Greetings from the Edge!
Strap in and hold on for the return of a classic of schlock cinema with Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! Can a rogue batch of experimental fruit truly wipe out civilization as we know it? Has it finally come time to tell the GMO’s to GTFO? Staring David Miller as Mason Dixon, leader of the counter tomatoes task force, J. Stephen Peace as Lt. Wilbur Finletter of the never detaching parachute, Sharon Taylor as Lois Fairchild, reporter and damsel in distress, and all the nutballs that 1978 San Diego could muster!
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! opens on a text crawl contrasting the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds with an incident in 1975 Hopkinsville, Kentucky when said township was invaded by 7 million black birds. This will be the first and final serious moment of the film. With a fade and a pan, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! moves to a suburban kitchen where an unsuspecting woman is about to become the first casualty in this botanical battle royale.
With an onslaught of wacky credits and its own theme song, “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!” by John De Bello, this fruitricide gets rolling in earnest. Soon we learn that an experimental government agricultural station has giving birth to a genus of unstoppable “Killer” tomatoes. Keen to keep the public from learning that they’re interfering in God’s domain ( or at least his vegetable patch ) and have unleashed the homicidal herbage, a secret team of the most anonymous of experts is put together to battle the threat. Soon, however, Mason Dixon (David Miller) learns that they are facing not only the fruity foe but a hidden enemy trying to sabotage their heroic ( if not particularly focused or effective ) efforts.
Can the anti-tomato forces triumph, or will we all have to pay for every bowl of bolognese and slug of V-8 ever consumed? ( Give them the vegans, I say! They’re to blame for this! )
Hmm, special effects… well, they’re there alright, but I’m pretty sure that technical wizardry was not the aim of the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! production team.
However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a shot in Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! that is definitely not a special effect. In the opening scene at the government agricultural station, a helicopter crashes spectacularly near a cordon of police cars. That shot was entirely unintentional. The accident ( officially Accident Hiller UH-12E N81959, 11 Jul 1978 ) was captured by several cameras and, thankfully, the pilot managed to escape with only minor injuries ( although watching that crash, I don’t see how. )
When the copter’s tail rotor accidentally touched the ground, causing it to spin out of control, it became the most expensive shot in Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! In fact, the $60,000 to replace the helicopter was more costly than the entire rest of the film combined.
While watching the film, I realized something: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! Is YouTube comedy the movie. It encapsulates the bizarre, sometimes offensive, often super topical, and wildly creative nature of internet sketch comedy. It even has banner ads! I’m not kidding. Randomly throughout the film, spoof ads run along the bottom of the screen.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! has as many, if not more, misses than hits, but seeing it almost forty years later, it along with films like The Kentucky Fried Movie and Airplane! helped set a comedy trend that continues to this day. Sadly, a lot of the topical humor has lost its relevance ( except the commentary on the presidency! ) and some of the jokes have been redone to better effect in later productions.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! may have set the standard for comedies to come after it, but if you’re sitting down to watch it for the first time, I don’t know how much you’re going to get out of it. What was once a uniquely bizarre little oddity that stood out from the pack has become far closer to the norm.
My recommendation would be to get all your riffing friends together, load up on snacks and frosty beverages, and enjoy the insanity while you pick it to pieces. Don’t worry about offending Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! It never took itself seriously anyway!
And if you and your friends do enjoy Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!, I recommend you give the 1977 Kentucky Fried Movie and 1987 Amazon Women on the Moon a try.
Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning, may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!
I can’t be the first to point this out, but Tim Burton completely stole the end of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! for Mars Attacks!. Now I have to admit that Tim, with his astronomically higher budget, does it better, but if the makers of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! had ten percent of the budget that Mars Attacks! had, I have no doubt they’d have been able to make those tomatoes detonate at least as satisfyingly as the martians’ heads when faced with the fury of Slim Whitman. Besides “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!”, “Puberty Love” may be deadly not only to pugnacious solanum lycopersicum but to all sentient life with functional auditory systems.
Also, considering the time period that Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! came out in, does it count as a ’50s science gone awry movie or a ’70s animals attack picture? In truth, it is the unholy mating of the two, with The Day of the Triffids acting as midwife!
Come back to the Edge next week for more mayhem, mirth, and menace as we test my cinema sensibilities to their utmost for your edification and delight! Whether it’s movie madness from the land of the rising sun, the newest of the worst, or some classic shlock, be there!