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Return of the Killer Tomatoes

Arrow Video // PG // June 28, 2016
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 2, 2016 | E-mail the Author
Did you know...? Nineteen years ago, I founded the first ever Killer Tomatoes website. I've traded emails with Costa Dillon! On a floppy disk somewhere, I still have a really nice voicemail that Attack of the Killer Tomatoes star David Miller left me! I totally understand that those names mean nothing to you!

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As much as I dig the original Attack of the Killer Tomatoes -- an Airplane!-before-there-was-Airplane! spoof of overblown disaster movies and '50s creature features -- my longstanding love for the franchise is really rooted around this second film in the series. So...yeah: dateline, 1988! The Great Tomato War is a hazy memory. Tomatoes are still verboten, although you can still get your hands on the red stuff if you know where to look. An entire generation has grown up never having known the taste of ketchup on french fries or tomato sauce on pizza. The sinister mastermind behind it all -- the press secretary to the President of these United States, Jim Richardson (here played by eligible bachelor Rick Rockwell) -- is behind bars. Having triumphed over the Red Menace, Wilbur Finletter (Rock Peace) has hung up his parachute and opened up a pizza joint. Yeah, in a world without tomatoes, pizzas are still a thing. Think strawberry jam, peanut butter, gruyere, and gummy bears. ...but wait! You didn't think a stuffed suit like Jim Richardson could create those gargantuan tomatoes himself, did you? Turns out it was Professor Gangreen (John Astin) down in the lab with all those beakers and test tubes and stuff. No one could ever pin much of anything on Doc Gangreen, and he's had years to perfect his nefarious schemes. Last time around, the right choice of music could make tomatoes gigantic; now the guy's devised a way to harness it and transmogrify 'maters into people. Hulking body builder types! The Pope! The ::audible gulp:: President!

...and if Gangreen had warmed up to F.T., a fuzzy little mutant mishap in the lab, his plan for world domination might've gone off without a hitch. Instead, the madangry scientist had to go and toss the lil' fuzzball in the trash. It's more than his lab-spawned lover Tara (Karen Mistal) can stomach, so she rescues F.T. and runs into the arms of the only other person she knows: pizza delivery guy Chad (Anthony Starke). But...c'mon, she's secretly a tomato, and he's the nephew of the guy who stomped the Red Menace but good! There's no point in getting too hung up on the plot, but you gotcher star-crossed romance. You gotcher drama. You gotcher action. You gotcher intrigue. You gotcher comedy. You gotcher George Clooney (seriously!). We're basically talking about the greatest motion picture ever commited to film.

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Return of the Killer Tomatoes is sincerely one of my absolute favorite movies of all time. It's right up there with UHF and One Crazy Summer as the '80s comedy I love more than any other, and I seriously might've watched it from start to finish more than any other flick I've seen in my life. A lot of stuff I loved so much growing up makes me cringe with embarrassment now, but if anything, Return of the Killer Tomatoes has gotten better with age. I practically have the sucker committed to memory, and I still found myself endlessly howling with laughter giving it another spin on Blu-ray. Its hyper-meta sense of humor was years (maybe approaching decades) before its time. Return of the Killer Tomatoes doesn't just break the fourth wall; it grinds it into a fine powder, mixes it with some hardwood mulch, and lets all manner of comedy and humor blossom from there. Gangreen's hideously deforme...I mean, devilishly handsome wannabe newscaster flunky Igor (gold medal Olympian swimmer Steve Lundquist) stops and asks a woman if there's been a car chase in the movie yet. The production runs outta money and has to turn to increasingly desperate product placement to keep cameras rolling. Someone calls in to complain about the excessive flashbacks to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes in the opening reel. A charming on-screen dad pitches plush F.T. dolls, available for sale in this theater's lobby and fine department stores near you! Um, and more jokes that are funnier if you watch 'em rather than have me awkwardly describe them in a plain-text review. In a way, you're actually watching a movie within a TV show, which in turn has its own own movie that does its damndest to keep our hero on the right path. It's like Inception, only this one's worth watching!

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Full contact America's Cup. One of my all-time favorite Gone with the Wind gags. Valerian root powder. A tremendous cast that includes Karen Mistal, my first actress crush, who still sends my heart all atwitter these many, many years later. Carpenters and gardeners who are not tomato men. It's fast, it's frenetic, it's double-over-with-laughter hysterical, it's endlessly quotable, and...seriously, if you love UHF, Savage Steve Holland comedies, or Community, chances are that you'll love the hell out of Return of the Killer Tomatoes. It's one of Arrow Video's more affordable releases, even, so you really don't have any excuse. Buy it! Consume! I would sincerely love to hear what you think, so please send me an email or post a comment below. Highly Recommended.

I couldn't even begin to guess how many times I've watched Return of the Killer Tomatoes over the past twenty-five years and change, but it's a definite thrill to finally experience it in widescreen. I wouldn't exactly call this Blu-ray release a revelation, though. This transfer isn't based on the original camera negative, and the liner notes read as if the master was supplied for Arrow rather than them overseeing the work directly. I was so spoiled by Arrow's spectacular release of another New World title, The Stuff, that I was expecting something similarly extraordinary here,, not so much.

Everything through the opening titles is rough-going: on the soft side, flat, lifelessly saturated, saddled with coarser and chunkier grain (opticals, yeah, I know)... There's a significant uptick after that, so don't get too disheartened or anything. Not that this should be mistaken as any sort of flaw, but the image is exceptionally grainy. The more light Return... has to play with, the better things tend to look. The bright, vivid red of F.T.'s fur aside, colors rarely leap off the screen but still hit the marks I'd expect just the same. Definition and detail are all over the place: sometimes extremely impressive, occasionally hazy and indistinct, and more frequently bouncing around somewhere in between. It's pretty much always immediately identifiable as high-def, though, and the end result still trumps a bunch of other discs I've reviewed recently. Speckling and wear are kept to a minimum -- more or less limited to what's baked into dissolves and stuff -- and its AVC encode generally (though not always) renders its fine, filmic texture skillfully. The short answer goes something like "okay-to-pretty-good". Not what I expected. Still better than a lot of what's out there.

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The faint letterboxing bars preserve Return of the Killer Tomatoes' theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and the film and its extras get to stretch out across a BD-50 disc.

Return of the Killer Tomatoes' two-channel monaural audio is delivered in good ol' PCM. Its dialogue sounds dated but is generally clean and discernable enough. Some moments early on struck me as sounding muffled, something I never remember hearing in my old Anchor Bay DVD, not that I did a direct comparison. Skimming through the movie again, I'm not really getting that impression, so maybe my kneejerk reaction was overly harsh. I certainly get the sense that every micron of clarity there is to be found on the original printmaster mags can be heard here. The hummable, keyboard-centric score sure does sound great too.

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Also included are an audio commentary and a set of optional English (SDH) subtitles.

  • Audio Commentary: I'm a definite fan of this conversational approach to an audio commentary. Michael Felsher chats with co-writer/director John DeBello for an hour and a half, speaking about everything from the not-entirely-conventional distribution of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes to why it took a decade for a sequel to rear its head all the way to a special effects company that believed our corporeal forms would soon return to our true home planet of Venus. DeBello and Felsher are both charming, engaging conversationalists, delivering a commentary so fun and informative that I would've loved to have listened to it for another couple of hours. (Maybe if there's ever an Arrow release of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes...?) There's a great deal of conversation about all things Killer Tomato, including the other films in the franchise, the animated series, and the endeavors that never were or could one day be.

  • Hanging with Chad (17 min.; HD): Gotta admit: took me a couple of minutes to get the joke. This is why you're the best, Red Shirt Pictures. More on-camera interviews would've been terrific, but I'll take what I can get, especially a conversation as great as this one with Anthony Starke. There's no shortage of highlights about the cast and working out the right approach to Return...'s comedy, and I especially loved hearing about George Clooney's pranks on the set.
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  • Stills Gallery (2 min.): Return of the Killer Tomatoes' image gallery cycles through a couple minutes' worth of candid photos from the set, production stills, and a couple pieces of artwork.

  • Promotional Stuff (3 min.; SD): Last up are a standard-def trailer and TV spot.

As ever, the cover is reversible, with new artwork on one side and the original one-sheet art on the other. Gotta confess to having a strong preference for the original art this time around, but hey, that's the great thing about having choices! There's no DVD riding shotgun on this side of the Atlantic, but you do get a collector's booklet with a really terrific essay by James Oliver.

The Final Word
When word first broke that Arrow Video had struck a deal to distribute at least some of the Lakeshore/New World catalog, I immediately screamed "Return of the Killer Tomatoes!" (No, seriously!) Not only did a Blu-ray release of a lifelong favorite seem wildly improbable for so many years, but for it to wind up in Arrow's incomparable hands...? I feel like I should be wiping away a single, manly tear right now. One of the funniest and most underappreciated comedies of the decades, Return of the Killer Tomatoes comes very Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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