Throwback Thirty – Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988)

films, reviews, TBT

e225304ba8bbf1ff1b21543de450e6b15_star_rating_system_2_and_a_half_stars Continuing with my apparent comedy horror theme for this month, I’m reviewing another sequel to a cult classic. This time it’s the film that followed up 1978’s Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. The first film is a ridiculous and terrible horror parody of those 1950s B movies about huge monsters rampaging through a quiet American town. It flipped it on its head and, though a lot of the jokes don’t land or are incredibly desperate, there is a lot of fun to be had. It’s so fucking random and weird that it’s impossible not to enjoy it on some level. From the moment you hear the title song at the start of the film you know you’re in for a ride. Then it’s a roller coaster of bad acting and poor people being paid to roll around with actual tomatoes. It’s perfect. The ultimate “so bad it’s good film”. As for the sequel, it’s something that I’ve only seen bits of many years ago. Sticking in my mind only because it stars a young George Clooney. So, in the spirit of last, I decided it was worth rewatching the orignal and follow it up with the sequel. Of course, I was slightly worried that the whole process would put me off eating tomato soup or pizza for the next few weeks but I’m willing to sacrifice these types of things for this blog I guess.

The problem with writing this post is that I’m quickly realising how easy it is to misspell the word tomato when you’ve used the plural so many times in a short period of time. It’s incredibly frustrating. Which is fitting because that’s exactly what the sequel to the 1978 horror parody Attack of the Killer Tomatoes feels like. The first film was a simple one: for undisclosed reasons tomatoes have become sentient and start attacking human beings. The film follows a hapless group of people trying to stop them and infiltrate some political scheming. It’s all very silly and nonsensical but the bottom line is killer tomatoes. Thankfully, our heroes figure out that music is the key to defeating the vegetable (or, more factually, fruity) menace. Well, one song in particular; the so-called worst song ever written causes the tomatoes to die or kill themselves or run away or something. It’s kind of unclear but, whatever, mankind is saved.

Second time around things make even less sense, which seems impossible. Music, it turns out, is still the key but it no longer destroys the tomato menace. Thanks to the work of pioneering evil scientist Professor Mortimer Gangreen (John Astin) music can now be used to turn regular tomatoes into replica people. He has mostly been turning his hand to beefy soldiers but has also created himself a sexy young companion, Tara, who makes great toast. Tara escapes along with a mutant furry tomato, known as FT, and makes for a nearby pizza shop. Run by one of the heroes of the last film, Wilbur Finletter, and his nephew, Chad.

After this point everything starts to fall apart a bit. At times the film goes a bit meta and constantly breaks the fourth wall. At the same time the narrative is all over the place. Chad and Tara start a romantic relationship until Chad finds out she’s a tomato. He then has to rescue his love from Gangreen and stop his plot to create a mutant super army. The whole thing is all over the place. The film is only just over 90 minutes long but there is so much going on. And that’s without even mentioning the lengthy callback to clips from the first film that kicks the whole thing off. It’s incredibly clear that nobody had an idea for the sequel and just wanted to fill time anyway they could.

But, let’s be honest, none of this would have mattered if the film was funny. The first one didn’t exactly make sense but it’s still a great thing to watch. The sequel is so desperate to recreate that brilliance but it never reaches the same heights. It just comes off as sad and desperate in comparison. A lot of the first film’s jokes didn’t land but that one looks highly successful in comparison to its successor. Obviously, there is something kind of refreshing about how comfortable it is in its own shitness but there is an undeniable difference between the two films. You want to keep watching the first one but my focus was waning during the second. It didn’t make enough of things with great potential whilst it pushed things that didn’t work.

Maybe it’s just that there are far fewer moments where characters are forced to interact with actual tomatoes? It kind of takes the fun out of it when the menace is actually really jacked men with guns. Or maybe it’s just because one of the few good things about the whole thing is George Clooney as Chad’s best friend and he is horribly underused? Or maybe it’s just that, even though it still wants to have fun with its concept, this film kind of takes itself too seriously? Whatever it is, I found myself disappointed with my first watch of Return of the Killer Tomatoes. I wanted so much from it but, especially after my double feature, I just wished I was watching the first film.

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