DirectorJohn De Bello
Release Date(s)1988 (June 28, 2016)
Studio(s)New World Pictures/Lakeshore Entertainment (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
In the pantheon of horror comedies (which sounds a little pretentious even as I type it, especially in regards to this movie), few movies in the subgenre have had a lot of staying power and gone on to be considered classics. Pre-dating movies like Airplane!, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was a low budget, spoof-laden assault on monster movies. It didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but it did manage to garner a small cult following. Whether it was enough to warrant a sequel ten years later in the form of Return of the Killer Tomatoes didn’t really matter. It one-upped its predecessor in terms of budget and star power, but also in terms of story.
After the “Great Tomato War”, tomatoes have been outlawed throughout the United States. Working at a local pizza shop that serves up some pretty disgusting combinations of toppings in lieu of not having tomatoes for sauce are Chad (Anthony Starke) and Matt (George Clooney), two schlubby guys who stumble upon a plot engineered by the diabolical Dr. Gangreen (John Astin) to take over the world with his killer tomato army. Meanwhile, Gangreen’s beautiful female assistant (Karen Mistal) escapes from his laboratory with a secret of her own while Wilbur Finletter (J. Stephen Peace), veteran of the Great Tomato War, remains vigilante and ever-watchful of the killer tomatoes’ possible return.
If I have to make a comparison, I would say that Return of the Killer Tomatoes is The Empire Strikes Back of the Killer Tomatoes movie series... but wait, let me finish; in so much that it’s much better than the first film, for all of the reasons that I mentioned previously. Not only that, but it’s actually a funnier movie, in the vein of something like The Naked Gun wherein characters talk to the camera or outrageous things happen for no real reason. But, at the same time, it doesn’t go completely overboard with it. It focuses on its story enough that the parody and satirical elements sometimes take a back seat. It’s not a convoluted mess or anything, but time spent getting to know the characters and understanding the plot is a good thing, and is essential in a movie like this.
Compared to the first movie, it has a lot more production value and is jam-packed with charming performances, including Clooney, who I would argue gives his most honest and best performance of almost anything he’s ever appeared in. The movie was also successful enough at the time that it spawned an animated TV series, two video games, and two more sequels. Those were the days when franchises were being built out of the oddest assortment of intellectual properties, such as The Toxic Avenger, which the word “intellectual” doesn’t apply to at all. With a great variety of jokes and fun characters, Return of the Killer Tomatoes is a delight worth rediscovering.
Arrow Video’s Region A Blu-ray transfer features a 2K restoration sourced from a 35mm interpositive element. The results are a little mixed, mainly due to the low budget nature of the movie itself, as well as the use of various opticals. It’s a pretty grainy presentation overall, with some shots being grainier than others. Because of this, there’s an occasional softness, but fine detail is often given its chance to be seen. It’s also a very colorful presentation with pretty good color reproduction that never quite pops, but has some decent skin tones. Contrast and brightness levels are satisfactory, and there are no signs of digital enhancement to be seen. It’s a slightly unstable image throughout most of the running time, more noticeable towards the beginning. It’s also very clean-looking with little to no film artifacts leftover, aside from what’s present in footage re-used from the original movie. The soundtrack is a single English mono LPCM track. It features clear dialogue, although not overly precise, with very good sound effects and score. It’s a bit flat without much in the way of dynamics or any low frequency activity, but for what it is, it’s a strong enough track that should be plenty satisfactory. There are also subtitles in English SDH for those who might need them.
For the extras, you get a new audio commentary with writer/director John De Bello moderated by Michael Felsher; a new interview segment Hangin’ with Chad with Anthony Starke; a stills gallery; the movie’s original theatrical trailer; a TV spot; and a 20-page insert booklet with an essay on the movie by James Oliver.
Return of the Killer Tomatoes is probably only for a select audience. People who enjoy zany parody movies will like it more than most, and it’s immensely rewatchable. Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release of the movie is bound to find some new fans, eager to consume it. It’s a great disc, you’ll really enjoy it. You might even want to buy extra copies to give as presents. The people you buy it for will certainly love... is that enough money to finish this turkey?!!
- Tim Salmons