• 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.

  • Film reviews

    #339 – Killer Tomatoes Eat France (1991)

    Killer Tomatoes Eat France (1991)

    Film review #339

    dir. John De Bello

    SYNOPSIS: Professor Gangreen has escaped from prison and intends to enact a new plan to take over the world using his killer tomatoes. This time he intends to fulfil an ancient French prophecy to install his assistant Igor to the throne of France. An American backpacker arrives in France and stumbles upon Gangreen’s sinister plan, and with Marie, a local French villager, and FT (Fuzzy Tomato), a “good” tomato, they must work together to stop Gangreen before he fulfils the ancient prophecy…

    THOUGHT/ANALYSIS: Killer Tomatoes Eat France is a 1991 film and the fourthin the Killer Tomatoes film series. Let’s start off with the title of the film: it wouldn’t sound halfway believable if there wasn’t already a well-established franchise consisting of four films, a cartoon series and video games that constantly parodies the b-movie monster genre. The film right from the outset presents the viewer with some silly credits that while not wholly original, might get a small chuckle or two. This is accompanied by a very dramatic and orchestral arrangement of the “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” song, which is massively overproduced for a b-movie project like this, but that’s definitely part of its charm. I think this was also used in the previous films too, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen them. The film starts properly with Professor Gangreen, the creator of the killer tomatoes, about to face execution in France, when he is rescued by his assistant Igor. Gangreen then hatches yet another plan to take over the world using his killer tomatoes, intending to fulfil an ancient prophecy of the return of a French King, and having Igor be that King. The film’s story is rather simple, with plot points parodying other stories, so it’s easy to follow. It’s obviously not meant to be an epic tale, but pokes fun at all of the tropes that it incorporates into its story.

    Meanwhile, an American backpacker is travelling through France when he meets a young French woman named Marie. She learns he is an actor, although she doesn’t learn that he is a b-movie actor…hence this film, and he introduces himself as Michael J. Fox to try and impress her. I’m not sure if Michael is supposed to be his actual name, because it’s never really revealed, so we’ll just go with it. The country of France is probably the butt of most of the jokes in this film, with it portraying rural France as living in the 1800s, and the various stereotypes of the French, from eating snails to the various traits made popular by actor Jerry Lewis. It is a completely over-the-top characterisation that may feel a little old fashioned nowadays, but provides some funny slapstick moments, such as the French army facing off against the tomatoes by launching baguettes at them. There’s also the plot element concerning the prophecy of a king returning to the throne of France, and the film depicting the need of France to have a monarch again after they became a republic. Probably not the best depiction of French values, but there is a note in the credits that basically says not to take it too seriously, and the film itself reflects that rather well. The film basically continues the world established in the previous films, where tomatoes were banned worldwide and everyone uses rather gross alternatives for tomatoes in their food. France is established as the only place in the world where tomatoes and humans live alongside each other in harmony. Killer Tomatoes Eat France does distinguish itself from the others by having sentient vegetables that weren’t created by Gangreen, and also giving some of the tomatoes speech, which they never did previously. It is in contradiction with the world established by the previous films, but it’s a world with killer tomatoes in it, and it’s not a film series that focuses on consistent world-building.

    The rest of the characters include the return of Professor Gangreen and his assistant Igor from the previous films, who created the killer tomatoes. They get a lot of focus in the film and their general incompetence sets up a lot of the jokes. There is also F.T. (Fuzzy Tomato), the only ‘good’ tomato that Professor Gangreen created, who is performing a concert at the Louvre and helps to stop Gangreen and his scheme. There’s also Louis XVII (who says he always wondered why his last name was “17″), who learns he is the true King of France, and who Michael and Marie must restore to the throne in place of Igor. Gangreen and Igor are also helped by three tomato minions (Zoltan, Kethuck and Viper), who are based on characters from the cartoon series. It’s a packed cast who all fulfil specific roles, so there’s not much to complain about in that regard.

    The whole film feels a lot more child-friendly than the previous films: maybe because it was riding on the back of the cartoon series, which was mildly successful. A lot of the jokes lack any teeth and would probably appeal to a child’s sense of humour, but are devoid of much more substance for adults to enjoy (although Gangreen being marches to the guillotine at the beginning is a little dark). A lot of the jokes break the fourth-wall and extend onto the set of the film, and while the previous films did some of this, it does happen a bit too much here. The best gags are the more subtle ones, such as during the war scene, where green army men toy figures are used to create a mock special effect of a real army charging across the battlefield, only for the film to cut to an actual field and life-sized green army men are actually stood in the field, this gaga also continues with toy tanks, and the way the film switches between toys and real-life is well done. Other visual gags such as the French soldiers wielding baguettes as weapons and Gangreen deploying banana skins and marbles on the tower stairs that Michael is trying to climb to rescue Marie. The film doesn’t have a huge budget, but still manages to pull off some big scenes, such as the battle mimicking the trenches of the first world war, and the car chase through the streets of Paris. Killer Tomatoes Eat France doesn’t add anything new to the world of killer vegetables, instead just providing more of the same as we have seen before. It changes things up with setting it in a caricature of France that is out-of-date and overly cartoonish, but nevertheless provides a few funny moments. Some of the humour, while not overly original, keeps the film afloat and form being a boring experience. The trouble is the first film started out as a parody of b-movie horror films, and with the fourth film there’s not too much left to parody (hence why there’s more focus in parodying France). The b-movie genre by 1991 was also long gone, and so the film exists in this non-space where it is referencing things which aren’t really relevant. However as I mentioned at the beginning, there’s something about this series that kept it going, and the film, for better or worse, manages to continue this bizarre franchise.