Lots of Pulp With Greg Orme: Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988)

Lots of Pulp

“The girl of my dreams is a vegetable!”

In 1978, a future California state senator and his friends wrote and produced an insane parody of monster movies in which tomatoes become giant and self-aware and kill humans. It was poorly received by critics but somehow became a cult hit. Ten years later, the same creative team decided to see if lightning could strike twice and made a sequel. They cast a still-unknown George Clooney and the legendary John Astin, the original Gomez Addams, and decided to break the fourth wall at every turn. This movie is the end result, and it’s nuts.

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Let’s try to break down the plot first:  Ten years after the Great Tomato War, tomatoes are outlawed. One of the original film’s heroes (J. Stephen Peace, former California State Senator) has opened a pizzeria where the sauce is apparently boysenberry based. Misanthropic Professor Gangreen (John Astin, who is miraculously still alive at age 89), upset about his creations’ defeat, has created a new super-race of tomato-based replicant people that are empowered by music to try again. He’s also created a mistress for himself, Tara, who cooks and cleans and “makes the best toast,” but she defects after he mistreats a fuzzy dog-tomato hybrid named FT. She hides out with Chad Finletter and his best friend Matt Stevens (George Clooney). The movie then runs out of money, so George Clooney advises the director to pay for the rest using product placement, which basically becomes the gag from Wayne’s World but done four years earlier.

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I’ve done a lot of articles on movies that are funny because maybe they’re not particularly well-made or maybe they’re quippy. This is the first one that’s an all-out comedy, and it’s extremely joke heavy. A lot of the jokes are pretty dated and the movie is very much a product of its time, but it’s just silly enough to work more often than not. The complete demolition of the fourth wall is particularly well handled, especially in comparison to something like The Dead Don’t Die from last year, which tried a similar thing but never felt fully committed to the bit. The product placement gags also work pretty well, considering it’s been done to death since Wayne’s World. A lot of the jokes about women showering don’t age nearly as well (this movie is pretty horny).

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This movie is very obviously a sequel to an equally silly movie from the 70’s, and it wound up being successful enough to spawn two more sequels (even though the movie’s theme song makes it clear that this is the second part and also the last part) and a 1991 children’s cartoon that I vaguely remember existing. If I had to say what its legacy really comes down to, it’s probably George Clooney having one of his earliest roles. This would have been right after two other horror movies he did (Grizzly 2, which is finally getting released this year, and Return to Horror High) and right before his recurring role on Roseanne, and within a decade he’d be one of our nation’s notable Batmen. He’s pretty good in this movie as the sidekick, but it’s also hard to separate who he is now from who he was then, so for me a lot of the fun of this movie is trying to look for glimpses of the Oscar winning star he’d become, and I’d say there’s some inkling of that person here.

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Should I Show This Movie To My Five-Year-Old?

I don’t see why not. This is probably about as family friendly as Gremlins, ultimately, and it has important lessons about cloning that it’s probably good to introduce to your child while they’re young. Also, what child isn’t a big Clooney buff? Surely they’ll want to see him in his youth. There is also the important message in this movie that anyone looking to get into TV news  is probably a creep at best. Also, if your family is a Coca-Cola family, perhaps you can talk to your child about what Pepsi is after it is promoted here (Proud Pepsi family -Ed.). It’s a tough conversation, but you’re going to have to have it at some point, so why not now? There’s a lot for your child to learn in this movie.

Is this movie good?

That’s a question for sure, and I’d say that especially considering its budget and subject matter, it’s probably as good as a movie like this can get. It’s not going to change the world, but it makes the most of its limitations. It knows what it is and doesn’t really try to be anything outside of that. It is nice, in this day and age where straightforward comedy movies are becoming more and more scarce, to see something this relentlessly silly in which all the actors play it dead straight. At times it feels like a lesser Mel Brooks movie or something out of the Zucker Brothers playbook, and I mean that as more of a compliment than it sounds. They really don’t make them like this anymore, and I recommend it. I’m not sure where it’s streaming, but I own it and you can probably come over and watch it at my apartment if you want. Just shoot me a message before you come by so I can make sure I’m home. Well, see you next time!

Greg Orme is a comedian who lives in Salt Lake City with six plants. Follow him on Twitter

If you’d like to own Return of the Killer Tomatoes you can get it below. 80s Baby may receive a commission. 

One comment

  1. It’s always delightful to catch a glimpse of a future celebrity in some Z grade film. The really wonderful sorts will even admit to them later.

    I always double feature either of the first 2 “Killer Tomatos” films with the equally silly “Killer Klowns From Outer Space”

    Liked by 1 person

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