Then a few days ago, the Blu-ray for Victor Crowley landed on my doorstep and I jumped right into watching the film. Short story, I loved it. But we’ll get into all of that more in-depth below. For now, let’s do a quick rundown on the film for those two or three horror fans out there who aren’t familiar with the film and its premise.
Victor Crowley is the fourth entry in the Hatchet series, a franchise that follows the tale of a deformed man that accidentally met the wrong end of his father’s hatchet long ago and now roams the Louisiana swamp each night as a “Repeater”, aka a ghost that doesn’t know it is dead and thus cannot be killed. Ever. Well, maybe not ever. After all, Victor was supposedly killed at the end of Hatchet III by a combination of Danielle Harris, his father’s ashes, and a grenade launcher. Dead to rights, right? Not so much.
In this fourth entry/reboot, a group of indie horror filmmakers, lead by the adorable Katie Booth, accidentally resurrect Crowley just as the original trilogy’s lone survivor (Parry Shen) is visiting the swamp one final time in the name of cold hard cash. Long story short, Shen’s plane crashes with his agent (Felissa Rose), his ex-wife (Krystal Joy Brown), and her film crew in tow. Some survive the initial crash, some don’t. As you can imagine, the lucky ones died first.
Victor Crowley is a true return to form for Adam Green, who sat out of the director’s chair on the third film. As always, Green doesn’t shy away from the over-the-top comedy and gore the franchise is well known for. The blood rages and the sight-gags hit fast and unexpectedly. And, speaking of the sight-gags, there’s evidently a shot in this Blu-ray version of the film that was cut from the “Unrated” version released on VOD. The shot is one I won’t spoil here, but for the sake of viewing Green’s initial vision alone, the Blu-ray for Victor Crowley is really the only way to own this film. Don’t get me wrong, there are (many) more reasons to shell out the cash for this Blu-ray, but I’ll get into those soon.
Back to the film itself, what makes this fourth entry in the series one of the very best Hatchet films (if not THE best) is Adam Green’s honesty. Not only does he conquer a few demons with the ex-wife subplot, but he gives us a truly tragic moment via Tiffany Shepis’ character that had me in stunned silence. Her death is not an easy kill to pull off in a notoriously over-the-top slasher series, but it earned mucho respect from this guy.
Basically, if you loved the original trilogy, you will love this one as well. If you mildly enjoyed the other films, this one will surely make you a fan. Slow clap, Adam Green.
Let it be known that I’m a massive fan of fly-on-the-wall filmmaking documentaries. Like many of you out there, I find film production to be utterly fascinating and thus have grown a little tired of the typical making-of featurettes we get on Blu-rays. You know the ones. The director talks about his vision for the film, the cast say how much fun they had on-set with the other actors and crew, and we get cutaways to people dancing and trying to kiss the behind-the-scenes camera – all usually set to upbeat music.
While I’ll take what I can get, these kinds of behind-the-scenes features have grown to be little more than tiresome and superficial. But no worries here my friends as Adam Green has pulled out all the BS and given us a full-length, 90-minute behind-the-scenes feature called “Fly on the Wall” that shows it how it really is on the set.
Highlights include new Hatchet D.P. Jan-Michael Losada, who took over for Will Barratt this time around, who is little less than a f*cking hilarious rockstar, a front row seat to the making of Felissa Rose’s death scene, a creepy-cool train ghost story prank by Green, a clever impromptu song via Krystal Joy Brown (Sabrina), and a fun bit towards the end where Green and the SFX crew create the “gore inserts” in (basically) the backyard after filming. Good times all around.
The documentary then ends with the Facebook Live video of Adam Green announcing Victor Crowley‘s surprise premiere at that Hatchet 10th Anniversary screening. A great way to end a killer making-of documentary making his disc a must-own for this special feature alone.
But wait, it gets better. On top of the film itself and the above-mentioned “Fly on the Wall” documentary, the disc features an extensive interview with Adam Green called “Raising the Dead… Again.” This interview is basically Green going over the same speech he gave to the crowd at the surprise unveiling shown at the end of the “Fly on the Wall” doc, but that said, it’s great to hear Green tells his inspiring story to us directly.
So while this feature treads water all of us have been through below (especially fans of Green’s podcast The Movie Crypt), Green is always so charming and brutally honest that we never get tired of him telling us the truth about the ins-and-outs of crafting horror films in this day and age. Again, good stuff.
Additionally, the disc also boasts two audio commentaries, one with Adam Green and actors Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz, and Dave Sheridan, and another “technical” commentary with Adam Green, cinematographer Jan-Michael Losada, editor Matt Latham, and make-up effects artist Robert Pendergraft.
Add in the film’s teaser and trailer, and Victor Crowley is a must-own on Blu-ray.
- Audio commentary with writer/director Adam Green and actors Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz, and Dave Sheridan
- Audio commentary with writer/director Adam Green, cinematographer Jan-Michael Losada, editor Matt Latham, and make-up effects artist Robert Pendergraft
- Raising the Dead… Again – Extensive interview with writer/director Adam Green
- Behind the Scenes – Hour-long making-of featurette
One of the best, if not THE best, entries in the Hatchet series, with special features that are in-depth and a blast (and considering all other versions of the film have been castrated for content), this Blu-ray is really the only way to own Adam Green’s Victor Crowley.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual
Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.
Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!
Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!
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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger
Written and directed by Derek Nguyen
Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.
Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.
Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.
Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.
Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.
The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.
Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.
The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.
Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.
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