This movie FUCKING RULES! I know it, you know it, even Jim Henson’s muppet babies knew it. Apparently FOX knew it too, and quickly set out to make the franchise as sucky as possible by adding a cartoon series to the mix back in the 90s.
But as most proponents of nostalgia, we’re here to remember the good times, like the time George Clooney advocated for product placement amidst a battle between ninjas, cowboys and bikers, or when Gomez Addams took a forced break from being The Riddler and turned tomatoes into hot chicks and muscle men, giving stunt men and beach extras speaking roles for the first time (grunting counts as a speaking role right?). And who can forget the tender scene in which our protagonist is taunted by a mime in an adult store while the synth-heavy love song “touch me there” plays in the background?
All strangeness aside, Return of the Killer Tomatoes represents a time when B films took meta to a new level, when films could suck and be proud of it, which ironically made them not suck at all. You’ll find the same approach in many Troma movies . . . alright, EVERY Troma movie.
Return of the Killer Tomatoes also features cameo appearances by Gary Condit and Teri Weigel. Where else are you going to find politicians and porn stars in the same place? Don’t answer that. Big Brother is watching.
The film is riddled with foil characters with small quirks that make them as engaging as, if not more engaging than, the protagonists. There’s Igor, Professor Gangrene’s assistant who wants nothing more than to be a reporter. At every turn this desire leads him to foiling the plans of his master. There’s Fuzzy Tomato, who wins our affection by cooing and emulating the antics of Saturday Night Live’s Mr. Bill. Finally, we have the pilot, a living, breathing slapstick comedy who runs about frantically with parachute open. It is this last character who really brings the film-as-allegory to life. The tomatoes could be said to metaphorically represent the nuclear bomb, while the pilot’s open parachute is similar to bomb raid drills, which would likely be executed to little effect had a nuclear weapon ever been detonated in our country by enemy forces. That’s not to say that nuclear bombs are as harmless as tomatoes, but the fear of nuclear attack has led to unnecessary anxieties about nuclear power, which has a lower accident/death rate than coal power and a lower carbon imprint than most natural energy sources. Similarly, in the film the fears about killer tomatoes has led to a complete ban of tomato-based products. Pizza is served with jelly, ranch, gummy bears, and a wide array of terrible products in a desperate attempt to replace the one and only tomato sauce.
The protagonist, Chad Finletter, remains one of my favorites. Like John Cusack’s character in Better off Dead, Chad is your average run-of-the-mill guy who is just trying to make it through life unscathed. All he wants to do is work his minimum wage job, hang with his pal and get laid, but the people around him throw the character into a reality that is alien, a world of whips, chains, mad scientists, killer tomato men, and psychotic war veterans. Will he save the world from the return of the killer tomatoes? If he does, will he be able to keep his tomato-turned-hottie girlfriend? Will extras ever stop obscuring his close ups with boxes of Corn Flakes? If you haven’t seen this classic yet, I implore you to watch and find out.
At least watch this: