Color, 1988, 98m.
Directed by John De Bello
Starring Anthony Starke, George Clooney, Karen Mistal, Steve Lundquist, John Astin
Arrow Video (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RA/B HD/R0 NTSC) (Blu-ray) (US RA/RB/R0 HD), Image (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

Return of the Killer TomatoesReturn of the Killer TomatoesA deeply silly sequel to a deeply silly film, Return of the Killer Tomatoes arrived a belated ten years after the low budget but appealingly daffy Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. That 1978 cult film baffled critics at the time with its stoner-friendly, budget-impaired riffing on classic monster movie conventions as tomatoes became sentient and tried to overtake the world, all accompanied by two of the most unlikely theme “songs” in movie history. Despite its wholly inappropriate but memorable inclusion in the Medveds’ The Golden Turkey Awards, Attack went on to become a TV favorite courtesy of Elvira’s Movie Macabre, and when a clip from the film ended up in a popular episode of Muppet Babies, the cash started flowing in to make a sequel.

That influx of money meant returning director John De Bello could afford real, trained actors this time, with The Addams Family’s John Astin hamming it up as Professor Gangreen, who played a secret role in the original tomato takeover and, as we find out in the pre-credits sequence, has now perfected the ability to create covert tomato people, all with the aid of his assistant, Igor (Lunquist). Meanwhile some happy-go-lucky young(ish) people have started to forget about the traumas of the past, despite the fact that tomatoes are still officially banned (which makes the pizza market pretty rough). Among them are Chad (Licence to Kill’s Starke) and Matt (a young George Clooney fresh off a two-year stint on The Facts of Life), who run into the sexy Tara (Mistal), a blonde tomato invader in disguise with a fondness for a fuzzy mutant tomato named FT. As it turns out, Gangreen’s nefarious plan involves using music (once the Achille’s heel of the marauding tomatoes) to generate a goofy variety of imitation people, all part of a plot that leads straight to the White House.Return of the Killer Tomatoes

Though it wasn’t a major theatrical smash, the New World release became a favorite on VHS (along with another early Clooney film for New World, Return to Horror High), which led to a 1991 Fox Kids TV series and two more tomato films from Return of the Killer TomatoesDe Bello (Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! and Killer Tomatoes Eat France!). It’s not surprising this one took off since it thoroughly embraces its own ridiculousness right from the beginning, complete with a “One Dollar Movie” TV host presenting this as part of a mock local broadcast and perpetual cinematic interruptions occurring from a rival film, Big Breasted Girls Take Their Tops Off (with, yes, its own theme song; ┬ádon’t worry, the film still stays safely in PG territory.) However, at heart it’s all basically a riff on the mercenary nature of sequels right down to the new theme song, and characters even remark on the recycling of footage from the previous film. All in all, it’s a very ‘80s time capsule with a charm all its own that stills comfortably next to late ‘80s genre spoofs like Earth Girls Are Easy, Amazon Women on the Moon, and Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Okay, it barely has any actual tomatoes in it, but you can't have everything.

Not surprisingly, this film has remained in circulation almost nonstop since its release with labels like Anchor Bay and Image Entertainment issuing it on DVD over the years, first full frame and then widescreen but neither looking all that exceptional. Due to the vagaries of rights issues, Arrow Return of the Killer TomatoesVideo brought it to Blu-ray simultaneously in the US and UK, with only the latter also offering a DVD for a dual-format combo package. (The Image DVD remained in print in the US.) The new HD transfer looks significantly better than any prior edition and likely represents the film as well as possible; it still looks pretty cheap (on purpose) throughout, but the gaudy ‘80s color palette shines through quite well. The LPCM English stereo track features optional English subtitles. This also marks the first special edition of the film, highlighted by a new audio commentary with tomato auteur De Bello. Starke also gets a 17-minute video interview about how he got the gig on this film after Nothing in Common, with memories including Astin (and son Sean tagging along), Clooney's penchant for practical jokes, and the neurotic slant he brought to his character. Also included are the original (very creative) trailer, a 2-minute gallery of behind-the-scenes stills and artwork, and the usual reversible art options featuring the original poster and a new design by Matthew Griffin, plus a liner notes booklet by James Oliver.

Reviewed on June 22, 2016.