Before David and Jerry Zucker teamed up with Jim Abrahams to deliver one of the zaniest and funniest spoofs ever created, Airplane!, there was John De Bello’s Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, a satire on the low budget B-movies of the '50s - most of which wound up getting criticized on Mystery Science Theater 3000 during its initial run. The reason why I bring up Airplane! here is because it, too, went the zany, slapstick route when spoofing a particular genre. In that case, it was disaster movies such as Zero Hour! and the Airport franchise.
Both Airplane! and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes are almost identical in terms of their approach to satire and the general silliness of it all. But the difference is, Airplane! zips by and is clever with its humor and line delivery. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes has some moments of sheer brilliance, but it’s mostly the concept of the film for which people will remember it. The rest of it stretches thin the idea of tomatoes attacking people, and the longer it goes, the more dragged out it feels.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes begins brilliantly with a woman being killed by a tomato that literally rolls into her while making some garbled noise that sounds like the Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil in its infancy. What follows is a hysterical opening title sequence that plays with its credits by inserting silly lines, advertisement for a furniture store in Sunnyvale, and an open slot for anyone to advertise. It also has a catchy theme song and tomatoes drop right onto the screen, splattering everywhere.
After that, the jokes become more sporadic. Or they make its way into the movie, and then De Bello and crew decide that it would be funny to keep that joke rolling or bring it up again later. One example is a Japanese character whose voice is dubbed in English, while his mouth continues to move after his dialogue is over. It’s a clever take on films like the original Godzilla series, which had the same dubbing issues. But the character gets brought back later in the film, and the joke has already worn out its welcome. Even select lines he says that are supposed to be funny don’t quite have the impact, but that’s also in part due to the fact that the jokes weren’t funny in the first place.
The plot is simple, as it’s expected to be. For unknown reasons, tomatoes have grown to the size of boulders and developed the ability to communicate with one another. They decide to invade the city of San Diego, and it’s up to a select group of people to put an end to the madness.
The funny part about all of the attacks the tomatoes execute is that they literally consist of them rolling into people. They don’t have any teeth or other facial features. They are just giant tomatoes, rolling into people and, somehow, killing them. It doesn’t quite make sense, and it’s not supposed to, and that’s OK.
If it doesn’t already sound over the top, the film also has some musical numbers thrown into the mix. One segment that features a group of Army soldiers is the best of them all, but the lead singer’s enthusiasm in the dance number is absent. It’s almost like he’s doing it because that’s what the script calls for, and he would rather be somewhere else.
Considered by many to be so bad it’s good, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is more like so bad it’s disappointing. It’s extremely self-aware of how ridiculous it’s supposed to be, and there’s a lot of potential for it to take this idea and run with it. But De Bello and gang don’t. They reach a certain point and decide to just rehash some ideas that were already implemented to see if they can get some more laughter out of the audience.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is considered a cult classic, and the fan base out there will most likely want to get their hands on this Blu-ray update from MVD. The picture quality is a remastered 4K scan of the original print, and it looks mostly clean, save for some spots where film scratches are pretty noticeable. The audio quality is nicely updated and comes in rather clear as well. And for those who don’t have a Blu-ray player, they can still pick up this collecter’s edition set and choose the DVD option instead.
The special features on both discs are mostly archive material from previous releases of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. They contain three deleted scenes with commentary provided by De Bello, as well as an audio commentary track with De Bello, Steve “Rock” Peace, and Costa Dillon talking about the process in getting the movie made.
The featurettes include Legacy of a Legend, which consists of interviews with De Bello and several cast and crew members from the film. One of the things mentioned is how, for being such a low-budgeted film, it heavily inspired the likes of the Zucker brothers and Abrahams when they went on to do Airplane! a few years after the release of Killer Tomatoes, and followed the same, slapstick approach, but that film, which had a bigger budget, also got more attention. Another mention is how Tim Burton’s reference in Mars Attacks! is more like a blatant rip off of one particular scene in Killer Tomatoes.
There are two short films that the crew made on 8mm prior to the feature film. They are the 17-minute version of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, which contains a lot of the same humor and setup that the film had, and Gone with the Babusuland, another 8mm film that features some of the same characters that were in the Killer Tomatoes movie.
Crash and Burn looks at the famous helicopter crash sequence that wasn’t staged, but was captured perfectly and, since no one was hurt or killed, De Bello decided to use it for the film. Famous Foul examines the San Diego Chicken, who was featured in the movie. We Told You So is more of a joke, continuing the possible tomato conspiracy. Killer Tomatomania explores the streets of Los Angeles and interviews fans of the film, as well as those who aren’t aware of it at all. Where are They Now? looks at the actors from the film and talks about where they went after the movie. And the last feature is Slated for Success, which pays tribute to the slate girls in the film industry and also looks at the one who worked on Killer Tomatoes and where she went after the production was complete.
Like a lot of satire films of the '70s, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes wouldn’t get made the same way if it was made in the 21st century. It’s politically incorrect, and almost too absurd for any studio to consider releasing. I understand there is a cult following out there for the film, but it didn’t fully win me over. I can respect it and consider it a nice effort, but with some jokes that come across as repetitive and others that were simply not funny at all, it doesn’t really nail its goal of being a clever satire.