ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT (1978/1994)
|"No weapon, no
motive, no clues. All we have to go on is this bloody corpse."
"Look again, Harry. Thats not blood. Its tomato juice!"
Director: John De Bello
Starring: David Miller, George Wilson, Sharon Taylor, J. Stephen Peace, Jack Riley, Gary Smith, Ron Shapiro, Ernie Myers, Al Sklar
Screenplay: Costa Dillon, John De Bello, J. Stephen Peace
|Synopsis: A housewife
watches as a tomato emerges from her garbage disposal unit, her puzzlement turning into
terror as the tomato launches a savage attack upon her. All over America, tomatoes begin
attacking the populace: a man drinks tomato juice and collapses in agony; an old couple
sees their grandson devoured. At a facility run by the Department of Agriculture, police
officers battle with the attacking fruits. A helicopter crashes when a tomato flies into
it. A representative of the Department (Jack Riley) conspires to keep the uprising a
secret, putting together an investigative team comprising the most obscure generals and
scientists, and headed by a minor government functionary named Mason Dixon (David Miller).
Mason and his team hold a meeting attended by the Presidents Press Secretary, Jim
Richardson (George Wilson), where Mason is assigned four operatives to help him, with Lt.
Wilbur Finletter (J. Stephen Peace) being appointed his assistant. Meanwhile,
tomato-related incidents continue to terrorise the nation. At a press conference, Jim
Richardson is horrified when, at the last moment, someone questions him about the growing
tomato menace. Richardson tells the gathered reporters that everything possible is being
done, including the formation of a Senate Investigating Committee. However, at the first
meeting of the Committee, it is discovered that a copy of the preliminary report on the
tomato situation is missing. This document has fallen into the hands of the editor of the
"Times" newspaper (Ron Shapiro) who, due to a shortage of qualified personnel,
is forced to assign the tomato story to rookie reporter Lois Fairchild (Sharon Taylor).
The President (Ernie Myers) sends Richardson to New York to meet with "Mind
Maker" advertising executive Ed Swan (Al Sklar), hired to create a advertising
campaign to reassure the American public. But it may already be too late: a giant tomato
captured by the military is examined by scientists and found to be only a cherry
Comments: Since watching this film, I have been unable to shake a mental image of the following conversation being held Somewhere In Hollywood: "So, weve got some spare cash. Do we restore The Magnificent Ambersons or Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes?" "Tomatoes! Tomatoes!" Frankly, Im not altogether sure that the world actually needed a "Directors Cut" of Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes, but I have to admit that newly shot bookends and the various interruptions throughout the film do add a few more badly needed giggles to something brilliantly summed up by Steven Puchalski of "Shock Cinema" as "a twenty minute joke crammed into a ninety minute movie". It isnt hard to imagine Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes coming into existence as the result of either a joke or a bet. And theres nothing wrong with that after all, many an engaging AIP movie began life in pretty much that way, starting out purely as a title that would look good on a poster. (And now that I think of it, most of Val Lewtons films came about that way too.) However, the makers of this film had nowhere near the talent at their disposal that their predecessors did. Most of the cast were (all too obviously) amateurs, and the performances vary from the deliberately clunky to the just-plain-terrible. There are some laughs to be had, but there are also an awful lot of dead patches, filled up with footage of people driving along roads, being endlessly pursued by tomatoes, or yelling unintelligibly at each other. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Tomatoes, at least at this distance, is how much it resembles a dry run for Flying High! (aka Airplane!), right down to the basic genre-spoof premise, the various references to other films, the use of unrelated sight gags in the back of a number of scenes, and throwaway one-liners over P.A. systems, radios and televisions. Unfortunately, in place of the Zucker/Abrahams scattershot attitude of "dont worry if you didnt like that joke, therell be another along in a second", Tomatoes operates on a philosophy of "youd better like that joke, because thats it for the next five minutes". Ultimately, the real value of this film is how thoroughly it illustrates the B-Movie dictum that no deliberately bad movie can hold a candle to one that got that way by accident. You only have to compare Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes to any of Ed Woods films, or to Robot Monster, or even to The Giant Claw, to see what we mean.
The plot of Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes, such as it is, involves the heretofore peaceful fruits suddenly growing to enormous size and attacking the population of America. To no-ones surprise, we learn that the tomatoes are being controlled by an evil, power-crazed individual who, after sufficient damage has been done, plans to "defeat" the killer plants and take over the government. (Perhaps the only genuine surprise in the film is that the tomatoes do not ultimately turn on their creator.) Thanks to an evil faction within the Department of Agriculture, an incompetent team of government agents is assembled to fight the growing menace, headed by Mason Dixon, who "hasnt worked since the Bay of Pigs". As the tomatoes rampage across America, Mason discovers inadvertently that they are being controlled by music; and that the one thing capable of defeating them is a ghastly little pop song entitled "Puberty Love". Along the way, the viewer is subjected to a few funny gags and an awful lot of groaners. Since this was made in the seventies, the story involves a government conspiracy to keep "the truth" from the American public; a Senate Investigating Committee consisting of dozy old men (as the camera pans across, we see that their names are Polk, Filmore, McKinley and Harrison); and a president who managed to get re-elected despite using the Statue of Liberty as collateral on "that Arab loan" ("How does the old girl look in the Dead Sea?"). There are also various swipes at the advertising industry, including the revelation of The Worlds Ultimate Commercial ("Hi! Jesus Christ for Technatron!"). The other films referred to include, inevitably, The Birds and Jaws although interestingly, it is actually Jaws II that is parodied, with a boatload of obnoxious teenagers being menaced by aquatic tomatoes (go you tomatoes!). For B-Movie fans, however, the highlight is probably the sequence depicting the meeting of the military and the scientists. Just as it always did in low budget film after low budget film in the fifties, the meeting takes place in a teeny little room only this time, we get to watch everyone getting into their seats. Best of all, though, is the presence of a Japanese scientist who has been appallingly badly dubbed into English for once, deliberately! The other really memorable thing about the film is its songs. The opening credits play to the strains of "Theme From Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes", which contains everyones favourite lyric, "I know Im going to miss her/A tomato ate my sister". Along the way, we are also treated to a ditty entitled "The Tomato Stomp". Performed by a military unit, this catchy little number starts out seriously enough ("We stopped the Germans in 45/Then we crushed the Viet Cong (almost)") before turning into an up-tempo show-tune ("We stopped to negotiate at the very first attack/We gave them Alabama but they gave it right back") complete with a kick-line of soldiers. As for "Puberty Love" itself, just be grateful the film-makers dont force us to listen to that one too closely tomatoes arent the only things it could shrivel! It should also be noted that the "Directors Cut" actually omits a song that was in the original cut of the film. Its been too long since I saw that version for me to know whether thats a good thing or a bad thing.
Unfortunately, for every joke that works in Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes, there are at least two that fall flat. Worse still, there are two stretches of almost ten minutes that fail to raise even a smile. It is for this reason that I welcome the new footage that has been inserted, which on the whole is funnier than the original stuff. The film now opens with the kind of featurette that has since become a standard DVD extra, depicting the arduous search for the "lost scenes". (Truth in advertising: the footage, when located, is labelled "Really bad scenes that are too lousy even for this movie".) Throughout the film there are various inserted comments by the films co-writer, Constantine Dillon. One likely to raise a sympathetic sigh from viewers of A Certain Age (and sex) comes after Lois Fairchilds editor comments on her "nice ass", when Dillon observes wistfully, "We could say things like that in the seventies!" The single cleverest joke, however, is a "restored" scene that is dubbed into "Mabusilese" and subtitled in English (it even has the "Mabusilese" score!). "We couldnt find the American version of the scene," Dillon explains gravely. Finally, the end credits of the film are now interrupted with a "Where Are They Now?" sequence that falls into the category of "Its funny cos its true." David Miller is now "a pig farmer in Mississippi". Sharon Taylor "was a junior college teacher today shes a community college teacher". Constantine Dillon "like many brilliant screenwriters, went on to a career in the National Parks service". And best of all, J. Stephen "Rock" Peace "is today a California State Senator" (really!). This insert proves that if the cast and crew of Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes werent over-burdened with talent, there were at least a bunch of good sports. In fact, this may actually be the funniest part of the film; and if nothing else, it does serve to leave the viewer laughing, and perhaps thinking of Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes more kindly than it actually deserves.