Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

“Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” directed by John DeBello, is a 1978 film that has become a cornerstone of cult cinema. Blending horror, science fiction, and comedy, this low-budget spoof has captivated audiences with its absurd premise and irreverent humor. While it was not a critical success upon release, the film has since garnered a dedicated following, spawning sequels, an animated series, and a unique place in pop culture history. This article delves into the plot, characters, themes, and legacy of “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” highlighting why this bizarre film continues to entertain and inspire.

Plot Summary

“Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” unfolds as a parody of B-movies, featuring a ludicrous storyline where ordinary tomatoes become bloodthirsty monsters, terrorizing humanity.

Act 1: The Outbreak

The film opens with an ominous prologue explaining that a series of bizarre, seemingly unconnected incidents involving tomatoes has been occurring worldwide. The first scene humorously sets the tone: a woman screams in her kitchen as a tomato rolls menacingly toward her.

News reports begin to cover the strange phenomenon, noting that tomatoes have started attacking people. In response to this growing threat, the government forms a special task force led by the inept and bumbling Mason Dixon (David Miller). Dixon is assigned to investigate and combat the tomato menace. His team includes an eclectic group of misfits: Sam Smith (Gary Smith), a master of disguise who always fails to blend in; Lt. Wilbur Finletter (Rock Peace), a paratrooper who never takes off his parachute; and Greta Attenbaum (Sharon Taylor), a tough-as-nails Olympic swimmer.

Act 2: The Investigation

As the attacks escalate, Dixon’s team embarks on a series of misadventures to uncover the origin of the killer tomatoes and find a way to stop them. They face numerous challenges and comedic setbacks, including encounters with tomatoes that exhibit increasingly sophisticated behaviors, such as rolling down streets in packs and ambushing unsuspecting victims.

The task force’s investigation leads them to Professor Igor Gangreen (John Astin), a mad scientist with a vendetta against humanity. Gangreen reveals his role in creating the killer tomatoes as part of an experiment gone horribly wrong. His assistant, Igor (Stephen Peace), adds to the chaos with his bumbling efforts to help his boss.

Meanwhile, a subplot develops involving Lois Fairchild (Sharon Taylor), a plucky reporter determined to get to the bottom of the tomato attacks. Her interactions with Dixon add a touch of romantic comedy to the film, as the two develop an awkward, yet endearing, relationship.

Act 3: The Plan

As the tomato attacks become more frequent and deadly, the task force devises a plan to neutralize the threat. They discover that the tomatoes can be lured and controlled by a specific high-frequency sound. Dixon and his team set out to create a broadcast signal that will incapacitate the killer tomatoes.

In a climactic sequence, the task force rigs a stadium with loudspeakers and amplifiers to broadcast the sound. The killer tomatoes converge on the stadium, drawn by the signal. Just as the tomatoes are about to overwhelm the task force, they activate the broadcast, which plays a bizarre and nonsensical song called “Puberty Love.”

Act 4: The Climax

The plan works—albeit in a ridiculous fashion. The killer tomatoes, incapacitated by the sound of “Puberty Love,” begin to explode one by one. The task force members celebrate their victory as the threat is seemingly neutralized. However, in true B-movie fashion, a twist ending reveals a solitary tomato that has survived the carnage, hinting at the potential for a future outbreak.

Characters

“Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” features a memorable cast of characters, each contributing to the film’s offbeat humor and charm.

  • Mason Dixon (David Miller): The film’s protagonist, an incompetent but determined government agent leading the task force against the killer tomatoes. Dixon’s earnest yet bumbling nature provides much of the film’s comedic appeal.
  • Lt. Wilbur Finletter (Rock Peace): A parachute-wearing soldier who never seems to land, Finletter is a loyal but clueless member of Dixon’s team. His perpetual parachute and exaggerated bravado are sources of constant humor.
  • Sam Smith (Gary Smith): A master of disguise whose costumes are always ineffective and obvious, Smith’s comedic disguises add a layer of slapstick humor to the film.
  • Greta Attenbaum (Sharon Taylor): An Olympic swimmer with a tough exterior, Attenbaum brings a no-nonsense attitude to the task force, contrasting with the ineptitude of her colleagues.
  • Professor Igor Gangreen (John Astin): The villainous scientist behind the killer tomatoes, Gangreen’s maniacal personality and grandiose schemes provide a satirical take on the mad scientist trope.
  • Lois Fairchild (Sharon Taylor): A determined reporter who becomes romantically entangled with Mason Dixon, Fairchild’s character adds a touch of romance and journalistic satire to the story.

Themes and Style

“Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” is a film that revels in its absurdity, using humor and satire to explore various themes and stylistic elements.

Satire of B-Movies

At its core, “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” is a loving parody of B-movies, particularly those from the 1950s and 1960s that featured absurd premises and low-budget production values. The film’s deliberately over-the-top plot, exaggerated characters, and campy special effects pay homage to the era’s sci-fi and horror films.

Absurdity and Humor

The film’s humor is rooted in its embrace of absurdity. From the concept of killer tomatoes to the task force’s incompetent efforts, the film continually pushes the boundaries of logic and reason, creating a comedic experience that is both unpredictable and entertaining.

Social Commentary

Beneath its comedic surface, “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” offers subtle social commentary on various aspects of contemporary society. The film satirizes government inefficiency, media sensationalism, and the public’s susceptibility to panic and hysteria. Through its exaggerated scenarios, the film critiques the absurdity of real-world reactions to perceived threats.

Reception and Legacy

Upon its release, “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” received mixed reviews from critics, many of whom were perplexed by its unusual blend of horror and comedy. However, the film’s unique charm and irreverent humor quickly garnered a cult following.

Cult Status

Over the years, “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” has achieved iconic status within the realm of cult cinema. Its quotable lines, memorable characters, and outlandish premise have endeared it to fans of offbeat and unconventional films. The film’s popularity has been further bolstered by its frequent screenings at midnight movie showings and genre film festivals.

Sequels and Spin-Offs

The success of “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” spawned several sequels, including “Return of the Killer Tomatoes!” (1988), “Killer Tomatoes Strike Back!” (1990), and “Killer Tomatoes Eat France!” (1991). Each sequel continued the original’s blend of humor and absurdity, expanding on the bizarre universe of killer tomatoes.

In addition to the sequels, the film inspired an animated television series, “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: The Animated Series,” which aired from 1990 to 1991. The series introduced a new generation to the quirky world of killer tomatoes and further cemented the franchise’s place in pop culture.

Influence on Pop Culture

“Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” has left a lasting impact on pop culture, with references and homages appearing in various media. The film’s distinctive title and concept have become synonymous with campy horror-comedy, influencing other films, television shows, and even video games that embrace a similar spirit of irreverence and absurdity.

Conclusion

“Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” is a film that exemplifies the enduring appeal of cult cinema. Despite its low budget and initial critical reception, it has captured the imaginations of audiences with its unique blend of satire, absurdity, and humor. Through its memorable characters, quotable lines, and outlandish premise, the film continues to entertain and inspire, standing as a testament to the creativity and ingenuity that can thrive in the world of independent filmmaking. Whether you’re a longtime fan or a newcomer to the genre, “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” offers a hilariously unforgettable cinematic experience that transcends its humble origins.

 

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