Return of the Killer Tomatoes

| June 29, 2016

Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988), John De Bello’s follow-up to his 1978 monster movie spoof Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, was a big deal when I was a kid. The animated adaptation of the films, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: The Series, aired and re-aired on Saturday mornings from the time I was six to eight years old. Knowing the cartoon spawned from a live action movie, and me being a cinephile even then made it inevitable that I would beg my mother to rent the movies. All she could find to rent was Return, though, and the experience of the thing has always stuck with me. So I overjoyed about the opportunity to revisit the film when Arrow Video released Return of the Killer Tomatoes on Blu-ray.

Return bombards its audience with an endless onslaught of gags in the hopes that enough will stick to make you ignore the fact that there’s an almost complete lack of actual killer tomatoes in the film, except of course in flashbacks to the Great Tomato War depicted in Attack. The film accomplishes this goal quite well! With Anthony Starke (who I know best from his appearance in the 1990 The Flash TV series) and George Clooney of all people in leading roles opposite John Astin (The Addams Family) as the evil Prof. Gangreen, the central cast hams it up enough that you’ll be absorbed in the proceedings if not always laughing at the film’s blend of slapstick and meta humor. Sure, some of the jokes fall flat when viewed in 2016, since the film embraces a very 80s style of humor centered largely around women in bikinis and attempts to get laid, but it’s rarely if ever groan-worthily unfunny and the cast is incredibly charming—I mean, it’s got a young George Clooney in it after all!

So where did all the killer tomatoes go, aside from being stuck in flashbacks? In this world, tomatoes have been made illegal since the Great Tomato War, exclusively sold on the black market thereafter, lest they become a threat to national security once again. The only real sentient tomatoes to speak of this time around are those that the mad Prof. Gangreen turns into people. This means no folks are seen fleeing in terror from giant rolling tomatoes here. Instead, our “killer tomatoes” are predominantly buff dudes dressed up like a whole platoon of Rambos, which isn’t nearly as visually amusing.

Since I didn’t remember the film being so shockingly lacking in killer tomatoes prior to revisiting it, that must not have bothered me much as a kid. It did, however, annoy my son quite a bit. We actually watched both movies together over the course of a single day, and he wasn’t impressed by much offered up by Return, with the notable exception of the cartoonish F.T.—a “fuzzy tomato” character that makes goofy noises and waddles around, making him greatly appealing to young viewers. That this resulted in my son having trouble focusing on the film proved to be a blessing, however, as Return has a surprising amount of frank sexual discussion in it for a movie rated PG. Though I am of course more than happy to provide parental guidance, I’d rather not have to explain to any four-year-old what a blowjob is. So parents, keep that in mind!

Return of the Killer Tomatoes is currently available on Blu-ray in US and UK from Arrow video. The video transfer is pristine and the special features highly informative. In addition to the trailer, a TV spot, and a stills gallery, the disc boasts a new, 17-minute interview with star Anthony Starke in which he relates plenty of fascinating stories about his and Clooney’s behind-the-scenes antics as well as feature length commentary writer/director John De Bello that I can’t recommend listening to enough.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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