Horror films have given audiences plenty of baddies to be scared of. We’ve been frightened by vampires, zombies, killer sharks and many others. But buried deep in the bargain-bin-of-horror are four movies that will always sit close to my heart. These four films don’t showcase werewolves or radioactive bugs. They feature the most terrifying organism on this green Earth- KILLER TOMATOES.
Aren’t you terrified? I know I just peed a little. The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes franchise kicked off in 1978 and would would be followed by three sequels and an animated series lasting twenty-one episodes. Killer Tomatoes (’78) was a genre mash-up of horror, black comedy, absurdist humor, and dash of musical thrown in for flavor that resulted in the birth of one of the most bizarre franchises in history. I grew up with the original movie and fleeting memories of the animated series. Because of this I tasked myself with watching all four movies in four days.
Day 1.) Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978)
Okay, this one was easy. I love this movie. The original AotKT film follows Mason Dixon (David Miller) who leads a government squad against the uprising of tomatoes. AotKT is a true comic gem in the tradition of other classic parody films like Young Frankenstein and Airplane! Killer Tomatoes stayed true to it’s indie roots, being produced on a budget of about $90,000. This low budget is obviously wonderful, but the craftsmanship in making the movie is tight. This is a movie truly recommended for lovers of the horror comedy genre. Attack is available on multiple streaming services and the DVDs are relatively cheap.
Day 2.) Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988)
I remember trying to rent this movie from Blockbuster during my youth. I was denied this piece of cinematic gold because the clerk insisted that it should be an ‘R’ rating and was full of sex.
Yeah, totally worth an ‘R’ rating you lying sack of….
But anyways, back to the movie….
Return of the Killer Tomatoes is critically regarded as a better film than Attack. New World Pictures helped finance the film so the budget was a deal bigger (though this wouldn’t stop the writing team from purposely leaving in stock footage and hamming up the low budget feel). Joining the cast this time is John Astin as the evil tomato mutating Professor Gangreen, Anthony Starke as Chad Finletter, Rock Peace as Uncle Wilbur Finletter, and George Clooney as Chad’s best friend Matt Stevens.
Ten Years have passed since the events of the first film and tomatoes have been declared illegal by the federal government. Chad and Matt end up meeting Tara (Karen Mistal); an unusual girl who is actually a tomato created by the evil Gangreen. Tara and ‘FT’ (a fuzzy tomato) are pursued by Gangreen’s lackey Igor (Steve Lundquist) as Chad, his uncle, and Matt unravel Gangreen’s plot to turn tomatoes into humanoid soldiers.
Like Phantasm II and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Return is a sequel with a larger budget than the original that is based on a property that wasn’t meant to continue. This movie wasn’t called for. Nobody wanted it. The producers knew this and they drive it down the audiences throat with product placement, meta humor, and stock footage. I don’t know if Return is better than Attack, but it’s a great ride if you enjoyed the first movie.
Day 3.) Killer Tomatoes Strike Back (1990)
The madness was truly setting in at this point. 1990 would bring on the first direct-to-video movie of the franchise, Killer Tomatoes Strike Back. Movies with this kind of release usually had tiny budgets and it really shows here. This reviewer is pretty sure most of the budget went to keeping John Astin and Steve Lundquist in the credits; though note should be made of the tomato special effects.
Detective Lance Boyle (Rick Rockwell) starts investigating more disturbing tomato related murders with the help of ‘tomatologist’ Kennedy Johnson (Crystal Carson). Meanwhile Gangreen and Igor are taking over television airwaves with a hit daytime talk show. Of course this is a ploy to take over the country with his army of tomatoes.
This is where the series starts to lose a bit of steam. Maybe the jokes aren’t as inspired or maybe it’s the acting. I’m not sure, but this movie doesn’t have the same laugh factor of the first two films. Maybe it’s just my brain slowly turning into tomato soup.
Killer Tomatoes Strike Back is available on DVD.
Day 4.) Killer Tomatoes Eat France (1991)
Gangreen escapes prison and flees to France with Igor. There he decides to kick start a new French Revolution so he can seize the opportunity to take over with his killer tomatoes. It’s up to Michael (Marc Price) and Marie (Angela Visser) to stop the evil Professor in this second direct-to-video sequel.
This was rather…forgettable. I can barely remember any jokes or skits. All I really recall are some cringy-90’s music numbers and the mall in France designed to look “authentically American.” I guess that really cut down on going to France for location shooting. I can’t help but to love this though.
Killer Tomatoes Eat France is available on DVD.
The four Killer Tomato movies are far from being ‘good’ films, but they never aspired to be ‘good’ in the first place. For this reason alone I can’t help but love them all. I highly recommend seeing the first two films if you enjoy horror comedies. If you are like me and get sucked into a franchises ‘universe,’ then go check out the sequels.
And I dare you all to actually finish an episode of the television series!