Return of the Killer Tomatoes (Blu-ray)


return-of-the-killer-tomatoes-coverStarring Anthony Starke, George Clooney, John Astin

Directed by James De Bello

Distributed by Arrow Video

A personal message of shame:

I have owned Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988) on DVD for nearly a decade, acquiring a copy when Anchor Bay was selling those “six pack” collections featuring half a dozen loosely-connected-through-theme movies. Since that purchase it sat languishing on the shelf – rotting on the vine? – and it wasn’t until Arrow Video’s newest Blu-ray showed up on my doorstep that I was finally “forced” into watching it.

What a fool I am for having waited to give this film a proper viewing because it’s a zany riot. If I had watched this when I was a kid it would have been my favorite movie ever; right up there with comedies like UHF (1989) and The Naked Gun (1988). Think the output of Zucker/Abrams back in their heyday, add a dose of Mel Brooks’ humor, and that’s the direction for this sequel to the equally absurd Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978). One liners and sight gags fly with such frequency that it’s almost impossible to hear and see every joke the first time around. Additionally, what sets this film apart from similar pictures is a strong sense of self-awareness, with many of the jokes directly referring to either the first film or the sequel within the movie; few films have ever taken comedy this meta. The actors don’t break the fourth wall; the film itself breaks it!

It has been ten long years since The Great Tomato War of 1978. Our nation has rebuilt and recovered, largely thanks to the government ban on all things tomato. Wilbur Finletter (Steve Peace), tomato war hero, has resumed civilian life as owner of a pizza shop where he employs his nephew, Chad (Anthony Starke). They serve the hottest tomato-less pizzas in town, because in a post-tomato society people are apparently willing to eat dough topped with fish, fruit, peanut butter, and everything else that doesn’t belong anywhere near normal pizza. Chumming it up with Chad is Matt (George Clooney), a mullet-sporting lothario who fancies himself a ladies’ man.

Not everyone is obeying the new tomato laws, though. The villainous Prof. Gangreen (John Astin) has returned, creating a machine that allows him to transform tomatoes into replicas of humans. A jukebox powers the chamber, with the song selections being responsible for determining what sort of person is created. For instance, if the theme music to “Miami Vice” (1984-1989) is played the resulting clone winds up looking like Crockett (Don Johnson). Play something a bit seductive and you’ll get a lady. But what Gangreen wants are soldiers, and by blasting some rock music he’s able to craft an army of Rambo-esque tomato men. The only blockade in his way is Tara (Karen Mistal), his former assistant turned saboteur who defects to Chad’s side when Gangreen mistreats FT (Fuzzy Tomato), a cuddly little mutant fruit that didn’t come out quite right. When she spills the beans on what Gangreen is up to, Chad takes it upon himself – and Matt – to stop the dastardly scientist once and for all.

The actual plot to the film is merely a skeleton upon which writer/director John De Bello hangs a never-ending series of goofs and gags. One of the best involves product placement, which is nonexistent during the first half of the film. Products use generic blue and white labeling for items such as “Cola” or “Toothpaste”, but once the film “runs out of money” – complete with a perfect fourth-wall-breaking crew meeting – the decision is made to solicit product placement for nearly every shot. Suddenly Pepsi logos are more prominent than the actors, and Clooney is hocking Crest toothpaste at perfectly inopportune moments. It’s like a modern Michael Bay film, only done with satire and irony.

There have been more than a few “skeletons in the closet” articles pointing out George Clooney’s role in this schlocky sequel, as though it is some sort of blemish on his filmography. Trust me, ol’ George is a great addition to the cast here and his mullet is just a product of the times. People can goof on him all they want but make no mistake about it the guy was nailing half the women on the call sheet. Plus, even back then, before he was the George Clooney of today, the dude just oozed charm and screen presence.

No written review could possibly hope to capture the sense of humor and irreverence on the screen. If you’ve seen the film, you know this. If you haven’t, then know if you’re a fan of the aforementioned influences – Zucker/Abrams, Mel Brooks – odds are good you’ll be howling with laughter watching this film, too. In addition to being surprised by how hilarious this film is I was just as surprised to learn this series has so far spawned four feature films (though this one is apparently the best by a long shot), a cartoon series, three video games, comics, and more. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is such a ridiculous, memorable title that it has disseminated into pop culture despite many people not having seen any of the films. Arrow Video’s newest Blu-ray presents the film with a new transfer and a handful of good bonus features, making this one a very easy recommendation.

Featuring a new 2K restoration, Return of the Killer Tomatoes sports a 1.85:1 1080p image that looks very strong for such a low-budget title. There is very minimal print damage to be seen, and the moderately heavy film grain looks natural and fitting. Definition is never astounding though the image is clearly HD, offering up an appreciable upgrade over the DVD. Some shots look exceptionally sharp, others look soft and unfocused. Any issues in picture quality, however, are likely just baked into the image and not indicative of slacking on Arrow’s end. Colors are pleasing and accurate, even if they lack a visual pop.

There are no issues to be found with the English LPCM uncompressed 2.0 mono track. Dialogue sounds great, levels are great, and no hisses or pops are there to be heard. The real highlight here is the film’s theme song, which is instantly catchy. It has been rattling around in my head for the past week. There are also a few more original tunes that are just as memorable, with hilarious lyrics goofing on the film. Subtitles are included in English SDH.

Writer/director James De Bello sits down with moderator Michael Felsher for an audio commentary track that covers all things Killer Tomato, from this film right on up and down the franchise line.

“Hanging with Chad” – Leading man Anthony Starke sits down for a brief, informative chat about his time on set shooting this sequel.

A still gallery featuring behind-the-scenes and promotional pictures is included, along with the film’s theatrical trailer and a TV spot.

The cover artwork is reversible, allowing for display of either the newly created art or the original key art. A booklet, filled with photos and a highly informative essay, is also included.

Special Features:

  • 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 Oliverr

  • Return of the Killer Tomatoes
  • Special Features
User Rating 5 (1 vote)


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