Film reviews

#340 – Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! (1990)

Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! (1990)

Film review #340

dir. John De Bello

SYNOPSIS: Detective Lance Boyle is investigating a murder when the police Chief suspects the work of killer tomatoes. Boyle is highly sceptical about it, and this is made worse when he has to work with tomatologist Kennedy Johnson. Meanwhile, Professor Gangreen, the creator of the killer tomatoes, has a new scheme to conquer the world…

THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! is a 1990 film and the third film in the “Killer Tomatoes” series. The series has always been a spoof or parody of the b-movie monster genre, and this film is no different. The film starts off with a murder parody of the “Halloween” films, which is pulled off pretty well. Then we get to see police detective Lance Boyle, a childish wild-card who doesn’t seem to take anything seriously, who is called to investigate the aforementioned murders. The chief of police believes that killer tomatoes involved, and has tomatologist Kennedy Johnson brought on the case to help Boyle, which he is less than pleased about, as he doubts there is even such a thing as killer tomatoes. Meanwhile, Professor Gangreen, who created the killer tomatoes, is disguising himself as a talk show host called Jeronahew, and intends to brainwash everyone who watches his show. The story of the film is split between the two perspectives, with Boyle and Johnson fending off various tomato attacks, and Gangreen and his assistant Igor trying to fulfil their plan to conquer the world. In doing so, the film uses typical plot elements, with Boyle and Johnson starting off as antagonistic while eventually developing a romantic attraction, but as a parody film it has to use these tropes to mess around with them. Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! walks the line between making a genuine attempt at a film, while also undermining the tropes it relies on a lot more so than its predecessors, which played it mostly straight with treating the killer tomatoes as a genuine threat, which showed the ridiculousness of the genre. Without that straight-laced parody the whole concept seems a bit lost and muddled. here’s also not much progression with the plot, just a bunch of killer tomato attacks that are all the same and don’t really result in anything. This film doesn’t add anything to the “killer Tomatoes” mythos, but there’s not much mythos needed in the “killer tomatoes” series. That said, the series has developed a structured world and history given that it is based on killer vegetables.

Boyle’s character is a bit all over the place: in the opening sequence we see him get out of bed and partake in a range of silly activities. There’s definitely a parody of Lethal Weapon between him and the other police officers, but nothing too specific: he’s just a laid back cop who likes to flout the rules and his partner and the Chief are a little more straight-laced. The most prominent character has to be Professor Gangreen, who is again played by John Astin, who gives such an over-the-top and dedicated performance that he really steals the show. It’s no surprise that the protagonist’s throught the series change or play minor roles, while Professor Gangreen and his assistant Igor are constantly driving the narrative. There’s not much to their plans other than to conquer the world or something similar, but there really doesn’t need to be.

As mentioned, the comedy of the film focuses on a fair amount of parody and satire, but it tries to work in other methods of humour too, such as the fourth-wall breaking, which I think worked better in the previous film. There’s definitely some inspiration that’s taken from the Naked Gun film series too, with incidental mishaps that are taking place in the background that provide some slapstick, physical humour. Overall the humour is fairly hit and miss, but there’s a few laughs to be had. This is the first film in the series that gave the the killer tomatoes themselves faces, rather than having them be just actual tomatoes. They look qute expressive and well made, so no complaints there.

Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! is more of the same comedy and parody as in the revious films. It attempts to make itself more relevant by spoofing scenes and tropes from more contemporary films such as Halloween and Lethal Weapon. While some of the jokes land and flow well, others just don’t have enough of an edge. Some of the humour is reliant on the time that the film was released, and so it will be easy to miss some of it if youre not familiar with it. The film is about what you would expect from the franchise though: it is not meant to be polished or serious, it’s just a bit of fun, but the lack of direction does impact that enjoyment a little.