The United States comes under a relentless siege from a formidable foe unlike any other. An enemy that’s risen from the ground up to overthrow the very soil Americans’ inhabit. Flashing proudly their red colors, this adversary will fight and destroy anyone in their path. The attack of the killer tomatoes will seek to end mankind and take over the world! As desperation sets in, top U.S. generals, under the aloof guidance of the President of the United States, assemble a motley crew of special ops that become America’s best hope against a vicious barrage from the killer fruit….or are they vegetables? Under the leadership of Mason Dixon, his team will infiltrate, investigate, and, if lucky, exterminate the rotten to the core tomatoes. From the glossy red cherries to the plump big boys, the round ripe killers are hungry from human pulp and only Dixon and his team can stop them!
Courtesy of the MVD’s Rewind Collection, a newly released line of retro cult cinema, comes the impeccably unsystematic comedic spoof “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!” for the first time on high definition Blu-ray! Writer-director John DeBello, along with his co-writers and fellow many hat wearing cohorts Costa Dillon and J. Stephen Peace, takes satire to the composter, lets it fester for a month, and releases a heaping pile of slapstick gold to the masses. The zany indie production, backed by various family members and local mom and pop retail operations, has been a horror comedy staple for past 40 years with not-so-cutting edge timeless humor that pokes a satirical finger at other more serious ventures such as Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” with the film opening with a message about viewers brushing-off jovially the Hitchcock subtle creature until the event actually happened with aggressive, unflinching fowls terrorizing a small town and in that context, a film about killer tomatoes was born. DeBello’s film aimed to poke fun at many other things as well and successfully pulled the wool over the eyes of critics who remarked how awful his film was to behold, but that was the director’s sought-to, goal line intention.
Out of a cast of untrained talents and actors and actresses who never saw the bright lights and prepped sets ever again, only one actor stands out as a recognizable face and household name and that face and name was of Jack Riley as a Government slug. I might be a sucker for classic re-runs, but I remember Riley from his stint on “The Bob Newhart Show” and his very presence in “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” legitimizes not on the film’s creditability but set the humor tone that was to be expected and despite almost being killed during filming as the rented helicopter accidentally crashes with him in it, the comedian rose from the ashes like a reborn phoenix and suggested to use crash footage to seemingly boost the pint-sized production value. However, it’s David Miller, who has zero interactions with Riley, in the lead role as a Mason Dixon. Though with an uncanny resemblance to the late funny man John Belushi with the wavy dark hair upon his short round figure, Miller goes fairly dark, as in quiet, for his leadership role as perhaps the only sane, and logical, character in the entire sequence of misfits. Dixon’s right hand Lt. Wilbur Finletter is played by co-writer, co-producer J. Stephen Pearce who courageously commits himself to doing all his own stunt work in a film that proudly wishes to just have a good time. Pearce’s approach to the lieutenant is with a sullied gung-ho persona that’s effective, but barely in the eyes of Mason Dixon. Dixon’s love interest Lois Fairchild, the only credited role of actress Sharon Taylor, inarguably is involved in an awkward game of being coy with Finletter as Fairchild, being a rookie reporter, aims to get the story at any cost while Finletter’s dimwit has him skate around her advances and oblivious to her information seeking intentions. Rounding out the cast is George Wilson, Eric Christmas (“Porky’s), Ernie Meyers, and Ron Shapiro.
Before “Scary Movie,” before “Naked Gun”, and even before “Airplane!,” “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” had tailored, if not probably pioneered, this particular gag humor and in today’s day-and-age of political correctness, films like John DeBello’s are much like the Dodo bird – extinct. In the mix of light hearted witticisms, a number of racial, sexist, and overall bad taste cracks lie sporadically about the 87 minute runtime that wouldn’t make past the MPAA standards of today, that would invoke public ridicule and outcry for the filmmakers’s heads, and would unjustly place on a blacklist mark all involved, but just like a many number of these cinematic relics, they’re grandfathered into the fold. Though I doubt many millennials have even heard of the killer tomato franchise which would be baffling since health conscious wackos would enjoy seeing genetically modified tomatoes run a rampage, proving their points.
“Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” arrives on a special collectors edition Blu-ray/DVD combo set from MVD’s Rewind Collection. For the 1978 film, this release, presented in an AVC encoded 1080p 4k digital transfer of a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, is by far the best yet with a rich coloring range that pop and bring new life to the cult favorite. Hair line blemishes and some blotchy moments rear ugliness every so often, but the outcome of this release is astonishing when compared to previous DVD versions. The mono uncompressed PCM track reinforces a well rounded release when technically speaking. The dialogue is crystal clear and the musical numbers go off without a hitch. Perhaps, not as resonating as one would hope, but in the end, the mono track really sounds good here. Bonus features aplenty with audio commentaries from director John DeBello, J. Stephen Pearce, and Costa Dillon, three delete scenes, a collection of old interviews from cast and crew entitled Legacy of a Legend, a discussion on the helicopter crash, and “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” original 8mm short film plus much, much more. Roughly about two hours of bonus content on this release makes it certainly a definitive collection. It took only 40 years for “Attack of the Killer Tomaotoes” to receive the treatment the John DeBello directed creature feature rightfully deserves and though might stink like rotten organic matter, there’s certainly nothing like the splat-fest riot of rolling, death-dealing fruit fleshed with trail blazing comedy unlikely to be repeated in today’s uptight community.