This edition contains an essay on one of the characters portrayed by Anthony Starke, a puzzle, and a midi and sheet music inspired by Anthony Starke. If you're interested in writing an article for Starke Struck, or a regular column, please feel free to contact me about this. I am, in particular, looking for individuals interested in writing reviews of Anthony Starke's work, as well as installment fanfiction to post in the newsletter. Other ideas are welcome. -- Cat Standish
Attack of . . . movies have been around for a long time. The 1950s gave us the original version of Attack of the 50-Foot Woman and Attack of the Giant Leeches. By the 1960s it was Robots, the Mayan Mummy, and the Mushroom People which led to the likes of the Swamp Creature and the Killer Tomatoes in the 1970s. Even more recently, cinema audiences have not been spared attacks by the Killer Refrigerator and the 60-Foot Centrefold. And it's unfortunate that the title alone seems to condemn the resultant film as most Attack of . . . movies are just plain bad.
If there are plenty of attacks, there are even more Return of . . . movies. Hands up if you can name at least five. Yup, I thought so - just about everyone. The number of people and things which have come back over the years, almost inevitably in sequels, is enormous and varied - Jesse James, Frank James, Frank Cannon, Martin Guerre, Josey Wales, Captain Invincible, A Man Called Horse, the Fly, the Dragon, the Musketeers, the Jedi, the King, the Pink Panther, the Seven, the Native, the Man from UNCLE. The Living Dead returned three times! Even The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe came back. And so did the Killer Tomatoes.
However, if Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is considered a defining moment in filmmaking, sometimes described as the worst movie ever made, its sequel was very different. In 1977, at a time when audiences were starting to really enjoy not only how good a real spoof movie could be, but also the underlying humour injected by some directors into otherwise more dramatic work, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes failed. It gives the impression that it set out to become a cult movie rather than being a movie that became a cult one. But, unlike other bad cult movies, like Plan 9 From Outer Space, it didn't even manage that.
So why bring them back? Who knows, just be grateful they returned. Perhaps it was because John DeBello, who wrote and directed both, had figured out where it all went wrong. And at least some of his cast felt the same, because they came back too. As did some of the footage from the original - to the point where one "viewer" is heard to ask if this is a new movie or simply a sneaky way of reshowing the old one.
But Return of the Killer Tomatoes is a new movie, released in 1988 and capturing the cult audience the original sent running for cover. It airs on TV, it's available on VHS and DVD, and it's still funny over 15 years later. And the reason you're here is because its main star is Anthony Starke, who takes top billing. He plays the hero Chad Finletter, nephew of Wilbur Finletter (Rock Peace) who overcame the first wave of killer tomatoes. In a tomato free world, Chad works for Wilbur in a pizza parlour where he creates amazing (and probably inedible) pizza toppings out of bananas, anchovies and Gummi Bears and virtually anything else which comes to hand. He works with his roommate, Matt Stevens (George Clooney) whose hobby is chasing girls. The latest biography of Clooney unkindly states that he is "the star" of this film but, "curiously", doesn't play the lead. That's because he isn't the star. In the past year or two, the distributors have suddenly decided that putting George Clooney's name on the front of the box might sell more copies but check the credits and you'll find him exactly where he's always been. The love interest is Tara (Karen Mistal); the bad guy is crazed Professor Gangrene (John Astin) who creates the tomato people aided, at times, by his trusty minion Igor (Steve Lundquist), who looks like a bodybuilding surfer boy and would much rather be a TV news anchor.
This is a film that it's almost impossible to see just once, if only because there are so many hidden gags. The plot - yes, there is a plot - is pretty much basic disaster movie fare except there are no nuns or pregnant women in imminent danger. Professor Gangrene, undeterred by the destruction of his killer tomato squadrons by Wilbur Finletter and his two sidekicks 25 years earlier, has returned, setting up home in a big, spooky Psycho style house. In his secret laboratory in the cellar, he turns tomatoes into people using nothing more dastardly than toxic waste and loud music. Unfortunately, the music can make them instantly change back into tomatoes.
Throughout, Return of the Killer Tomatoes appears to be a Movie of the Night being shown by a minor TV channel. The host, Bob Downs (Mike Villani) also runs a "Guess the Mystery Word" competition with fantastic prize money, mounting daily as the word isn't guess and nowhere near triple figures. Having explained the rules of the contest, we start the movie. But it's the wrong one . . . a quick reel change and you finally reach the start.
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