Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1977)
Don’t forget to eat your vegetables…before they eat you…
SYNOPSIS: All across America, people are being killed by mutant tomatoes that are hungry for blood. Trying to keep this epidemic a secret, The Federal Investigation Agency puts its most unremarkable and low-key agents on the case, headed by Mason Dixon and Wilbur Finletter. The crack team soon get to work trying to find a way to stop the tomato menace, while Lois Fairchild, is given the job of writing a story about it for a paper, and is constantly trying to get the scoop from Dixon and friends. As the epidemic becomes less and less of a secret, panic sweeps the country, and Dixon and co. are in a race against time to stop the onslaught of these vicious vegetables (or technically, ferocious fruit).
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is a 1977 comedy horror film, and judging by the title, you should be able to tell that this film may be a little on the ridiculous side…The plot concerns some killer tomatoes that go on the attack, and that’s it really. Not much reason is ever given as to why tomatoes have suddenly got so aggressive, and we are thrust from the outset into this battle between man and vegetable. The film starts off with a warning about people laughing at Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” until a similar situation happened for real (which it didn’t, but anyway…), so one can never be too complacent in your relationship with your vegetables, and who knows? Maybe they will eventually rise up against humanity…but I’m sure you won’t be kept awake at night by the thought of the tomatoes in your kitchen gaining sentience and trying to kill you; the film would have to do have an iota of seriousness to be able to do that, as well as choosing an antagonist that wasn’t, you know, a tomato. The idea of the film does seem like a joke that has got way out of hand, and the film really has little idea about how to make a story about killer tomatoes (if such a thing is possible), the opening pun of a police officer finding blood on the victim and finding out its actually tomato juice is probably a play on how tomato juice/ketchup is usually used in place of blood in low budget films of this time. Once they get this big scene out of the way, the rest of the film doesn’t really know what to do with itself after seemingly executing its smartest scene.
So as the epidemic grows and the President wishes to try and keep this whole affair under wraps, a number of unheard of and low-profile agents from the FIA are put on the case. Lead by Mason Dixon, they set to work. These characters really have little to no impact on the story, with two of them appearing in about two scenes, and having no lines. (Their “Underwater expert” gets 10 seconds of screentime in which he “dives” into a fountain and we assume he just swims around in circles for the rest of the movie, since this is the only time we see him). Eventually we meet Wilbur Finletter, the last member of DIxon’s team, and the two form a bizarre duo, even though they barely interact with anything than more than a sentence or two. The sheer eccentricity of Finletter and the absolute irrelevance of Dixon combines to make a bizarre relationship, but we are never given any moments of true development between the two to give it any weight or importance. We are also introduced to Lois Fairchild, a reporter who tries to get the story on the killer tomatoes by pursuing Dixon. She again is character that serves little purpose other than for one or two cheap jokes; with Lois, its a play on Lois Lane, and a Superman reference that happens shortly after she appears in the film. In all, we can say that the cast of characters serve only the purpose of a gag or two each, and you will not be remembering this film because of them (though to be fair, it is tough competing against killer tomatoes for attention); they are all fairly incompetent and generally they just don’t do anything…
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes knows what it is: A satire of the low budget sci-fi monster movies, and the whole feels purposefully clumsy to reflect that: Everything and everybody is subject to mockery. There is some inappropriate stock footage with the skyline of San Francisco being labelled as New York, and some breaking of the fourth wall too. Everything is delivered in a very dry and serious manner, and the humour reminds me of the sort that made Airplane! so successful, but the humour in this film does seem to lack any real bite or hook; it all seems very general and floaty, instead of taking a more definitive standpoint. Perhaps this is part of the film’s attempt to reveal the recycled nature of the plots and narrative devices running through these sort of films, but there is still very little to ground all of this non-targeted satire. To take things really over-the-top, the film even throws in some musical numbers which of course are ridiculous and inappropriate as it gets. Despite all of this though, the film does have some funny moments, and it can get a few laughs when it doesn’t try too hard.
This film was produced with a very small budget, and it shows with the ridiculous giant tomato props, and the stop-motion technique to try and make the tomatoes look animated. One of the opening scenes has a helicopter that was expensive to hire…and was subsequently crashed. The unintentional footage of this however did get worked into the final cut, and it just goes to show the ad-hoc nature of this film and its very loose nature so it can work with practically anything and make a mockery of it by working it into its own madness. Despite all of the ridiculous flaws and premises I have outlined, we must accept that Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is just trying to make fun of all those films that made it quite easy to be set up as targets of satire: Everything in the film is there for its gag potential, and it throws in a few surprises which make things really ridiculous from time to time. The film also managed to make a decent profit at the box office and has since become a cult film despite its shortcomings. Perhaps because this film pushes things to such extremes; and it is rather bad alongside mocking everything bad about itself that results in it being begged to watch just to see just what they do with the premise.