Vegans beware when nature strikes back in New World's RETURN OF THE KILLER TOMATOES, improbably, on special edition Blu-ray from Arrow Video USA.
The averting of the ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES a decade before and the wholesale banning of tomatoes from the American diet has led to a black market for the forbidden fruit… er, vegetable (or maybe the first one was right). Decorated national hero Wilbur Finletter (J. Stephen Peace) now runs a pizza parlor serving up slices to customers who have adapted to various stomach-churning tomato sauce substitutes and various candy toppings. His hapless nephew Chad (Anthony Starke, 18 AGAIN!) only has eyes for literally out-of-this-world Tara (Karen Mistal, CANNIBAL WOMEN IN THE AVOCADO JUNGLE OF DEATH), the lover and assistant to mad Professor Gangreen (THE ADDAMS FAMILY's John Astin), while his co-worker/roommate Matt (George Clooney, SOLARIS) resorts to trickery like "Win a Date with Rob Lowe" contests to get women into his bed. Gangreen has discovered how to transform contraband tomatoes into musclebound super soldiers with the help of a laser and toxic waste but Tara realizes Gangreen's essential "inhumanity" towards her tomato brethren when he tosses away a furry sentient tomato as a mutant reject. Going on the run with F.T. (Furry Tomato), Tara seduces Chad and moves in with him and Matt who are slow to catch on to her bizarre habits like an insistence on a non-vegetable diet, a materialistic love of kitchen appliances, recording and repeatedly listening to the Farm Report, and munching on potting soil and plant food spikes. Fearing that Tara will draw attention towards his plan with imprisoned former Press Secretary Jim Richardson (Rick Rockwell) for world domination by tomato soldiers, Gangreen sends his would-be TV anchor henchman Igor (Steve Lundquist, EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY) to forcibly retrieve Tara. Having realized that the tomatoes are not the real villains, trapped Chad, Matt, and Tara must rely on F.T. to convince Wilbur and his tomato war vets Sam (Frank Davis, TWINS) and Greg (Ian Hutton) to look beyond their old prejudices.
An often painfully unfunny sendup of a sendup ("the theme song still remains the same, the plot itself has hardly changed," crows the theme song), RETURN OF THE KILLER TOMATOES does have its moments; but they are less in the piling on of AIRPLANE-esque sight gags and verbal exchanges and more in the reflexive approach to both the genre and to low budget filmmaking in the eighties, particularly the product of New World Pictures with its GODZILLA 1985 Dr. Pepper product placement and the company's own previous, more entertaining horror spoof RETURN TO HORROR HIGH (also featuring Clooney) or even the company's ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK. The film sports a PG rating as did its predecessor, but the times had changed and the audience that was old enough to see and remember the first film in the theater could have done with an R-rated sex comedy treatment (what with Tara's alien hyper-sexuality, the S&M jokes, Matt's bedroom antics, and the topless beach party film parody that opens and closes the film). Director John De Bello followed the film up with KILLER TOMATOES STRIKE BACK!, KILLER TOMATOES EAT FRANCE!, and an animated television series.
Released theatrically – mainly on college campuses according to the commentary – and then on video by New World and laserdisc by Image, RETURN OF THE KILLER TOMATOES was one of the many New World titles exploited around the dawn of the DVD format by Anchor Bay. The 1999 DVD featured a passable full screen transfer and a theatrical trailer as the sole extra. When Image Entertainment had a stranglehold on the Lakeshore library, they put out a barebones anamorphic widescreen DVD as part of their Midnite Madness line (although their lackadaisical approach to other titles in the line probably made this seem even less attractive than it already was). Presumably Arrow picked the film simply because it was available. It should go without saying that the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is superior in every respect to the Anchor Bay transfer, with superior framing, crisper detail, redder tomatoes, and the greenest toxic glow. Apart from the scenes in Gangreen's house and lab, most of the film is shot in a clean and flatly lit style that has adapted well to home video in its various incarnations. The recycled sequences from the first film (which was shot on 35mm) calls attention to itself within the film as being stock footage, but the quality difference also is indicative of the slicker minimum technical standards of New World's product.
Director/writer John De Bello appears on a new commentary track moderated by Red Shirt Pictures' Michael Felsher. De Bello discusses the origins of ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES and trying to get it distributed across the country through regional distributors. He discusses how not only distributors and audiences but also some of the crew had a hard time wrapping their heads around the comic approach (De Bello notes having to remind his cinematographers for each entry that the films should not look too good), the requests by studios to pile on the sight gabs, recurring characters, and the members of the core KILLER TOMATOES team. They also devote a goodly amount of time to discussing the dynamic between intense Starke and smooth Clooney, and musing on the various reasons for the latter's success. They discuss the creative team's debt to Mel Brooks and Woody Allen (as well as the film's comic aspects in light of the AIRPLANE and THE NAKED GUN which the first film preceded) along with the film's satire of the media (including the use of a garbage truck for a news van) and low-budget filmmaking. Most amusing is his anecdote about the independent special effects house and that crew's shared "religious" beliefs.
In "Hangin' with Chad" (17:24), actor Starke discusses the film's use of product placement, liking the script since it shared his love of Zucker Abrahams Zucker and Mel Brooks comedy, and how he and Clooney worked out their comic interplay, as well as working with Mistal and Astin (whose son Sean hung around the set). Also included is a stills gallery (2:27), the theatrical trailer (2:15), and a TV spot (0:31). The Arrow Video USA edition is a single-disc Blu-ray edition while the technically-identical UK edition is a Blu-ray/DVD combo. Not supplied for review is the reversible cover featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin and illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing by critic James Oliver. The film may not suit all tastes, but Arrow has done their usual bang-up job with their edition. (Eric Cotenas)
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