Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes (1977)

The fundamentals of this film are explained within the first 5 minutes, in one of the greatest displays of “show, don’t tell” exposition in cinema that clearly demonstrates the skill found within this work. Tomatoes have started attacking, and killing, people all over America. The police and the army have failed to stop them, thus the country is facing Tomatogeddon. The Pentagon has recruited Mason Dixie (David Miller) to lead a team of utterly improbable agents (Sam Smith (Gary Smith), a disguise expert, Greg Colburn (Steve Cates), scuba diver, Gretta Attenbaum (Benita Barton) Olympic swimmer, and Wilbur Finletter (Stephen Peace), parachute trooper) who team up and then head their own ways to provide comic asides in a variety of unlikely locations.

As the Tomatoes force the United States into a tactical retreat at the Pacific Coast, Jim Richardson (George Wilson) tries to convince the public that there is no real danger from the tomatoes; Mason tries to get to the bottom of what is causing the once peaceful fruits to go savage, and people die in a series of bizarrely violent ketchup-soaked deaths. Also, there are three dance numbers, because of course there is. The writers put in a helicopter crash in the first act, a tank battle in the second, and a big crowd scene in the third; why not cap all that off with song and dance? If nothing makes sense as anything can happen for almost no reason, then none of the movie can be out of place.

The humour throughout is a heady mixture of genre-parody, favouring cheap alien-invasion and mad-science films of the 50s, mild 70s political quippery that is mostly able to translate to the modern audience, and basic absurdity that plays with the form. If you don’t find the idea of the credits selling ad-space, or the location legends not being sure why the action is being filmed, or even just the idea of the film being about killer tomatoes, intrinsically funny then it’s probably not for you.

In fact, I’m going to have to be honest here and say that this was the most splitting film watched by the Thursday Night Trash or Treasure film club; resulting in a 50/50 split with neither side willing to budge. Whilst the “Trash” camp did concede that there were precious few moments they laughed at, they felt them too-few and far-between to make it worth thinking about watching again or recommending to a friend. They, much like critics of the time, felt that as a parody it just didn’t land, especially as the tomatoes don’t appear in it as much as they felt they should.

This is very valid, and the chances are that a lot of people won’t “get” the film. Not because it’s too smart or anything pretentious like that, but because it is, at its heart, a very dumb film. In more capable hands it would be a three-minute skit, but those making it were screaming amateurs who beat it out into 87 minutes by throwing on more random gags about TV, politics, pop culture and nothing. There are gags which are the utter destruction of the form, to the point of it being an unrecognisable mess, and nested jokes with too small a pay-off for most to find funny.

Personally, I laughed my arse off all through it. I don’t know how much was because I was thrilled by the Dadaistic nature of the set-up, I found the references to prior works an amusing deconstruction, or I’m an idiot who laughs at nonsense. The tension and suspense of not knowing what could happen next reminded me of a punk-rock Monty Python, in that there were no rules beyond dream-logic touched by nostalgia and the people doing it were quite obviously amateurs doing it for the thrills. Everything was low budget, and frequently technically badly made, but that combined gives it a retro-charm and a faux-documentary feel. It was also just very, very silly. It had all the failings of that era’s low-budget horrors, but revelled in them and shone a light upon it all.

By many people’s measure, this will be Trash that just doesn’t move them in any manner. But comedy is a highly subjective thing, and if it makes someone laugh then it has, unquestionably, succeeded in its goal. You may think less of the person for laughing at it, but you can’t deny that they did. And I did laugh at it, quite a lot. So I have to call it Treasure and I heartily encourage anyone else who thinks I have the same sense of humour as them to also give it a try. The rest of you are more than happy to treat me with the contempt I quite possibly deserve.

The Raggedyman

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