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The Spin Sheet

DVD reviews by Peter Schorn of The Digital Bits


Killer Tomatoes Eat France!

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Killer Tomatoes Eat France!
1991 (2005) - Four Square Productions (20th Century Fox)

Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B-/F


While many have seen the classic schlocker Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, with it's booming theme song, no-budget aesthetics and its use of the song "Puberty Love" to destroy the marauding red beasties - a plot point that I swear Tim Burton nicked for Mars Attacks and its killer Slim Whitman music gag - how many of you have bothered to track down the three sequels?

I know I hadn't until the fourth film of the trilogy, Killer Tomatoes Eat France!, recently sailed through my still-unsecured transom. With its ultra-cheesy cover art, featuring some sort of Killer Tomato puppet with big eyes and teeth bad enough to make him an honorary member of The Pogues, to say my expectations were low would be like saying Keira Knightly should star in The Dolly Parton Story. (I have no idea what that means either.)


The pleasant surprise of Killer Tomatoes Eat France! is that not only is it funny, it's actually quite funny. It offers frequent flashes of wit worthy of ace spoofs like Airplane! and The Naked Gun. Gags come fast and furry-ish, such as crossroads signs pointing the way to Paris once, but Déjà Vu twice; a future king unaware of his true destiny musing, "No wonder my last name is Seventeenth"; and all the women in France being named Marie.

The plot involves some nonsense about Dr. Gangreen (John "My son's a Hobbit, but I was Gomez" Astin) and his evil tomatoes attempting to fulfill a dark prophecy about the future King of France (Jerry Lewis?) and needing... oh, who cares?!? You want plot? Go watch Purple Rain!

Marc Price (Skippy on Family Ties) also stars as a guy claiming to be Michael J. Fox to impress a cute French girl named, duh, Marie. (And all along we thought Charlie Kaufman invented meta humor.) As he rationalizes, "It's better than dinner theater," and when the need to save the world arises, he steps up to the challenge. It's really not as frightening a prospect as it seems.

Actually shot in France (and a mall in San Diego), Killer Tomatoes Eat France! uses the rapid-fire shotgun approach to comedy, where they keep blasting away knowing that something is bound to hit. It's not like a Woody Allen movie - it's much, much funnier - so don't expect self-examined Manhattanite navels.

For all you standard definition set (read: old TV) owners who are annoyed by those pesky black bars at the top and bottom of your screens, Killer Tomatoes Eat France! is presented in good old-fashion FULLSCREEN, which was the OAR (if you have to ask what this means, go here). The video has got its share of edge-enhancement, grain and washed-out, low-budget looks, but it isn't obnoxious. The audio is just in English stereo with some clipping and distortion in spots, but you can hear the jokes just fine.

Technically, it's not pretty, but compared to the non-existent extras - a few trailers for classic horror films from Fox don't count - it's THX-Certified all the way.

In conclusion... this is a freaking Killer Tomatoes movie!!! It's darn funny and makes a good double-feature with something like An American in Paris (or One Night in Paris!) Don't think! Laugh!




Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs

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Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs
Limited Edition - 1974 (2005) - Toei (Discotek)

Film Rating: C-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B-/D-


Several years ago I discovered the Zero Woman series of cheesy soft-core Japanese crime flicks, featuring some scantily-clad babe with nice guns (and packing some ballistic firepower, too) involved in lightweight crime capers patterned after La Femme Nikita. You've got secret police units doing extra-legal things to fight bad guys... blah-blah-woof-woof. You know the drill.

What I didn't know was that the roots of this series went back to Seventies Exploitation Cinema and the 1974 film Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs. What I also didn't know, and hadn't learned from Quentin Tarantino's recycling in... well, everything he's done (not that this is a bad thing), was that some Exploitation Cinema can be some pretty ugly stuff.

Despite the candid warnings in the brief liner notes (by Asian Cult Cinema's Thomas Weisser) that "this movie is mean-spirited, shocking and utterly offensive" with "virtually no redeeming social value", I was still expecting something entertaining in the Grand Guignol sense of spraying bloodfests like the Kill Bill series. (If two films constitutes a series.) Bring on the sex and violence, right?


Well... no matter how you slice it, brutal gang rapes aren't very entertaining.

After an opening sequence in which Rei (Miki Sugimoto), wielding her trademark red chain handcuffs and red pistol, summarily executes a sleazy sex offender she was supposed to bring in who happened to have diplomatic immunity, she's stripped of her badge and tossed into prison.

Sometime later, scummy thug Nakahara (Eiji Go) is released from prison and meets up with his small gang. After they grab a bite to eat, they encounter a young couple in a car, murder of the man and then repeatedly rape the terrified woman.

The woman is recognized as the daughter of a Presidential candidate and is ransomed. To prevent the scandal from going public, Rei is offered freedom from prison in exchange for her disposing of the gang, by any means necessary. Since this is a covert operation, she'll be a non-person - a Zero Woman.

After she assists Nakahara in escaping with the ransom money, she's taken back to the thugs' hideout. When they suspect she may not be who she appears, the thugs handcuff Rei to a pole and brutally beat and rape her while she icily endures the abuse. ("Impassive" is the word to describe Sugimoto's performance.)

At this point, I figured that the filmmakers were setting up the gang for the well-deserved and systematically horrible deaths revenge-driven stories like this are known for. Whether it's The Bride (Uma Thurman) in Kill Bill or Creasy (Denzel Washington) in Man on Fire, a hefty pile of bodies left in the wake of a vengeful juggernaut is an expected resulting element. Unfortunately, Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs doesn't really pay off enough to offset the nastiness we're subjected to during the setup.

Instead of Agent Zero giving as good as she got and cutting them - to paraphrase Dwight in Sin City - in ways that would make them useless to anyone, much less a woman, the male cops working the outside part of the operation rack up as many kills as Zero and it's not satisfying. After witnessing the thugs' heinous acts, the miserable ends they meet aren't nearly miserable enough. For all the spraying geysers of blood and torture with blowtorches and vices, the film just doesn't satisfy or entertain much.

It's too bad, because director Yukio Noda manages to stage some very stylish shots, with theatrical shifts in lighting and moments of ghoulish beauty. Among them are images of blood spreading in a filled bathtub after someone is dispatched (not a spoiler because it's on the booklet - blame the distributor). But the style is inconsistent due to the modest budgets of these grindhouse flicks. And for every slick moment, there are plenty of cheap and sleazy minutes.

The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer on this DVD is washed out, with weak black levels, but this is most likely due to the source material. Colors aren't particularly vibrant, but they resist being too noisy, though details tend to be soft. Grain is moderate and the print is in decent shape. The stereo Japanese audio track is thin, as would be expected, but is adequate to the task of sounding low budget. As with the transfer, source limitations hold down the rating.

While this is labeled a Limited Edition DVD and touts the "anamorphic transfer with collectable booklet", the booklet is a simple 4-pager with reproductions of two of the movie posters, a chapter listing with a few stills and the above-mentioned four-paragraph essay by Weisser that manages to pack a lot of information into its short length. The keepcase comes in a heavy cardboard slipcase that mirrors the case art and gives the package a more luxurious aura than it actual deserves.

I had high hopes of enjoying the advertised "90 minutes of stylish mayhem and ultra-violence" listed on the box - for reference, I consider A Clockwork Orange and American Psycho to be comedies - and the critical reputation of this film was good. Sadly, in the end, it was just too ugly and too dissatisfying to recommend.

Imagine if Kill Bill showed all the abuse The Bride endured while in her coma and then had the guy who worked at Hattori Hanzo's sushi shop kill off half of her abusers. How satisfying would that be to watch? Exactly.

I keep coming back to Kill Bill because it was faux-grindhouse done right. After our heroine is shot in the head and left in a coma where she's pimped out, she recovers, she arms up and she proceeds to return the tender mercies that were shown her. Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs could've been the thrill show it advertised... if only it had given its women their due. As it is, it's too unpleasant to excuse or enjoy.

Peter Schorn
peterschorn@thedigitalbits.com


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