Doomsday Reels: Killer Tomatoes Eat France!

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Killer Tomatoes Eat France! (1992)

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The Director

John De Bello

The Actors

Marc Price (Michael), Angela Visser (Marie), Steve Lundquist (Igor/Louis the XXVII), John Astin (Professor Mortimer Gangreen)

The Trailer

I couldn’t find a trailer for this, so here’s the opening scene.

The Cause

Genetic Engineering

The Story

“When the streets of Paris shall run bright red. Then flow not the Waters of Life… be htee cold, and dead. Be azure skies turned black as night unfurled. Where a weeping virgin stands watch o’er the Underworld. When these four things strange occur as one. The True King of France shall return with the sun. Restore then to France her former glory: and this kind sirs is the end of our story” - The Prophecy of Nicodemus

The Rundown

The Killer Tomatoes franchise has not been what I expected them to be. The premise was simple enough: tomatoes turn evil, become large, and kill people. Simple, right? Just Critters but with a stupider monster. Nope, not even close. In four movies directed in the space of a little over a decade the titular killer tomatoes have been, at best, a b-plot in their own movies and the premise of each one has been less 80s tongue-in-cheek spoof of a b-movie and more weird spoof with a very specific theme.

I have compared each of the movies in the series thus fur to a corresponding Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker film. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! feels like Airplane, Return of the Killer Tomatoes! is Top Secret! and Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! is The Naked Gun. Following this same trajectory, Killer Tomatoes Eat France! falls under the mixed-bag combination of Hot Shots!, Mafia!, and Scary Movie 3.

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Following the events of Killer Tomatoes Strike Back, Professor Gangreen (John Astin) is jailed in a French prison where he awaits execution by guillotine. But he’s broken out by a trio of basketball-sized anthropomorphic killer tomatoes; save for a giant fire-breathing tomato later on the film, these three are what passes for the killer tomatoes in this film.

Our hero this time is an American backpacking in France named Michael (played by Marc Price) who gets hit in the head by a sandbag dropped from the balloon that Gangreen is escaping in. He is awakened by Marie (Angela Visser) who is, in her own words a beautiful French country girl.

Professor Gangreen is trying to fulfill an ancient prophecy which will crown a new King of France who just happens to be the spitting image of his lackey Igor (Steve Lundquist) with a big curly black wig on. Our protagonists and antagonists have no connection until Gangreen decides to kidnap series mainstay/cut-rate-Slimer, Fuzzy Tomato, at a charity benefit concert at the Louvre.

Then Michael sets about trying to defeat Gangreen and see that the one true King of France, Louis the XVII (also Steve Lundquist, there’s a contrived Man in the Iron Mask pastiche shoehorned into the third act) takes his throne.

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All of the Killer Tomatoes movies are vehicles for hokey gags but at least the other movies have something of a plot. This movie just has a loose outline of meeting points that our characters kind of get to by happenstance. Of course I’m being fussy about plot in a dumb comedy, which is a fair point, but this tossed-off narrative is pretty reflective of the comedy.

Now, admittedly I’m coming down off the high that was Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! While all four movies are co-written by director John De Bello and writer Constantine Dillon, Strike Back! was the only entry in the series not written by J. Stephen Peace (who played Wilbur Finletter in the previous films) but Rick Rockwell, who also starred in the film. Strike Back! had a pacing and sense of humor that worked much better than the other films prior and it’s that snappy sense of humor that’s missing here.

There are a few great moments here and there (a quick homage to All Quiet on the Western Front made me blurt-laugh) but most of the jokes are rehashes of ones we saw in Return of the Killer Tomatoes (a lot of fourth wall breaking, bad non-tomato based stuff), things Americans know about French people (mimes, landmarks, escargot, putting the word “Le” in front of things, outrageous accents), nonsensical sight gags, and jokes about the fact that Marc Price was in Family Ties with Michael J. Fox. So the humor is either unimpressive or so avant garde that you don’t find it funny but you’re impressed by the audacity of it.

The most unfortunate weak point in the film is the villains. John Astin wasn’t given much to do with the role of Professor Gangreen in Return of the Killer Tomatoes! but made it sing in Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! now he’s back to playing a generic mad-scientist whose only asset is that he has John Astin’s demented grin. At least when Astin was underwritten Steve Lundquist was able to pick up the slack as Igor but there’s not much for the goofy sidekick to do here, either. Even Lundquist’s wonderful mugging for the camera isn’t up to snuff with previous installments.

Of course, the weakest link in this chain is the titular killer tomatoes. The tomatoes have always taken a back seat to the characters in these movies but they’ve rarely felt so pointlessly tacked on. Gangreen’s plan is to take over France using Igor and the tomatoes barely fit into that plan at all. We have the return of F.T. who has fortunately been replaced by a better quality puppet now, though he still looks markedly worse than the other puppets. The trio of evil tomatoes are representative of the first time the tomatoes have spoken English in these movies. The puppets for the evil trio are far more detailed than the ones from Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! but they’re done in such grotesque detail that they look like the Killer Tomatoes equivalent of Garbage Pail Kids. The off-putting looks of the puppets combined with their very limited range of motion really just makes them look bad.

The tomato trio seems to be positioned as some sort of comic relief side characters, but this isn’t an action-adventure film with moments of levity, it’s a bonafide comedy. So rather than providing comedic “relief” to the more dry elements of the film, they’re just a series of unfunny comedic beats in a movie that’s already full of moderately funnier beats.

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In a lot of ways I’m surprised that there are only four Killer Tomatoes films. This was the last movie that John De Bello, J. Steven Peace, and Constantine Dillon worked on despite the fact that they all seem to be alive and well, the same goes with Rick Rockwell and Steve Lundquist. Though the productions on all of these movies is quite good for what amounts to independent movies they could have easily made a bunch of shitty lo-fi direct-to-DVD sequels during the 2000s DVD boom.

Based on the slapdash quality of this movie I’m going to assume that they just got tired of the series and maybe movies in general. There was talk of a remake in the early 2000s made by the people behind the Ask a Ninja web series but that fell through.

It would appear that a new film is in the works, whether a remake or another sequel (as if it would even matter) but there’s not a lot of information on that and I’m not going to hold my breath.

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The Killer Tomatoes series was an interesting watch and while I’d hesitate to call any of them good movies and outright refuse to say they’re necessary viewing, they’re goofy fun and they’re a weird niche part of popular culture that’s always fun to explore.

As for Killer Tomatoes Eat France!, there’s not much to recommend here and the movie is out of print so I don’t advocate anyone going out of their way to see it. It’s a perfectly fine movie but it’s as middle-of-the-road as these get. Go out of your way to see Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! and the Attack and Return are both good enough (and easy enough to find) to be worth your time, but unless you’re a completionist then just consider Killer Tomatoes to be a trilogy.

The Shill

Killer Tomatoes Eat France! is only available as an out-of-print bare-bones DVD.

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“You know you're screwed when even the rabbits won't fuck.”