We’ve seen a Guilty Pleasure Movie. We’ve seen a Plain Old Bad Movie. Now, for my third post, we’re going to see a “How the Heck Did THIS Get Greenlighted?” Movie. So not kidding. Buckle up, everyone.
As you all know, the seventies were a notoriously dicey decade for cinema. They’ve been well represented this weekend. We did get some gems, like Star Wars, Fiddler On the Roof, Superman, Laurence of Arabia, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but for every golden goose, there were at least five turkeys. One of them was the 1978 monstrosity, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. It has no big stars whatsoever. It doesn’t matter, anyway.
OK. Here we go.
The movie opens with a text crawl about how people laughed in 1963 when Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds premiered. It goes on to mention a 1975 blackbird invasion in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, when no one laughed.
Then it cuts to the Present Day, when a woman is in her kitchen washing dishes. She turns the water off and puts her rag down, when to her horror she sees a perfectly clean, perfectly ripe tomato pop up from her garbage disposal and roll around in her sink, making little growly, purry sounds. She backs away as it rolls toward her, then she screams and faints.
Yep, it’s that kind of movie. When the opening song has a line like, “A tomato ate my sister,” and a frame reading, “Rent This Space,” nothing will be serious. Never. Ever. Ever.
So yeah, the tomatoes are attacking and people are baffled. Well, the police are, anyway. They can’t figure out how to stop these rogue fruit vegetables, so they’re going to call out all the most obscure scientists to help. One of them, Mason Dixon (!) looks especially promising. He also looks like John Belushi. Maybe arming everyone with immersion blenders would be a boon, too.
Meanwhile, the regular folks don’t seem too worried. One chokes on his glass of V-8 juice at breakfast, and an older couple casually watches Timmy from down the street get chomped, but no biggy. Everyone keeps knitting or reading Field and Stream.
Some, however, are more wiley than others. After sitting through remarks at a White House presser about the government not using taxpayer money to buy flowery quilted toilet paper, a little boy asks about the growing tomato menace. Jim, the Press Secretary replies that the government is working night and day to address the problem.
Boy howdy, are they. They have a guy who can run really fast. They also have Greta Attenbaum, a champion swimmer, Greg Colburn, a scuba expert, Sam Smith, a master of disguise, and a crack paratrooper, Wilbur Finletter to back up Mason Dixon.
After that, what little plot there is goes ker-SPLAT. Mason Dixon basically drives around the country, and jettisons three of his four experts because reasons. Scuba Dude finds a fountain to swim in. Swimmer Lady is taken out by tomatoes while chowing down on a bowl of Steroidies in a tranquil forest glade.
Disguise Dude lasts the longest, but only just. He infiltrates the tomato gang by dressing as a tomato and outs himself when he asks for ketchup to put on his burger. Oops.
Paratrooper Wilbur is the most helpful of the bunch, although he’s more interested in making sure Mason gets his vitamins in the morning than in staking out the tomatoes. In his defense, though, dragging around a parachute all the time is exhausting.
Just to make things more exciting, Mason and Wilbur are being stalked by a reporter, Lois Fairchild, and a mean-looking guy in a ski mask who’s shooting at them. And let’s not forget the constant threat of those murderous tomatoes, which are growing. bigger by the day and somehow finding them at the most random times. What’s really terrifying is that they’re overgrown cherry tomatoes. Dun dun dun…
Meanwhile, back at the government, Jim meets with the President, who is busily signing generic Presidential papers (yes, they show them). He sends Jim to New York to meet with the Mind Maker, the best public relations man of all time. This guy doesn’t just tell his strategies, but sings them. Jim is unnerved but goes along with it.
Ah, Jim. One gets the feeling he knows more about the problem than he’s letting on.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is supposed to be a parody-sci-fi-horror-musical, and it’s hilariously clunky, predictable, and annoying. Every line is a cliché or a troll. None of the guys wear makeup, and it was obviously hot wherever they filmed this movie, so every one of them looks sunburned. Lapel microphones are visible. The locations look real, as if the crew just showed up in random places and started rolling film. A street scene identified as New York is obviously Market Street in San Francisco.
And of course, there are a lot of tomatoes being thrown, stepped on, or rolled, with the giant ones being so clearly fake it’s laughable. Even more laughable is the way Mason Dixon finally gets rid of them. Two words: “Puberty Love.” That’s all you want to know, and once it’s experienced, there’s no going back. It’s way more horrendous than those villainous tomatoes.
It’s hard to tell if the filmmakers meant for it to be this bad or not, but either way, it’s really bad. At a $100,000 budget, who really knows. It garnered negative reviews (Variety said it “wasn’t worthy of sarcasm“), but terrible movies have a way of becoming cult favorites. Tomatoes was popular enough in 1978 to warrant three sequels, the first being nine years later, plus a cartoon series.
I kinda doubt it’s possible to top the original, which was summed up in the first ten minutes thusly: “All we wanted was a bigger, healthier tomato.”
Oh, the irony.
More bad movies are available here. Thanks for reading, all!
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Amazon.