A turkey with vegetables.
That is about the best way to describe Return of the Killer Tomatoes, a tack-fest so rooted in the ‘80s and which doesn't deserve the Blu-Ray treatment by Arrow Video, who have done a blinding job of restoring the likes of the Fulci and Argento classics and two excellent releases in Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse (1981) and Philip Kaufman's seminal 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Then again…
If you are a die-hard George Clooney fan with an overwhelmingly determined air about you who wants to catch some of his early work, then you might find something of value in this movie that doesn't quite know what it is supposed to be but tries so hard to be (follow us) a movie within a movie within a Mystery Science Theater presentation. Made in 1988, it has many references to the in-people of the time, like John Rambo and Oliver North. When Chad (Anthony Starke) turns to the director in the scene and asks “When will this turkey will be over?”, you get a sense that this is the work of a desperate bunch of filmmakers. They clearly were trying to be clever, and to a degree there is still something of potential within this debacle. In hindsight, there is a hint of what was to come by George Clooney (such irony occurs in a running gag where he tries to get gullible girls to partake in a scam where he tries to offer a prize of a date with Rob Lowe (this was pre-Oscars 1989 and his infamous hotel dalliances)).
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, for a bit of historical background, was one of the first pre-VRA releases by Media Home Entertainment, who also released the first UK editions of Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween. Return of the Killer Tomatoes, however, is a weird and not particularly wonderful mix of send-up and homage that is neither funny ha-ha or funny peculiar.
The plot, such as it is, involves Professor Gangrene (John Astin) who is out to create an army of superbeings through a Frankenstein-esque laboratory using a fusion of electricity and tomatoes. Mullet-haired hunk Matt (Clooney) works in a pizza place and seems to be living life after what became known as 'The Tomato War'. Predictably, tomatoes are taking human form, notably in a girl called Tera, which Chad (Starke) delivers a pizza to and then falls in love with.
In all fairness, there really isn't much of a plot here. As mentioned, it seems to be a way of harnessing a whole load of visual gags that were a little flat in their execution. It could have been funnier, and if the Zucker Brothers had been involved it could have been a neat companion piece to Kentucky Fried Movie, which is another film Arrow has just championed on one of their Blu-ray special editions. But as it stands, Return of the Killer Tomatoes doesn't come close to satisfying the audience in the way that gags like “Feel-A-Round” and “That’s Armageddon” did in that comedy classic.
We don't want to discourage anyone from watching it, but Clooney addicts might do well to watch this one Saturday night very drunk and full of kebab in a double-bill with Batman & Robin and realize that that film wasn't at all bad.
It is also a classic example of how High-Definition doesn't improve a movie, merely heightens the amateurish quality of filmmaking like this, made at a time when many an enterprising indie producer thought they could create something out of nothing.
RETURN OF THE KILLER TOMATOES / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JOHN DE BELLO / SCREENPLAY: STEPHEN ANDRICH, JOHN DE BELLO, COSTA DILLON, J. STEPHEN PEACE / STARRING: JOHN ASTIN, ANTHONY STARKE, GEORGE CLOONEY, KAREN M. WALDRON, STEVE LUNDQVIST / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW