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.