The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Clooney fights
'Killer Tomatoes'
on new DVD


April 11, 2002
By Franklin Harris

Almost every actor in Hollywood has a skeleton in his closet, that one movie that he really, really would rather you forget.

Two such movies are now available on DVD, thanks to our good friends at Anchor Bay Entertainment.

In 2002, George Clooney is as bankable a star as they come. But in 1988, fresh from his stint on "The Facts of Life," he was second banana in one of the most dubious sequels of all time, "Return of the Killer Tomatoes."

To be fair, "Return of the Killer Tomatoes" is actually a fun and underappreciated movie, even if George would rather not talk about it. If Clooney wants to make apologies, he can start by apologizing for "Batman and Robin."

"Return" is writer/director/producer John De Bello's follow-up to his 1978 cult classic, "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes," in which evil, mutated tomatoes run wild, destroying everything in their path.

The original's entry in "The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film" describes it as, "A science-fiction comedy with intentionally bad special effects and ludicrous dialog. Scenes of various-sized tomatoes chasing people and bobbing in the water 'attacking' a swimmer are funny, but is really doesn't make it as a midnight cult film."

The sequel, however, fares far better. It successfully satirizes everything from the Screen Actors Guild to its own, obvious shortcomings.

The fiendish Professor Gangreen, played by the always-wacky John Astin ("The Addams Family"), plots to take over the world using mutant tomatoes that transform into gun-toting Rambo clones whenever exposed to music.

The only ones standing in his way are a few military misfits, pizza-delivery guy Chad (Anthony Starke) and Chad's scheming friend, Matt (Clooney).

One running joke is that Congress has outlawed tomatoes, just in case the pesky vegetables get any more ideas. So, Chad's pizzas come smothered in a variety of revolting, non-tomato sauces.

The other running gag is that to pay for the movie, De Bello has inserted painfully obvious product placements throughout.

Professor Gangreen turns around to reveal a huge Pepsi logo stuck to the back of his lab coat. And Matt and Chad shill for breakfast cereal while plotting against the tomatoes.

As before, low budgets and not-so-special effects are the order of the day.

"Return of the Killer Tomatoes" is far funnier than it has any right to be, and it's really nothing for George to be ashamed of, unlike, say, "Batman and Robin." (I will not let it go. I want my $6 back.)

Our other out-of-the-closet feature is 1985's "Transylvania 6-5000," which boasts an all-star cast of soon-to-be stars, including Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis and Michael Richards.

Two tabloid reporters (Goldblum and Ed Begley Jr.) go to Transylvania in search of a real-life Frankenstein monster. They find a vampire nymphomaniac (Davis), a mad scientist (Joseph Bologna) and an accident-prone butler (Richards).

Rudy DeLuca, who co-wrote "High Anxiety" with Mel Brooks, writes and directs the whole affair, which proves amusing enough.

Veteran character actors round out the cast, including the late Norman Fell ("Three's Company"), Carol Kane ("The Princess Bride") and the underrated Jeffery Jones (a host of Tim Burton movies).

If nothing else, between Goldblum, Begley, Davis, Richards and Jones, "Transylvania 6-5000" may have the tallest cast in movie history, as DeLuca says during the DVD's director's commentary.

And if Goldblum and Davis don't have "Transylvania 6-5000" on their resumes, Begley probably does.

The last movie I saw Ed Begley Jr. in was "She Devil," co-starring Meryl Streep and Roseanne, and that is enough to kill anyone's career.

"Return of the Killer Tomatoes" is a bare-bones disc, offering a theatrical trailer as its only bonus feature. But "Transylvania 6-5000" comes fully loaded with a commentary track, trailers, TV spots, original storyboard art and a photo gallery. Each DVD retails for a paltry $14.98.

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