reviews by Peter Schorn of The Digital Bits
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
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,
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!
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
no matter how you slice it, brutal gang rapes aren't very
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
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
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
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