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Kent Nichols and Doug Sarine (Killer Tomatoes remake) interview

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07-31-2008
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Kent Nichols and Doug Sarine

It's not often you find yourself excited about the prospect of an Attack of the Killer Tomatoes remake. But that's where I am now, after spending some time at San Diego Comic-Con talking to remake writers Kent Nichols (who will also direct) and Doug Sarine. You may have seen their work before -- they're the duo responsible for the wildly popular and hilarious web series Ask a Ninja, where a masked master of the martial arts answers viewer questions with as much violence and quick-cutting as possible. You may ask how this translates into adapting one of the most recognizable cult horror titles for the 21st Century, but these guys have it all thought out...

Classic-Horror: You guys are doing a remake of the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Kent: This is a relaunch, reimagining of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. It takes a lot of the themes from the first movie and then a few elements from the second and third movies, but it’s basically an entirely fresh take on the Killer Tomatoes brand.

C-H: How do you make the jump from doing a web series to remaking a classic cult film?

Kent: It is a big jump. Writing for three minutes versus writing for 90… is kind of a big undertaking. But we have been trying to be professional writers and filmmakers for the last five or six years, so this has definitely been always part of the plan. It’s an exciting time.

Doug: Something a lot of people don’t know is that Ask a Ninja grew out of an animated screenplay that we had written. So, we’re definitely familiar with the structure and we’re familiar with creating a nice, big story around everything. If we ever talked to anybody about the actual structure of Ask a Ninja, like what the organization is, the International Order of Ninjas, it’s ridiculously in-depth and intricate, and we’ve done way too much thinking on that already.

C-H: Are there flow charts?

Doug: Oh yeah.

Kent: Lot of flow charts, lot of org charts.

Doug: It’s a really intense organization. Creating a big world wasn’t the problem for us. We just wanted to make sure we were having fun with it, and that there was real comedy and real horror going on at the same time, y’know, in that Sam Raimi style. Just really making sure we dug in really hardcore and didn’t leave anything on the sides.

C-H: What’s your general approach to the property in this new film?

Kent: It’s really just -- be as funny as possible and then kill as many people with tomatoes… but using only tomato conveyances, as possible. The tomatoes don’t have mouths…

Doug: They’re faceless killers.

Kent: You know, in the second Tomatoes movie, they all got transformed into Tomato People, all these buff guys and hot chicks. It’s like, no no no, these are tomatoes. They kill using tomato-like conveyances. We really explored all of the different makes and models of tomatoes, y’know, there are all of these different varieties. So we go, oh that’s a very acidic one, so it’d have different personality traits than a regular one.

Doug: Some tomatoes would be aggressive tomatoes versus some tomatoes would just be big, dumb tomatoes. Adding personalities to the actual tomatoes was like a really important thing, and it’s a way to make them more horrific and more menacing as a faceless killer.

C-H: Why Attack of the Killer Tomatoes in particular for you guys?

Doug: Because you can do anything you want with it! The movie was ahead of its time – a lot of movies came after it and did similar things in terms of parodying and making satire against government organizations and against horror movies. It’s an original property that people have in their minds, but they don’t really remember that much about it. So there’s a lot of leeway to really make it your own and really make it a new and intense experience. But yet it’s enough of a brand that people are like “Oh yeah, I remember that…”

Kent: And it’s just an amazing… It’s Snakes on a Plane before Snakes on a Plane, like, it’s an amazing title. People only know one thing about Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, they just know that tomatoes are going to be killing people. If we do that, if we can deliver that visceral, tomato-killing experience and then give them something value-add on top of that… It’s going to be like, “Oh my god, they gave us the killer tomatoes and then it was AWESOME as well!” It’s one of those things where it is a huge Hollywood franchise where it’s had four films, the animated children’s show – there’s not that many things that have been able to withstand so much scrutiny. So it’s really fun to just be in charge and remap the whole thing.

Doug: The original one was a passion project here in San Diego and it was something that a lot of the community got involved with. We’re trying to expand even that idea even while we’re creating the movie, using RealRedMenace.com and using a fan contest on YouTube where people can audition to get killed in the movie. We want people to get excited about the movie in a way they really feel like they’re interacting with it. Hopefully, if everything goes according to plan, there will actually be interactive elements within the movie.

C-H: Will you guys being appearing in the films yourselves?

Doug: It’s a possibility.

Kent: Absolutely.

Doug: At minimum, we’ll both die.

Kent: Absolutely. I’ll be pretty busy directing the film – it’s my first feature so I’m pretty excited about. I think we have a few good potential roles that Doug can play, so it’s going to be fun.

Doug: All people that die.

Kent: All people that die, of course.

C-H: Does the character of Dr. Gangrene appear in the screenplay?

Kent: No!

Doug: We’ve looked at ways to incorporate some original cast members in very interesting ways. Some of them you’ll have to, like, look for them, some of them are sneaky little cameos or character names and references. There’s lots of little drops, little references to the first movie.

Kent: There’s definitely references. But Gangrene comes in in the second movie, the John Astin character. Like, you could tell they painted themselves – or they felt they painted themselves into a corner with the first movie, because it was Press Secretary Richardson that was the evil genius behind the whole situation and then in the second movie, all of the sudden it’s this Dr. Gangrene and then he kind of carries forward to the animated thing. We’re really much more true to the first film, where it’s unclear how the tomatoes grew into the malevolent presence that they are. We’re a little more faithful on that tick. Instead of making it just an evil genius movie, it’s more a faceless menace movie.

Doug: And that opens it up for more political satire because then it’s like, everyone’s trying to respond to this nebulous evil, rather than “oh that guy.” No, it’s really keeping the tomatoes at the heart of it, at the evil.

C-H: Are you going to deal with the government’s response to the tomato threat?

Kent: Yeah. That in the first movie is really what resonated most with me, was just the satire of the government and how ineffective it is. And really though, there’s a large part of the movie that kind of becomes… When Hurricane Katrina happened, it scared the crap out of me, because it’s like, I live in Los Angeles. There’s going to be an earthquake in Los Angeles and they’re not helping those people. What are we going to do when we need water and this and that? And so we have a lot of fun with the government’s self-serving response and nature and ineffectiveness…

Doug: And the ridiculous ways… Like, we don’t know how they decide who responds to these emergencies, so we just come up with a great construct of how they figure out, like… is this the USDA that does this, is this the FDA that handles this, is it FEMA that’s supposed to handle this? When the tomatoes attack, they don’t know who’s supposed to handle it and it’s just like… we pull back the curtain and say, this is the way we think the government decides how to handle these things.

Kent: That and like the media. We really try to deal with how the media pumps stuff up, but then doesn’t do a call to action and things. We really try to pick up those threads from the original of government ineffectiveness and media hype simultaneously.

C-H: Do you guys come from a horror background yourselves – do you guys really love the genre or are you more into the comedy aspects of the film?

Kent: We’re a hybrid team, like where Doug is like a huge, huge horror guy and I’m just like a huge comedy guy. But I can definitely appreciate horror and all that stuff, but Doug’s a huge martial arts and horror fanboy.

Doug: Yeah yeah yeah! I like horror-action, I like people to get in there. And I like real evil coming at you. I don’t like modifying it by discussing the lineage of it. I like the first Halloween rather than the Rob Zombie remake. Forget how it happened, this is what it wants and we gotta deal with it now, [that] type of horror.

C-H: What are some of your favorite horror films?

Doug: Of course, like everyone else, Evil Dead II, cause that’s the first movie that really recognized that comedy can happen within a horror movie, so that’s big for me. I also like things that make me feel creepy, a modern movie like Audition that makes me…

Kent: (shudders) Yeeeeh.

Doug: …that’s really just a “messes with your mind” type movie. I like some old school stuff as well. I like Hitchcock, and I like those things that…

Kent: Dario Argento.

Doug: Well, oh yeah. Terror at the Opera is one of my all-time favorites. I made him watch Suspiria and he’s like “What the heck is this movie? I don’t even understand what’s going on!”

Kent: “Well, we got this delivery of meat and we decided to put them in the attic…”

Doug: Dario Argento just made you feel so many things with his weirdness. Yeah, both Terror at the Opera and Suspiria are big influences to me and I think he’s a true master. And I like… I’m a George Romero zombie, I’m a slow zombie rather than a fast zombie guy.

C-H: Hell yeah.

Kent: I’m a fast zombie guy, I’m sorry I’m sorry. I like the virus zombies!

C-H: You’re killing me here.

Kent: (laughs)

Doug: So that’s my take on it, yeah.

C-H: Kent? Horror films? Preferences?

Kent: Uh…

Doug: The ones that I made him watch.

Kent: You know, I do like the… I did like 28 Days Later, just because not only just the way they shot it with the cameras and stuff like that, but it was also fun. Guys barking like dogs and dripping blood on their daughters and all that sort of stuff.

Doug: The Fog, you like the original Fog.

Kent: I like the original Fog, I like Shaun of the Dead. I like… I don’t know. Like I said, my horror resume unfortunately isn’t as deep as it could be.

C-H: We forgive you.

Kent: I just love blood and fun ways to kill people. I’m not so much into all the Saws and the torture porn stuff. It’s just not as entertaining for me. It’s definitely cringe-worthy and it’s fun to bring a date and freak her out. But in terms of sheer entertainment value, like Evil Dead II is so much more engaging to watch, because, y’know, just the way he’s killing people and the way it’s all happening.

C-H: When’s the [new Attack of the Killer Tomatoes] movie going to be out, do you guys think?

Kent: We’re shooting this fall, like October-ish. We’re shooting to get it out 2009.

Classic-Horror would like to thank Kent and Doug for taking time out of their busy schedules to talk to us. It was an absolute blast.

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