Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes (1978)

SEPTEMBER 15, 2010


I knew Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was silly, but I was honestly surprised how often I found myself laughing at the film. A lot of times (especially with older films), I find the humor corny or just plain dated when its blended with horror, but I was pretty consistently chuckling or downright laughing my ass off throughout the film, which combined some ZAZ-style sight gags (personal favorite – a trolley going up a hill with Alcatraz in the background… and the caption says “New York”) with a bit of Dr. Strangelove-esque satire, wrapped together with loads of genuine low budget charm.

In fact, most of my notes are just references to things that made me laugh:

“Little Room” – Possibly the gag that’s milked the most (besides the basic concept) is that the planning/war room that was assembled “on short notice’ is basically a closet, with everyone having to climb over each other/the table to get in and out, or to stand at the map to point out areas of interest. It never stopped being funny for a scene to stop dead so that someone could spend 20-30 seconds just trying to get into a desired position.

“Racist” – there was a delightfully odd, somewhat racist joke where a character says “There’s a little jap in the air”, to which someone replies “He means nip.” It’s the sort of anti-PC gag that you just don’t hear anymore unless it’s in something that’s trying to be offensive (South Park, the movie Postal, Family Guy... that sort of thing). Here it’s not trying to shock, it’s just a goofy joke to make. I miss that casual approach to humor.

“Bulletin” – as someone who hates most radio stations due to the fact that they seem to be 75% talk to 25% music, this was probably my favorite non visual gag in the entire film – a news announcer interrupts the usual broadcast to announce a bulletin, and then spends 30 seconds or so pointing out that the bulletin is for the public safety, and it’s brought to you by Schlitts beer, etc. We never actually hear the bulletin.

“Giant tom men bigger pzza” – so I don’t write very well, but I can decipher this scribble: “Giant tomatoes mean bigger pizzas”. There’s a subplot (one that ultimately makes little sense, since the protagonist of these scenes turns out to be the villain) of the press secretary going to a place called Mind Makers, an ad agency tasked with trying to spin the giant killer tomato outbreak into something positive. That was one of their best ideas. I’m not sure what it has to do with anything, but they also had an ad with a cop directing traffic and then it’s revealed that he’s blind (and then we hear smashing and crashing). Goofy, Police Academy level stuff, but I guess I was in the right mood, I laughed my ass off. These sequences were probably my favorite in the film.

“42:29” – that’s my standard note for a screenshot. So here you go! (this is another one of Mind Maker’s genius spin ideas)

“More tom less Mus” (“More tomatoes, less music”) – my only real complaint about the film is that there are long stretches without any killer tomato action, and 2-3 more songs than necessary. I could be more forgiving if the killer tomatoes were animated or something, but they’re either giant foam ones or real ones being rolled/thrown around – hardly an expensive effect. They really should have just cut to random people being killed every now and then to keep the whole “killer tomato” aspect front and center. With the ad agency, an assassin trying to kill our hero, a love story, the war room stuff, etc, there’s too much going on, and it seems as a result they forget about the goddamned tomatoes.

It’s also a bit too long, even though it’s only 85 minutes. Again, maybe cutting a few of the songs out would have helped (especially the army one near the end – terrible, unfunny song, and a real pace killer to boot), but even then they could have used some trimming throughout. Apparently there is a “director’s cut” available that has some stuff added, other stuff removed – maybe this one works better. I actually thought I was getting the special edition version, but this one only has the trailer.

Doing my “research” (looking at the Wikipedia entry), I discovered two interesting things: 1. the kid singing “Puberty Love”, which is kryptonite for the tomatoes, is none other than Matt Cameron, the 2nd drummer named Matt for Pearl Jam and their 5th overall (they’ve also had two named Dave). I’ve always joked that all of their ex-drummers should form a band, so if Matt ever moves on he can totally be the singer. The other was that there are THREE sequels to this thing. I knew about Return, because of the Clooney factor, but there was one where they Strike Back and then after that they apparently went to France. There was also an animated series and a few video games. How the hell did they never go to space?

I can totally see myself watching this in a different mood and hating it. There isn’t enough action to maintain total interest, and there are definitely some dud songs that practically kill the movie. But as long as you’re on board with the irreverent, rather dry humor (well, as dry as you can get in a movie about killer tomatoes), I think you’ll dig it. Let’s put it this way – if you didn’t laugh at that screenshot, don’t bother with the movie.

What say you?


  1. Hi,
    it may just be urban legend, but I'd always heard that this movie was a real live instance of "The Producers". Supposedly the studio was almost bankrupt, so found the worst script, worst, worst, worst, and the IRS found out about it, insisted they try to make good, and studio made just enough money to keep from bankruptcy. I may have to get this one through netflix and rewatch it.

    BTW, my fave sight gag was the last tomato with earmuffs, getting shown the sheet music.

  2. I will avoid this load of tripe like the plague! What was you taking to be in the mood to watch this and for it to make you amused ha ha? Great post as ever there.

  3. I just saw this about a month ago. I must've been in a mood to not laugh at it. I was alone, so that probably contributed to my bla reaction. I did appreciate it as kinda proto-Zucker material. It's small budget kept it from being too successful in the laugh department. I always figured it would be an intentionally funny horror movie. Instead, it was slapstick. I can remember a single horror movie moment. My favorite part was when the reporter was trying to get his interviewee to cry by helping her see how destitute her life was now that her husband was dead. In fact that was one of the few laughs in the whole film.

    I'm surprised you didn't mention the helicopter crash. While watching, I saw the helicopter crash and I figured there was no way they did that on purpose. There was a pretty good pieces on it in the special features. I guess that helicopter crash cost way more than the entire production.

  4. i just like that you refer to Matt Cameron as the drummer for Pearl Jam.

  5. ????

    I did because... he has been for the past 12 years? He's with Soundgarden for their reunion but there hasn't been anything about him leaving Pearl Jam, at least not that I have heard. If Dave Grohl can be in like 3 bands I don't see why he can't be in 2.

  6. It's becoming quickly obvious that we grew up in the same era... we're just fro different continents and watched different films.

    I'm pretty sure I've seen all these suckers... but most likely in the early 90's. I know what you mean by the right mood. Going to keep my eyes peeled for some re-releases of these (I love dry slapstick) classics.

  7. "it may just be urban legend, but I'd always heard that this movie was a real live instance of "The Producers". Supposedly the studio was almost bankrupt, so found the worst script, worst, worst, worst, and the IRS found out about it, insisted they try to make good, and studio made just enough money to keep from bankruptcy."

    Yeah, that's an urban legend. The film was made by San Jose State University students, who shot most of it in the nearby suburb of Milpitas.


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