Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
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|The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John DeBello|
|Produced by||John DeBello
|Written by||John DeBello
|Based on||Original Idea:
|Music by||John De Bello|
|Cinematography||John K. Culley|
|Edited by||John De Bello|
|Distributed by||NAI Entertainment|
|Box office||$567,000|
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is a 1978 musical horror black comedy film directed, produced, edited, scored and co-written by John DeBello and co-writer David Miller, who also starred as the lead role. The film is a spoof of B movies. Made on a budget of less than US$100,000, the story involves tomatoes becoming sentient by unknown means and revolting against humanity. Writing credits were shared by DeBello, Costa Dillon, and Stephen Peace.
The success of the film led to three sequels, all directed and co-written by DeBello.
The film opens with a scroll saying that when Alfred Hitchcock's film The Birds (1963) was released, audiences laughed at the notion of birds revolting against humanity, but when an attack perpetrated by birds occurred in 1975, no one laughed. This is followed by a pre-credits sequence of a tomato rising out of a woman's garbage disposal unit. Her puzzlement turns into terror as the tomato draws her into a corner. Following the credits, the police investigate her death. One officer discovers that the red substance she is covered with is not blood, but tomato juice.
A series of attacks perpetrated by tomatoes occur (including a man dying by drinking tomato juice made from a killer tomato, a boy heard being gobbled up by a killer tomato, and a sequence where the tomatoes attack innocent swimmers, in a parody of Jaws). While the President's press secretary Jim Richardson tries to convince the public that there is no credible threat, the president puts together a team of specialists to stop the tomatoes led by a man named Mason Dixon. Dixon's team includes Sam Smith, a disguise expert who is seen at various points dressed as, among other things, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Adolf Hitler; Navy diver Greg Colburn; Olympic swimmer Gretta Attenbaum; and parachute-toting soldier Wilbur Finletter.
Smith is sent out to infiltrate the tomatoes at a campfire, eventually blowing his cover while eating a hamburger and asking if anyone could "pass the ketchup." Colburn and Gretta are sent to sectors, while Finletter stays with Mason. Meanwhile, the president sends Richardson to the fictitious ad agency "Mind Makers," where executive Ted Swan spends huge amounts of money to develop virtually worthless ploys including a bumper sticker with "STP" for "Stop Tomato Program" on it, a satirical reference to both the real "whip inflation now" campaign with its widely ridiculed "WIN" slogan and STP motor oil decals and bumper stickers which were commonplace in the 1970s. It is revealed that a human is also plotting to stop Dixon when a masked assassin attempts to shoot him, but misses. A senate subcommittee meeting is held where one secret pamphlet is leaked to a newspaper editor who sends Lois Fairchild on the story. While she tails Finletter, he mistakes her for a spy and trashes a hotel room attempting to kill her. He then chases the assassin as the masked man fails again to kill Dixon, but loses him.
Gretta is killed and further regression has led leaders to bring in tanks and soldiers to the west coast in a battle that leaves the American forces in shambles. Dixon, walking among the rubble, sees a trail of tomato juice and decides to investigate. He ends up being chased by a killer tomato to an apartment where an oblivious child is listening to the radio. The tomato is about to kill Dixon but suddenly flies out the window. Dixon peers out to see if it has died when he spots the assassin hijacking his car. He chases the assassin until he is knocked out when it is revealed that Richardson is behind the tomatoes. He is about to reveal his secret of control when Finletter charges in and runs him through. Dixon, picking up some strewn records, realizes that both times the tomatoes left him the new hit song "Puberty Love" had been on the radio. He orders Finletter to gather all remaining people and bring them to the stadium, which is soon attacked by the tomatoes.
The tomatoes are cornered in a stadium. "Puberty Love" is played over the loudspeaker, causing the tomatoes to shrink and allowing the various people at the stadium to squash them by stomping on them repeatedly. Fairchild, meanwhile, is cornered by a giant tomato wearing earmuffs. Dixon saves her by showing the tomato the sheet music to "Puberty Love." He professes his love to her, in song. The film ends with a carrot that rises from the Earth and says "All right, you guys. They're gone now."
The finished film contains footage of a real helicopter crash. In a scene showing law enforcement officers firing their weapons to ward off tomatoes in a field, a $60,000 Hiller Aircraft UH-12E that had been rented for the production was supposed to have landed in the tomato patch behind the officers, but during the landing, its tail rotor struck the ground, causing the craft to spin out of control near the ground, roll over, and burst into flames. The helicopter pilot escaped without serious injury. The crash was accidentally caught on film and was later worked into the film.
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The theme song of the movie describes the tomatoes' rampages through the world, describing that they've killed a man named Herman Farbage while he was taking out the garbage, that the Mayor is on vacation to get out of stopping them, that they've scared off the National Guard and that they've even eaten the narrator's sister. This theme song is used in different variations over the course of the series, here simply sounding like the score of an old monster movie with lyrics and a more catchy tune.
There have been a number of sequels and other spin-off material in various media as a result of this movie. They include three movie sequels:
- Return of the Killer Tomatoes! (1988)
- Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! (1990)
- Killer Tomatoes Eat France! (1991)
The 1988 sequel, Return of the Killer Tomatoes, uses stock footage from this film in the opening, with only one real change. The scene from the climax of the original portraying hundreds of people running into the stadium to squash the tomatoes is dubbed over to make it seem like they are evacuating the area.
In the theme song for this film we hear about the death of Herbert Farbage by tomatoes, in the opening song for the sequel we learn that Herbert actually survived the attack and now has an upcoming TV show.
American composer and orchestrator Gordon Goodwin, one of the original composers for the film, later wrote a big band piece inspired by the music for this film, to be played with his jazz ensemble Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band. The piece is meant to poke fun at the soundtrack in a musically comic fashion, especially through the song's use of solo Bass Trombone.
Adaptations and spin-offs
- The film was adapted in 1990 as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (TV series), a cartoon TV series which ran on Fox Kids, but despite the name, it was based on Return of the Killer Tomatoes. One scene did include live action footage of the Killer Tomatoes film, followed by a comment it is the worst torture a prisoner could endure.
- A novel released in 1997, Attack of the Killer Potatoes, pays tribute to the film.
- Three different video games were developed: a 1986 video game released for 8-bit computers, which was based on the film, and a 1991 video game released for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Game Boy game consoles, which was based on the animated series.
- Viper Comics has released a comic book adaptation of the film in October 2008.
- Kim Harrison's book series The Hollows is based in a world where genetically engineered tomatoes killed off a significant portion of the population. The author admitted inspiration came from this movie.
- A Greek film has also been made as an homage, I epithesi tou gigantiaiou mousaka (The Attack of the Giant Moussaka) (1999).
In 2008, a remake was announced. Kent Nichols and Douglas Sarine, creators of Ask a Ninja were developing the project. This was to be Nichols' directorial debut. M. Dal Walton III was co-producing along with Emmett/Furla Films. In 2011, John DeBello said that the Ask a Ninja creators were no longer involved. As August 2014, no further updates have been given regarding development of the project.
- "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: An Oral History of the 1978 Film"
- "Movie Crash from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, July 11th, 1978". Retrieved April 11, 2010.
- "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!". Rotten Tomatoes. January 1, 1978. Retrieved September 5, 2015.
- Goldstein, Gregg (March 11, 2008). "'Tomatoes' ripe for a redo". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 23, 2014.
- "Review: 'Attack of the Killer Tomatoes'". Variety. 1978. Retrieved January 23, 2014.
- Viper Comics Launches All Horror Imprint "Black Mamba Books", Comics Bulletin, June 9, 2008
- "A Gaggle of Book Reviews | Author Interview: Kim Harrison". Ourgaggleofgirls.com. February 9, 2008. Retrieved January 4, 2012.
- Brooks, Xan; Shoard, Catherine (28 August 2009). "Frightening Food on Film". Guardian. London: Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved August 30, 2009.
- "VFXWorld Magazine". Animation World Network. Retrieved September 5, 2015.
- Jeremy Wheeler. "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! (2009) - Kent Nichols - Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related - AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved September 5, 2015.
- "'Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!' Remake Squashed -". bloody-disgusting.com. Retrieved September 5, 2015.
- Wingrove, David. Science Fiction Film Source Book (Longman Group Limited, 1985)