Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

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Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn DeBello
Written by
Story byCosta Dillion
Produced by
  • John DeBello
  • Stephen Peace
  • David Miller
  • George Wilson
  • Costa Dillon
CinematographyJohn K. Culley
Edited byJohn DeBello
Music by
  • Gordon Goodwin
  • Paul Sundfor
  • John DeBello
Distributed byNAI Entertainment
Release date
  • October 20, 1978 (1978-10-20)
Running time
87 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$567,000[not verified in body]

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is a 1978 American parody film[3] produced by J. Stephen Peace and John DeBello, and directed by John DeBello based upon an original idea by Costa Dillon. The screenplay was written by Dillon, Peace, and DeBello. The film spoofs B movies and was made on a budget of less than $100,000. The story involves tomatoes becoming sentient by unknown means and revolting against humanity.

Critical reception of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was mostly negative. The box office success of the film led to three sequels, all co-written by the same three writers and directed by DeBello.


The film opens with a scroll stating that when Alfred Hitchcock's film The Birds (1963) was released, audiences laughed at the notion of birds revolting against humanity. However, when an attack perpetrated by birds occurred in 1975, no one laughed. This is followed by a pre-credits sequence of a tomato rising out of a woman's garbage disposal. Her puzzlement turns into terror as the tomato draws her into a corner. Following the credits, the police investigate her death. One officer discovers that the red substance covering her is not blood but tomato juice.

A series of attacks perpetrated by tomatoes occurs, including a man dying by drinking tomato juice made from a killer tomato, a boy heard being gobbled up by a killer tomato, and a sequence where the tomatoes attack innocent swimmers in a parody of Jaws. While the President's press secretary, Jim Richardson, tries to convince the public that no credible threat exists, the President puts together a team of specialists to stop the tomatoes, led by a man named Mason Dixon. Dixon's team includes Sam Smith, a disguise expert (whose unconventional disguises include George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Adolf Hitler); scuba diver Greg Colburn; Olympic swimmer Gretta Attenbaum; and parachute-toting soldier Wilbur Finletter.

Smith is sent out to infiltrate the tomatoes at a campfire, eventually blowing his cover while eating a hotdog and asking if anyone could "pass the ketchup." Colburn and Gretta are sent to sectors, while Finletter stays with Mason. Meanwhile, the President sends Richardson to the fictitious ad agency Mind Makers, where executive Ted Swan spends vast amounts of money to develop virtually worthless ploys, including a bumper sticker with "STP" for "Stop Tomato Program" on it, a satirical reference to both the real "whip inflation now" campaign with its widely ridiculed "WIN" slogan and STP motor oil decals and bumper stickers, which were commonplace in the 1970s.

A human is revealed to be also plotting to stop Dixon when a masked assassin attempts to shoot him but misses. A senate subcommittee meeting is held where one secret pamphlet is leaked to a newspaper editor, who sends Lois Fairchild on the story. While she tails Finletter, he mistakes her for a spy and trashes a hotel room attempting to kill her. He then chases the assassin as the masked man fails again to kill Dixon but loses him.

Gretta is killed, and further regression has led leaders to bring in tanks and soldiers to the West Coast in a battle that leaves the American forces in shambles. Dixon, walking among the rubble, sees a trail of tomato juice and decides to investigate. He ends up being chased by a killer tomato to an apartment where an oblivious child is listening to the radio. The tomato is about to kill Dixon but suddenly flies out the window. Dixon peers out to see if it has died, and he spots the assassin hijacking his car. He chases the assassin in a "slow car chase" that has since been copied by other comedies. Dixon is eventually knocked out by his own car. Awakening, Dixon finds himself captured by Richardson. Though he did not create the killer tomatoes, he has discovered how to control them and plans to do so once civilization has collapsed – leaving him in control. He is about to reveal his secret of control to Dixon when Finletter charges in and runs him through with his sword.

Dixon, picking up some strewn records, realizes that he has seen the tomatoes retreat at the sound of the song "Puberty Love" but had not put two and two together until now. He orders Finletter to gather all the remaining people and bring them to the stadium. Finletter remarks that "only crazy people" are left in the nearly deserted city, resulting in a motley assortment of people in costumes facing the attacking tomatoes at the stadium.

The tomatoes are cornered in a stadium. "Puberty Love" is played over the loudspeaker, causing the tomatoes to shrink and allowing the various people at the stadium to stomp on them repeatedly. Fairchild, meanwhile, is cornered by a giant tomato wearing earmuffs, hence cannot hear the music. Dixon saves her by showing the tomato the sheet music to "Puberty Love." He professes his love to her, in song. The film ends with a carrot that rises from the soil and says, "All right, you guys. They're gone now."


  • David Miller as Mason Dixon
  • George Wilson as Jim Richardson
  • Sharon Taylor as Lois Fairchild
  • Stephen Peace as Wilbur Finletter
  • Ernie Meyers as the President
  • Eric Christmas as Senator Polk
  • Ron Shapiro as Newspaper editor
  • Al Sklar as Ted Swan
  • Jerry Anderson as Major Mills
  • Jack Riley as Von Schauer
  • Gary Smith as Sam Smith
  • John Qualls as Captain
  • Geoff Ramsey as the Stapler
  • Ryan Shields as Tomato
  • Benita Barton as Gretta Attenbaum
  • Don Birch as the Old Man
  • Tom Coleman as the Singing Soldier
  • Art K. Koustik as the FIA Director
  • Jack Nolen as Senator McKinley
  • Paul Oya as Dr. Nokitofa
  • Robert Judd as the Stuntman
  • Byron Teegarden as Dr. Morrison
  • Michael Seewald as Cameraman
  • Steve Cates as Greg Colburn, the diver
  • Dean Grell as Miss Potato Famine 1922

The film also contains the first screen appearance of Dana Ashbrook, then aged 10 or 11, as Boy on Boat (uncredited).


"We were hit by a kamikaze tomato!" "Tomatoes can't fly!" "Yeah? Well, they can't eat people, either, but they're doing one hell of a job of that!"

Dialogue from a scene that was worked into the film after the helicopter crash

Filming took place in Oceanside and other parts of San Diego County.[4] The finished film contains footage of a real helicopter crash. In a scene showing law enforcement officers firing their weapons to ward off tomatoes in a field, a $60,000 Hiller Aircraft UH-12E that had been rented for the production was supposed to have landed in the tomato patch behind the officers. But during the landing the Hiller's tail rotor struck the ground, causing the craft to spin out of control near the ground, roll over, and burst into flames. The helicopter pilot escaped without serious injury.[5] The crash was caught on film as the cameras were rolling at the time. The crash was later worked into the film.


The theme song, written by DeBello, describes the tomatoes' rampages through the world, describing that they have killed a man named Herman Farbage while he was taking out the garbage, that the mayor is on vacation to get out of stopping them, that they have scared off the National Guard, and that they have even eaten the narrator's sister. This theme song is used in different variations over the course of the series, here simply sounding like the score of an old monster movie with lyrics and a more catchy tune. All other music was written by Gordon Goodwin and Paul Sundfor with lyrics by Dillon, DeBello, and Peace.

The song "Puberty Love" was sung by the then-teenaged Matt Cameron, who later became the drummer for Soundgarden and since 1998 has been the drummer for Pearl Jam.

Critical reception[edit]

Upon release, Variety wrote that the film "isn't even worthy of sarcasm."[6] Emanuel Levy gave the film a score of 2 out of 5.[7][8] Time Out called the film a "one-joke spoof".[9] Eric Henderson, reviewing the DVD edition for Slant Magazine in 2003 opined that "even more so than the Samuel Arkoff-like opportunism of the producers, and more so than some of the worst framing this side of Coleman Francis, the really frustrating thing about Tomatoes is the toothlessness of its satire. And that's a major missed opportunity, considering that the irony of using a stereotypically foreign genre (Japanese monster movies) against a parody of America's jingoistic reliance on military power (the Army is useless against the giant tomatoes) should've been a comedic gold mine."[10] Rue Morgue writer Michael Gingold later wrote, in a review of the Blu-ray edition in 2018, wrote that "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes may be one of history's most misunderstood films. It has often been celebrated as a prime example of 'so bad it's funny' cinema, when in fact it's an attempt at intentional comedy that is, at best, a scattershot success."[11]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 27% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 11 reviews, with an average rating of 4.30/10.[7] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 9 out of 100 based on 5 critic reviews, indicating "overwhelming dislike".[12]


Attack of the Killer Tomatoes has become a cult film.[13] A number of sequels and other spin-off material have been done in various media as a result of this movie. They include three movie sequels:

The sequel Return of the Killer Tomatoes picks up the story 10 years later. The film is notable for the casting of George Clooney in one of his first film roles.[citation needed]

American composer and orchestrator Gordon Goodwin, one of the original composers for the film, later wrote an Emmy-nominated, big-band piece inspired by the music for this film, to be played with his jazz ensemble Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band.

Adaptations, parodies, and spin-offs[edit]

Cancelled remake[edit]

In 2008, a remake was announced. Kent Nichols and Douglas Sarine, creators of Ask a Ninja, were developing the project. This was to be Nichols' directorial debut. M. Dal Walton III was co-producing along with Emmett/Furla Films.[19][20] In 2011, John DeBello said that the Ask a Ninja creators were no longer involved.[21]


Screaming Soup! Presents the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes Retrospective, a documentary film focusing on the history of the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes franchise with interviews including cast and crew from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, was released in February 2023 on YouTube.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: An Oral History of the 1978 Film"
  3. ^ Mancini, Mark (July 5, 2016). "10 Saucy Facts About Attack of the Killer Tomatoes". Mental Floss.
  4. ^ "The 2015 Oceanside International Film Festival Begins". Oside News. August 10, 2015. Archived from the original on October 17, 2021. Retrieved March 26, 2022.
  5. ^ "Movie Crash from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, July 11th, 1978". Retrieved April 11, 2010.
  6. ^ "Review: 'Attack of the Killer Tomatoes'". Variety. 1978. Retrieved January 23, 2014.
  7. ^ a b "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  8. ^ Emanuel Levy (April 14, 2019). "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978): John DeBello's Spoof of B-Movies".
  9. ^ "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes". TimeOut. Archived from the original on December 11, 2019. Retrieved December 11, 2019.
  10. ^ Henderson, Eric (2003). "DVD Review: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes". Slant Magazine.
  11. ^ Gingold, Michael (2003). "BLU-RAY REVIEW: "ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES" APPETIZERS MAKE THE MEAL". Slant Magazine.
  12. ^ "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! Reviews". Metacritic. Red Ventures. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  13. ^ Goldstein, Gregg (March 11, 2008). "'Tomatoes' ripe for a redo". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 23, 2014.
  14. ^ Viper Comics Launches All Horror Imprint "Black Mamba Books" Archived August 13, 2009, at the Wayback Machine, Comics Bulletin, June 9, 2008
  15. ^ "A Gaggle of Book Reviews | Author Interview: Kim Harrison". February 9, 2008. Retrieved January 4, 2012.
  16. ^ Brooks, Xan; Shoard, Catherine (August 28, 2009). "Frightening Food on Film". Guardian. London: Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved August 30, 2009.
  17. ^ Loveridge, Lynzee (October 11, 2022). "The Film References in the Chainsaw Man Opening". Anime News Network. Retrieved October 28, 2023.
  18. ^ Strand, Jeff (April 14, 2023). "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes".
  19. ^ "VFXWorld Magazine". Animation World Network. Retrieved September 5, 2015.
  20. ^ Jeremy Wheeler. "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! (2009) - Kent Nichols - Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related - AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved September 5, 2015.
  21. ^ "'Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!' Remake Squashed -". March 25, 2011. Retrieved September 5, 2015.
  22. ^ Fowler, Dan (February 3, 2023), Screaming Soup! Presents the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes Retrospective (Documentary), John Astin, Amanda Capps, Crystal Carson, Happy Everyday Co, retrieved February 26, 2024

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]