The Bottom Shelf: Return Of The Killer Tomatoes, He Never Died

Blood Bath, The Beast With 1,000,000 Eyes and Return Of The Killer Tomatoes: it's our latest DVD and Blu-ray round-up...

Britain is in a state of turmoil, with Brexit, political leadership spinning out of control and social media civil war already underway. As such, it has perhaps never been a more appropriate time for a release of John De Bello and Stephen Peace’s 1988 meditation on the path towards peace and racial tolerance, Return Of The Killer Tomatoes, out on Arrow Bluray.

Set ten years after the events of the Great Tomato War, as depicted in uncompromising detail in De Bello and Peace’s earlier epic, Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes, tomatoes – following the mutant, sentient, strain responsible for the deaths of many citizens – are now outlawed in the US. As with all the best banned items, killer tomatoes have now gone underground, with a thriving black market in small town grocery stores and mad scientist Dr Gangreen (The Addams Family’s Gomez, wonderful John Astin) developing a way to turn harmless love apples (look it up) into brutal human hybrids.

War hero and anti-tomato bigot Wilbur Finletter (Peace) now runs a pizza parlour with his nephew Chad (Anthony Starke) and Chad’s friend Matt (a be-mulleted George Clooney in a memorable early role). One night, Chad encounters the seductive tomato-woman Tara (Karen Mistal), a refugee from Gangreen’s lab, generally a good sort despite Wilbur’s hatred of all tomato-kind, and her friendly dog/tomato hybrid F.T (Fuzzy Tomato) who tell him of the evil scientist’s scheme to conquer the planet with a muscle-bound red menace (definitely a Commie allegory).

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This glorious sci-fi B-movie spoof has everything, from multiple excursions through the fourth wall (product placement has rarely been this funny) to a tomato-Pope (Clooney’s great deadpan response an undeniable highlight) and the brilliant surf-pop number Big Breasted Girls Go To The Beach And Take Their Tops Off rivalling the first film’s Puberty Love for sheer terrible glee. Astin and his frat-boy assistant Igor (Steve Lundquist) chew the scenery with relish (there’s some tomato pun here but it’s not quite forthcoming) to a brilliantly cheesy (cheese and tomato sandwich? We’ll get there) eighties synth score in this shabby, silly cult classic to help ease our current tomato-uous (tumultuous) situation.

The less deliberately ridiculous though still truly ridiculous Reptilicus further bolsters the B-movie quotient this month on DVD, being what is apparently Denmark’s first and only giant monster film and inexplicably not a popular baby name.

Filmed in 1962 in his native tongue by Danish director Poul Bang and then again in English by American Sidney Pink, this somewhat oddball production involves copper miners in Lapland discovering something far more deadly than Santa (if we’re ignoring bloodthirsty beasty movie Rare Exports) in the arctic tundra. Turns out that this is some kind of reptile tail that ends up being brought to a Copenhagen aquarium, setting the scene perfectly for cosmopolitan lizard chaos and some weird lines, terrible acting and spectacularly cheap props.

Reptilicus is more like The Room than a traditional monster movie. Using Tommy Wiseau’s old technique of using stock tourist footage of the film’s location (entirely unrelated to anything in the film), Pink’s film feels clunky and strange throughout, this being heightened by slow and emotionless reading of nonsensical lines and a bizarre/deeply unfunny comic relief character in the same vein as Wiseau’s ‘chocolate is the symbol of love’ guy. Add to this a very dodgy-looking Reptilicus model and you’ve got yourself a distinctively weird classic monster movie.

Alongside Reptilicus, Fabulous Films is also this month dragging the first of two Roger Corman movies out from the vaults, the wonderfully-named but sadly far from wonderful The Beast With 1000,000 Eyes on DVD. Beset by the usual Corman production complications (this film shot with non-union actors in the desert and Corman himself taking over direction duties halfway in), the intriguing premise (unseen alien presence crash-lands by a ranch and possesses all the local wildlife, as well as Hodor-esque silent giant) sadly only leads to a dull movie with occasional imaginative flair.

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Opening with some cool surrealist imagery over the credits that sadly only occasionally re-emerges in a dream sequence and hastily cobbled-together denouement apparently thrown in at the last minute, we see various critters causing problems (including a Birds-esque chicken attack) as our excruciatingly slow-talking stoic hero (Paul Birch) shits out stupid line after stupider line. At first, it seems the slow pace and unseen antagonist is clever suspense building; sadly it soon becomes apparent this is just to save cash, falling in with the traditional Corman mix of great ideas mashed to a pulp by clumsy handling.

The other Corman pic this month, Blood Bath, is not one but four films (released on double Bluray by Arrow) showing a production’s fascinating journey from cheapo Yugoslavian spy thriller through to Orson Welles-aping vampire gubbins.

Blood Bath began life in 1963 as Operation Titian, which was deemed un-releasable, so was re-edited and became TV movie Portrait In Terror. Corman then decided to add a giallo-esque serial killer slant and set the whole thing in Venice Beach, California, wherein the murderer makes his victims into mannequins, with Coffy director Jack Hill on board for the extra scenes.

This became the titular Blood Bath, though proved to be not quite enough for Corman, so Hill was dispensed with in favour of Stephanie Rothman, who added vampire scenes and the ability of our evil artist villain to morph into other people to cover up the fact that original actor William Campbell was by now no longer available. This fourth and final version, Track Of The Vampire, had to be extended slightly from its meagre 69 minutes, so Rothman added a six minute downright strange/massively incongruous dance sequence on the beach.

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So all of this is well and good, and it’s fascinating wading through all four provided on these discs, though is any version any good? Well, in short, no, though there are some decent bargain basement Touch Of Evil scenes of shadowy pursuit as well as one memorable carousel attack. A classic case of the film’s history being far more interesting than the film itself, the various incarnations of Blood Bath are worth a watch for that purpose alone.

From one cinematic visionary (of sorts) to another (genuine) now, with the Bluray release of Wizards, cult animator Ralph Bakshi’s (Fritz The Cat) 1978 fantasy made just before his abortive attempt at adapting The Lord Of The Rings. Involving many similar aspects to his later work (psychedelic colour schemes, prog rock score and rotoscoping – incorporating live action into the animation), this tale of two rival wizards (one good, one evil, obvs) fighting for the future of a post-apocalyptic fantasy world of elves and dwarves is an endlessly intriguing, sometimes-beautiful (particularly on lovely Blu-ray) frustration of a film.

A curious mish-mash of irreverent Comix sensibilities and high fantasy, we get intricately inked landscapes reminiscent of the likes of Rene Laloux’s La Planet Sauvage with crudely sketched, shallow comedy characters bumbling about in the foreground like kids’ drawings on a particularly well-designed fridge. Our hero wizard Avatar, played by Bob Holt (voice artist from Fritz The Cat and Scooby Doo), spouts seventies stoner slang to scantily-clad fairy princesses as nicely rendered creatures of myth come forth. This po-mo culture clash is bold, brilliant and creative or maybe just annoying and ugly. The truth, unfortunately, is somewhere in-between.

Less ambiguously entertaining is the welcome DVD release of Canadian Jason Krawczyk’s inspired action/horror comedy He Never Died, starring Black Flag punk rocker turned actor and accomplished public speaker Henry Rollins basically playing himself- an unkillable double-hard bastard twatting bad guys to save his daughter.

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Essentially a supernatural, actually good Taken wherein our hero gets his indestructible status from cannibalism (like our favourite elderly East End gangsters, he’s ok because he only eats the bad guys) as well as presumably some weights and a high protein diet, this OTT action shtick is perfectly offset by great moments of quiet humour (a scene in a bingo hall a particular highlight) and Rollins’ gruff inarticulacy hilariously polar opposite to his verbose real life persona.

With writer/director Krawczyk’s film reputedly being developed into a TV spin-off (presumably not a million miles from Amazon Prime’s decent Preacher comic adaptation), this quirky take on the horror thriller has huge ultraviolent potential.

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