Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

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The Red Menace returns!

Some people leave the toilet seat up. Others drink milk straight out of the carton. Still others cruise the laundromats around town looking for neglected undergarments, then take them home to incorporate into the quilt I'm uh, they're making. Whether you squeeze your toothpaste from the middle of the tube or leave your parking tickets on other people's windshields, we're all guilty of some transgression -- legal or otherwise -- that we're not proud of.

Among my more opprobrious sins is my love for the Killer Tomatoes films.

Killer Tomatoes Strike Back and Killer Tomatoes Eat France! just came out on DVD, proving both that P.T. Barnum was right, and that at some point even the least venerated films will find their way to home video.

The Killer Tomatoes films take a lot of flack from people who have never seen them. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! predates the movie Airplane! by a couple of years, and it's a bit less gag-dense than a Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker production. I won't spoil the plot by outlining it, but disaster flicks and Japanese monster movies are parodied in equal measure, and a good working knowledge of their conventions is an important part of appreciating AKT! I suspect that's the main reason it has such a bad reputation. Everything in the movie is played for laughs, but with a few exceptions (like the musical numbers) it's a deadpan affair. If the soundtrack were muted, somebody not paying close attention might mistake it for an Irwin Allen film.

The rest of the series is totally different. Return of the Killer Tomatoes! was made ten years after AKT!, and impresses me as the quintessential '80s comedy. You probably know what I'm talking about. There was a screwball style unique to the 1980s in which nothing was sacred. Writers and directors were experimenting with the boundaries of audience accessibility and MPAA ratings, executives were experimenting with cocaine, and an number unbelievably weird projects got greenlighted. Eventually the studios figured out that fart jokes trump intellectual stimulation and that audiences tend to mistake tongue-in-cheek humor for inept filmmaking, so movies like this went away.

Return of the Killer Tomatoes! is my personal favorite example of this dead sub-genre. Not only is it genuinely funny, but everything -- especially the fourth wall -- is a target for satire. Hollywood conventions like product placement, tie-in merchandise, and pushing the content envelope are mercilessly hounded. You've seen it done before, but not as well as in Return. On the other hand, a lot of people don't see a difference "funny because it's dumb" and "actually dumb." Half of every joke in Return is the "My God, this is the stupidest thing I've ever seen" reaction it provokes, and that's intentional. Oh, George Clooney and John Astin play major characters. Infamous Congressman Gary Condit has a cameo, too.

Killer Tomatoes Strike Back is my least favorite of the series. It's major crime is actually thinking that it's a straightforward comedy. It's not -- I don't think that the writers are capable of producing a straightforward comedy. Strike Back! tries to be pretenselessly funny, and it might have sort-of-kind-of functioned on its own, but it's too deliberate fit in with the rest of the series. It's major selling-point is Rick Rockwell's starring role. You will have forgotten by now, but Rockwell was the title character in the seminally-scandalous reality show Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?

Anyway, I watched Killer Tomatoes Eat France! for the first time tonight. I purchased it unseen because I'm a completist, and at $10.33 shipping included it was a hard deal to pass up. I am now the proud owner of all four Killer Tomatoes movies -- on DVD. That's something akin to, I don't know, having the world's fifth largest R. Lionel Fanthorpe collection.

Eat France! ranks somewhere between the other two sequels. It's a step up from Strike Back!, but it maintains a fondness for itself which prevents it from reaching the (relative) heights attained by Return. There's a lot of retread in the jokes, but there are also a handful of moments of absolute brilliance (seriously). The filmmaking is markedly better. It's no Bergman masterpiece, but with crowd scenes, practical puppet effects and a substantial amount of location shooting, the scope of the film is greater than any of the previous three. It's surprisingly solid for a screwball comedy shot on a shoestring budget, and shows a great deal of professional growth on the part of the filmmakers. This brings me to the punchline of the whole Killer Tomatoes discussion.

It's a weak punchline, and it's a lot weaker if you haven't bothered to watch the movies, but it is a punchline, and it is this:

The Killer Tomatoes franchise is controlled by Four Square Productions. Four Square is a media production house which was founded essentially to distribute Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! Decades later, Four Square designs national ad campaigns, corporate training videos and public service announcements. They win several major industry awards every year. You've seen their work in commercials for Dell, DIRECTV, the Travel Channel, and Qualcomm. They could remove all traces of Killer Tomatoes from their website, recall all the DVDs, and still be incredibly successful, yet they push Killer Tomatoes as their flagship product. A few years ago they announced a fifth Killer Tomatoes movie, Y2Killer Tomatoes. Whether the project ever gets off the ground remains to be seen, but it's a labor of love that they're seriously considering. Given their success, that's pretty damn cool.

Anyway, if I had a Killer Tomatoes marathon at my house, who would come? Nick? Keith? I'm looking at you guys. Yes Keith, I know you're probably not enamored of the idea, but Tom expressed interest recently, and he's gonna need a ride which means that by our joint decree, you're in. Who else is up for this? Weekends work for me. Is there a specific day or a time that works for people?
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