Tomatoes are not funny even a little bit – Spoilers ahead but are you really going to watch this?
Sometimes late at night, when there is no one here and the only sounds in the dungeon are the rats crawling in the walls, the mild breeze of wind blowing through the cracks and the soft moaning of some unfortunate soul lost to the mazes, I like to pull down a silk screen, fire up my ancient projection machine and watch films. Any films. Good films, bad films, and terrible films.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes falls solidly in the last category. From the opening seconds of the opening frame you know you are in for a terrible ride. The movie starts with a title card mentioning The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock. I think the point was to say that if The Birds is not ridiculous then maybe this movie, intended to make fun of movies like The Birds is not ridiculous. They are so wrong about this.
Before I get on with the plot and summary of this film there are six things I want to point out.
- There is one scene where the reporter is talking and her glasses fall off of her head, she makes no move to recover them or do anything but just keep reciting her lines so you know they only had money enough for one take.
- Trying to be Monty Python clever, they keep randomly running fake ads in the middle of the movie scrolling on the bottom. It never even kind of works.
- This is the kind of movie you only get out of the seventies and only with a huge excess of drugs and lack of money.
- This kind of wants to be Airplane and really, really is not. To be fair Airplane had not been released yet so maybe they just didn’t know what comedy should look like.
- There is one good gag that almost works where there is a tiny room with a huge table and all the generals have to crawl over the table to sit down. I want to see that gag again in a good film sometime.
- With this film being a cult classic and it having music in it, there is one thing I am never going to understand about it. Why don’t we have a Broadway musical for this??? If we can have a musical for Little Shop of Horrors, Hairspray and Legally Blonde, this can be a hit musical.
We open on an innocent and unnamed housewife who is mauled to death by a tomato that seems to come directly out of her kitchen sink. Next we see a set of investigators examining the body to dramatically proclaim that it is not blood they are seeing but tomato juice.
Ok look, this movie is supposed to be a comedy and they tried the best they could with absolutely no budget but this movie fails so spectacularly on so many levels I can’t quite capture it in words. The plot is pretty much non-existent. The acting is so bad it’s hilarious. The leisure suits of the era add an indescribably weird look to the whole thing. This all adds up to being so bad that it’s kind of good.
This movie has a whopping 27% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes (perfect pairing there) which is much higher than I thought it would have and astronomically higher than it deserves.
The absolute best part of the movie actually comes close to the beginning. It’s the song that goes with the movie. I can’t possibly think of this movie without singing this song in my head so I am putting the lyrics below for you to enjoy. You have to imagine this being sung in a deep and loud voice, sort of operatic style.
Attack of the killer tomatoes!
Attack of the killer tomatoes!
They’ll beat you, bash you, squish you, mash you
Chew you up for brunch and finish you off for dinner or lunch!
They’re marching down the halls
They’re crawling up the walls
They’re gooey, gushy, squishy, mushy
Rotten to the core
They’re standing outside your door!
Remember Herman Farbage
while taking out his garbage
He turned around and he did see tomatoes hiding in his tree
Now he’s just a memory!
I know I’m going to miss her
a tomato ate my sister
Sacramento fell today
They’re marching in San Jose
Tomatoes are on their way!
Classic lullaby stuff right there. I can attempt to summarize the movie but it’s completely disjointed and weird so doing so definitely loses something in the translation. There’s some kind of experiment maybe that happened that made tomatoes grow big and vicious. They show up in the ocean Jaws style at one point and kill some teenagers. There’s a government agency with a single car that is out to stop the carnage caused by these tomatoes.
This government agency has a few experts to help them. There is a swimming expert, who is a woman wearing an Olympic track suit, an underwater expert (different from the woman) who is wearing scuba gear, a disguise expert wearing a fake rubber nose and glasses, and some kind of soldier who spends the entire movie dragging a parachute around behind him.
There’s also a reporter who is on the case to, um, I guess, be there. There’s an ad guy who meets with the President’s Press Secretary over and over, making points like with larger tomatoes comes bigger pizzas.
We also get to see tons of weird shots of civilians running around town and making side commentary. So for the plot logistics here, it’s kind of hard to quite get down but the Press Secretary wants the tomatoes to win because he has his own garden and can control the tomatoes, for unexplained reasons. The guy who runs the agency is trying to stop whoever is helping the tomatoes.
Washington at first ignores the problem and then quickly panics and sends out the army to stop the tomatoes. To establish where we are geographically, the film makers take a shot of a trolley running up the streets of San Francisco and label it New York City. I think this is supposed to be a gag but it totally does not work on any level.
The swimming expert is dropped off in the forest, the underwater expert left on the side of a highway, the disguise expert is told to infiltrate the tomatoes and the parachute guy goes with the head of the federal agency to some random hotel. The reporter is there and seems to know who they are because, reasons?
Along the way there are a few jokes that so don’t hold up they are basically offensive. There’s a homophobic joke that I am not going to repeat and several racist jokes early on, disparaging people from China and Japan which, again, I am not going to repeat. But maybe the worst thing in the movie is the female reporter’s boss telling her that she has not lived up to her full potential, quite obviously meaning she should sleep with someone. I know this is supposed to be a joke but I don’t think this worked as a joke even in the less enlightened more drug fueled days of the seventies.
The best joke in the whole movie comes sort of randomly before the big tomato attack. A guy who is wearing a lab coat and stethoscope and is just described as a scientist is examining one of these overly large tomatoes. In seriously dramatic fashion, the camera pans in on the actor, nice and tight so we can hear him say, “Gentlemen, the situation is worse than we feared, This is a cherry tomato.” It’s pretty much the only joke in the whole movie that really works.
So there is a showdown between man and vegetable (yes I know a tomato is a fruit but they keep saying these are vegetables in the movie). A couple things I have neglected to mention before I describe the big battle. First, there is a song that keeps coming on the radio and whenever that song is on, the tomatoes stop moving. The song is called “Puberty Love.” I am not making that up.
Also, this is actually a musical. People at completely random times break into song for no apparent reason and almost totally independent of the story. It’s so weird, and not in a good way.
The swimming expert is killed by tomatoes. The underwater expert finds a local water fountain and we never see him again. The disguise expert blows his cover by asking the tomatoes for ketchup. The agency guy and the parachute guy uncover the Press Secretary’s plan and figure out that the only thing that can stop the tomatoes is “Puberty Love.”
Before this information is conveyed, the tomatoes make waste of the army, and invade the country with only the west coast left standing. To show the different cities being consumed by panic we see a group of the same people running in front of a brick wall while the radio says people are panicking in New York (crowd runs across the wall), Boston (crowd runs the other way across the wall), Seattle (crowd runs the other way across the wall) and this goes on for far too long for the gag to be funny.
Just when all seems to be completely lost the government agency guy gets everyone to play “Puberty Love” on their radios and shrinks the tomatoes. That is until the final dramatic moment when the agency guy and the reporter are cornered. Thank God, agency guy has the sheet music for “Puberty Love” because they are faced with the biggest, fattest tomato of them all. And it has leaves over where you might expect a tomato to have ears. The paper defeats the tomato.
So I guess it’s rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper, paper covers rock and kills tomatoes.
If my description here made any kind of sense, I did this movie a disservice as it really is incoherent.
My feeding bowl is running low and I’m hoping that more popcorn will be slid under the door before next week. I’ll be viewing one of the classics of Troma productions, it’s first breakout hit, The Toxic Avenger.
Until next time, stay out of dark and dreary dungeons, but if you have to be stuck in one, wear a top hat and carry a cane so that you can be as slick as me.