Greetings from the Edge!
Well my friends, for this episode we’ll be coming back to the slasher solanums, the antagonistic love apples, yes it is time for the Killer Tomatoes Strike Back!, the 1991 sequel to the classic camp series. Can this third installment pull off the same amazing trick its predecessor did and be a sequel better than the original? Well, only time ( and repeated viewing ) will tell!
Starring Rick Rockwell as Lance Boyle, a detective with enough juvenile hobbies to buy out a joke shop and a name that would make the MST3K crew smile ( Beef Hardthrust! ), Crystal Carson as Dr. Kennedi Johnson, resident Tomatologist dedicated to fighting the red hordes with SCIENCE!, John Astin returns to take up the mantle of Prof. Gangreen and generally class up the joint and tying all three films together, J. Stephen Peace reprises his role as Captain Wilbur Finletter ( who is now a police captain for some reason, I knew those no-tomato pizzas were just a fad! )
Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! opens in a midnight foggy wood with a woman in a white diaphanous gown being pursued by a… hockey goalie? Yep, a hockey goalie, complete with a full set of pads and a goalie stick. I can’t help but think this is what the Friday the 13th series will look like a thousand years in the future when it is reconstructed by very confused anthropologists from extremely sketchy sources left over from the world destroying Amazon/Walmart wars.
As she runs through the woods, more and more of her gauzy gown is torn away until she looks like she’s been dressed entirely in TP and finally she trips as any good ( or at least cliche ) scream queen will. Then the goalie lurches out of the forest and she gives a sigh of relief and exclaims, “Thank God, I actually thought you were a killer tomato.”
It is then that the roar of a dozen tiny chainsaws is heard and we pan to the forest floor that is covered with hockey mask wearing, chainsaw wielding killer tomatoes and both our scream queen and our presumably lost goalie let out earth-shattering shrieks and we cut to detective Lance Boyle going through his rather bizarre morning routine. That includes sinking baskets, playing the bongos, eating dehydrated coffee straight from the bottle, and juggling, and nope, the film doesn’t get any less wacky from there.
Can Det. Boyle and Dr. Johnson foil the vegetable-based vengeance of the diabolical Dr. Gangreen once again, or will Gangreen complete his nefarious plot to conquer the world through the use of tabloid television… and killer tomatoes, of course.
I do have to say that Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! has the best special effects so far in the series with animatronic tomatoes and much better tomato “Gore” effects. Anyone with a morbid fear of pasta sauce or who has ever been brutalized during Spain’s notoriously violent Tomatina festival is warned to steer well clear, or at least bring your anti-anxiety meds.
However, if you’ve been keeping pace with the rest of the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes series, you know that saying this installment has the best special effects is damning Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! with faint praise.
And that would be fair. The Killer Tomatoes have faces and expressions ( and in the opening scene, teeny tiny chainsaws! ) but honestly, they don’t do much. However, they are all practical effects and you can feel the love put into the film.
I know it doesn’t really count as a special effect, but I’d feel remiss if I didn’t mention what might be the most protracted Psycho shower scene gag I’ve ever seen. I won’t spoil it, but I did find a clip of it you might like:
I’d like to take a moment to say how much I’ve enjoyed John Astin in these films. In fact, it was because I knew he’d be in most of the films in the series that got me reviewing the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes films. John Astin does wacky like no other and, like many genre greats, he always gives 100%. Of course, everyone knows him as Gomez Addams from the classic Addams Family television series ( which I admit to watching many a morning as a sick kid in bed before Cartoon Network and Disney gave us 24 hour a day kids entertainment ), but he has over a hundred and fifty acting credits to his name and I’ve always looked forward to seeing him.
He’s been in everything from Maverick and The Twilight Zone to the ’60s Batman series and The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. with fellow genre actor Bruce Campbell. Sorry, just trying to show a little appreciation for an actor that is often overlooked but never unwelcome.
Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! feels a little flat compared to the previous films in the series. It packs in as many gags, but it feels like the enthusiasm of the first two films just isn’t there.
The jokes are still pretty good and, as I mentioned before, John Astin is still a delight, but even with better special effects, it just isn’t nearly as fast and snappy as Return was. Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! puts a lot into a “tabloid television rots your mind” subplot. I know that by the time the third installment of a series rolls out, they’ll be looking to freshen up the concept a bit ( this is where I start thinking about doing a Tremors retrospective ), however it just felt like it diluted the main concept too much.
Sadly, even though we got a media focused plot, Steve Lundquist reprising his role as Igor doesn’t get to fulfill his dream of being an anchorman. In fact, as fun as he was in Return, he feels underutilized in Killer Tomatoes Strike Back!. Although during the climax, we do get him serving the heroine of the film up in a giant “Bacon, lettuce and HUMAN” sandwich while wearing a cross between an Elvis jumpsuit and the outfit you’d find on a chef at Benihana. So he isn’t totally wasted!
Sadly, Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! isn’t as good as Return of the Killer Tomatoes. Wow, I never thought I’d be in a place in my life where I’d be called on to make that value judgement. If you liked the first two films in the series, you probably owe it to yourself to give Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! a try, but set your expectations a bit lower. Don’t get me wrong, there is some good stuff to find here, it just doesn’t feel as well put together as Return.
For everybody else, grab some friends and have yourself a bad movie night with Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! It’s perhaps the most mockable of the films so far and makes great light riffing fodder.
Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning, may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!
The best thing in the entire film ( barring John Astin ) is Detective Boyle’s never-ending parade of truly eye gouging parachute pants. He is wearing a different pair in almost every scene. Speaking as someone who survived the ’90s, they gave me fashion related traumatic flashbacks and I have to ask, dear readers, who’s going to rock me to sleep now?
The Post Film windup recorded like a post game locker room interview was pretty good all by itself. It’s not often you hear the main actress of a film say, and I quote, “I hope to get to do a movie real soon where I get to take ALL my clothes off”… or maybe I’m just not watching the right kind of movie for that!
Come back next time for something a little different with the Edge’s first foray into animation review with the new DC animated feature, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay. With their excellent portrayal in Batman: Assault on Arkham, will the Suicide Squad do as well in this new feature or will it be as lifeless as their live action adaptation? We’ll see how well a manic clown girl, a marksman with a deathwish, a boomerang-chucking Aussie, a real ice princess, the modern interpretation of a blaxploitation ninja, and… whoever else they threw in there to fill up space fare against an immortal neanderthal warlord. Ah, comics!