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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Worst Movie Ever?

Hollywood at its best.
About three months ago, on our 42-day cross-country jaunt as we set out to "See the USA in our Chevrolet Toyota" we spent three days in Los Angeles--two in visiting LACMA and the Getty Center. The third day we visited that great cultural icon, Universal City. Inasmuch as my wife's legs (she's had two knee replacements) aren't what they ought to be, we cringed and paid the outrageous sum of $350 each for the VIP tour. After the fact, we decided it was money well spent (my own legs ain't what they used to be either). There was little or no standing in line at attractions, we got a peek at behind-the-scene movie making, had a wonderful buffet lunch, and best of all, got to ride instead of walk all over the hilly, 415-acre amusement park. It was a 90-degree day, California sunny, and probably neither of us would have made it though the ordeal otherwise.
A Hollywood screamer--the worst movie ever made?
One of the most interesting highlights of our tour was our guide, Lary (one "R"). If you read this, Lary, sorry I can't recall your last name. The group we were in numbered about twelve so I got to talk with him extensively. He was around fifty and had been in the entertainment industry for thirty years or more. He knew Universal and the movies from the inside out and was a treasure trove of movie trivia, far overshadowing my own considerable stash of worthless motion picture tidbits. I asked him if he'd ever been in a movie (virtually everyone in Hollywood has been in at least one picture at some point in the life). He smiled rather sheepishly and admitted, perhaps with a bit of improvised embarrassment, that he'd once had a bit part (meaning a speaking role) in what is, arguably, the worst movie ever made, the infamous 1977, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.
A musical comedy, more unintentionally comical than musical.
I asked, but I can't recall now what part Lary (one "R") played. I've searched the cast and can find no "Lary" (one "R"), so like half the people in Hollywood, my guess is he's probably changed his name (and not without good reason if you've ever seen the movie). I've seen it three or four times. At one point I "taught" it as part of an Introduction to Film course at our local community college. It was part of a unit on cult films. It's right up there with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dr. Strangelove, and Casablanca (though well beneath them). It's more in the same class with The Blob, Creature from the Dark Lagoon, Plan 9 from Outer Space, and Glen or Glenda, all of which some might argue deserve the designation "worst movie ever made." I disagree. Killer Tomatoes is in a class by itself. All the others mentioned were, admittedly, low-budget travesties, but the difference in them and Tomatoes is that John DeBello's Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was born and raised to deliberately be flat-out AWFUL.

The Victims--no bloodshed, not even tomato juice.
The critics echoed the words
at the top of the showbill.
First of all, the premise was simply silly. Though once thought to be poisonous, so far as I know, tomatoes have never been guilty of killing anyone (a little heartburn, maybe). Second, the movie is billed as a musical comedy, which may be the most comedic aspect of the film. What little music there might be, beyond any reasonable doubt, is the absolutely WORST music ever written for a motion picture. The theme song during the opening credits is laughable, the movie's other "big hit," Puberty Love, is simply painful. To spread the blame around, besides writing, producing, and directing (aided and abetted by Costa Dillon and Stephen Peace), DeBello also "composed" the music, and served as film editor. The film starred David Miller, George Wilson, and the aforementioned Costa Dillon, as well as my good friend, (one "R") Lary.
The Killer Tomato stars, Mason Dixon
played by David Miller and Lt. Finletter
played by "Rock" Peace.
I could get involved at this point in discussing the plot, but suffice to say it was as silly stupid as everything else about the movie. The title, in fact, pretty much says it all as the President of the United States (played by Ernie Myers) appoints an ex-CIA operative named Mason Dixon (yes, Mason Dixon) to stop the vegetable scourge (tomatoes are really a fruit, you know). Parodies abound, some intended to be funny, some unintentionally funnier). One of Mason Dixon's assistants is a black master of disguise who appears at various times in the movie as George Washington, Adolph Hitler, and Abraham Lincoln. I recall first seeing the film shortly after it came out in 1978, for me the most memorable scene being a conference with five or six men sitting around a table in a room so small they had to crawl over the table in order to get in and out. I'm talking really low budget here, folks.
The killer tomatoes take another round. The accident that tripled the budget.
Although I don't personally recall the incident, the scene often cited as being most memorable was not part of the original screenplay (using the term very loosely). A light helicopter was suppose to land in a tomato field (who cares why) but during shooting, its tail rotor accidentally struck the ground, causing it to spin out of control, crash, and burn. The pilot escaped injury; the whole thing caught on film. The crash was written into the script as the tomatoes fighting back a human invasion of their homeland. The cost of the aircraft added $60,000 to the film's $90,000 budget. By the way, the picture earned $567,000 at the box office and has spawned three movie sequels and a TV series, as well as a Saturday morning cartoon series. Someone once defined "kitsch" as art so bad it's good. The film's most famous line: "Say, will someone please pass the ketchup?"

Gary Smith as Sam Smith in the movie infiltrates the tomato patch in disguise.
His cover is blown when he utter's the movie's most memorable line,
"Say, will somone please pass the ketchup?"

For what it's worth, the movie's trailer:


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