Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
directed by John De Bello
starring David Miller, George Wilson, Sharon Taylor, J. Stephen Peace
In the post-nuclear era, the Japanese worried about sea monsters and the Americans worried about communism and the entire zeitgeist of the era was quaintly captured on film. None of these moves were all that good, but drive-ins and MST3k and Elvira recycled the bad cinema endlessly. In 1978 J. Stephen Peace and John DeBello decided to make a parody of these cheap films, and pulled off what is still a fun camp parody. They began with the title, then figured out a story to carry it: Giant tomatoes are attacking and killing people, and its up to the military to save the world. Meetings are held in closets, a black man goes undercover to investigate the tomatoes (and ends up squished); an accidental helicopter crash is the highlight of the movies, and the Japanese scientist only speaks in over dub. How do they save the world? Why get all the tomatoes in a sports stadium, and invite every screwball and loose nut in San Diego to come stomp on them.
Does this movie standup to 40 years of self-referential film making? It sure does. The jokes still work for the most part and the “special” effects still inspire some of us to make intentionally bad cinema for YouTube. The specific features help, and the acting, while weak, is believable enough to keep you hooked. I like Lt. Wilbur Finletter (J. Stephen Peace), the parachutist who never went anywhere without his nylon dragging behind. Mr. Miller’s Special Agent Mason Dixon looks more like a file clerk than a secret agent, but in a lovable way. This was the first appearance of the San Diego Chicken (now calling himself “The Famous Chicken”); he’s fun to watch and added another surreal level to the story. Why was he here fighting tomatoes? Because the film could afford him. And if that’s not good low-budget film-making, I don’t know what is.