Film Review: Return of the Killer Tomatoes! (1988)
A sequel that is better than the original is a rare occurrence in Hollywood, especially when the original happens to have something of a cult status. It can happen only for two reasons – either the film author is creative genius or the original film was so bad that even minor improvements in budget and casting could have spectacular results. In case of 1978 science fiction comedy Attack of the Killer Tomatoes it was the latter, and its 1988 sequel Return of the Killer Tomatoes! represented, somewhat unsurprisingly, a better film.
The plot takes place a decade or two after the Great Tomato War, during which USA barely survived invasion of giant mutant man-eating tomatoes. Since the authorities didn’t know the true source of mutation, all tomatoes are banned which makes life hard for all those who like traditional forms of pizza. That doesn’t include Wilbur Finletter (played by J. Stephen Peace), hero of Great Tomato War who runs pizzeria using non-traditional ingredients. Pizzas are being delivered by his nephew Chad (played by Anthony Starke) who, while delivering pizza to an isolated house immediately falls in love with one of the occupants, beautiful and mysterious woman named Tara Boumeday (played by Karen Mistal). When she leaves her house and decides to live with Chad, he is delighted, despite strange and sometimes disturbing behaviour. Chad is unaware that Tara is actually a mutated tomato, created by Professor Gangreen (played by John Astin), mad scientist who had created the original set of killer tomatoes and now wants to grow human-looking plants as an army that would help bring him world domination.
Original film, made with ridiculously low budget, didn’t have much impact on the box office, but later became among the first to create cult status due to emerging home video market. After a decade, writer and director John De Bello felt comfortable enough to launch a sequel. Although produced by New World Pictures, studio specialised for B-films, the budget allowed not only for more credible special effects, but also for professional cast, among which the most recognisable (at least from today’s perspective) is young George Clooney in the role of Matt Stevens, Chad’s friend, room mate and suave ladies’ man. While Clooney in supporting role doesn’t have much impact, main cast is quite solid. Anthony Starke is great as young man torn between lust and common sense, while Karen Mistal puts not only her exotic looks but real talent of comedienne to good use creating one of the most interesting female characters in B-cinema. But the greatest acting job belongs to John Astin who unashamedly overacts in the stereotypical role of mad scientist. Unfortunately, De Bello and his producer J. Stephen Peace felt the need to bring back some characters from the original film as a form of fan service, and the actors playing them show clear lack of skills compared to the new cast.
On the other hand, De Bello was quite aware that his original isn’t too good, so he tried to use that fact as an inspiration for self-parody. That led to some ingenious gags that provide film with “meta” quality, like the introduction in which Return of the Killer Tomatoes! is shown as part of television show like Mystery Science Theater 3000, while the regular plot occasionally get interrupted with updates on the film production’s problems with budget. De Bello obviously took some cues from anarchic and irreverent comedies of Jim Abrachams and Zucker Brothers, but he never used all of comedic potential. Some of the gags are related to 1980s and might not be properly understood by younger viewers. However, quality of humour has generally improved and this film is significantly better than the previous. It doesn’t mean that it has some deep artistic value, but it would serve the purpose for audience seeking some light entertainment, this time without need for pizzas, alcohol and various mind-altering substances while watching it. Return of the Killer Tomatoes! was successful enough to lead to two direct-to-video osequels - Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! and Killer Tomatoes Eat France.
RATING: 6/10 (++)
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