Starring longtime Andy Warhol woodblock Joe Dallesandro and Katharine Hepburn's niece, The Gardener (aka Seeds of Evil) is a justifiably forgotten semi-horror flick from the mid-70s that makes one wonder how a movie can actually get made while so much rampant drug usage is so plainly afoot. Don't be fooled by the seriously cool cover art, though, because aside from a few offhand demises and a finale that's as silly as it is abrupt, The Gardener is a creepy monster movie in the same way that Ishtar was a critical and financial success.
Ellen Bennett (Katharine Houghton) is a lovely rich housewife who spends her days inside a palatial Costa Rican (?) estate, and she's just thrilled with the botanical talents of her new gardener, Carl (Joe Dallesandro). Ellen's husband (James Congdon) seems to have no problem whatsoever with the half-naked garden hunk who now lives in his backyard, because, hey, those flowers sure are pretty - and the missus seems to really like Carl. (Clearly, hubby is not known for his overwhelming intelligence.) And then there's Ellen's best friend, a typically gossipy shrew called Helena who has her own eyes focused on Carl's innumerable ... talents.
Yep, everyone sure seems to love mysterious ol' shirtless Carl. Well, everyone except for the Bennetts' current gardener (a withered old coot who, surprise, ends up passing out in the garden before promptly vanishing from the movie entirely) and a suspicious little ninny of a housekeeper. (She refuses to allow Carl's flowers into the kitchen, because she senses that they are ... unnatural!)
So the stage seems fairly well set for your typical "evil domestic invader" routine ... only someone forgot to tell first (and only) time filmmaker James Kay that a movie needs a three-act structure moreso than it needs a really long one-act structure. To say that very little actually happens throughout the course of The Gardener would be a very accurate assessment. Ellen wanders around the house, Carl pops up once in a while, shirtless and brandishing new flowers. Occasionally Helena or the housekeeper will stop by and mutter some comments about Carl and/or the flowers...
Next thing you know, you're 70 minutes into the movie - and still nothing has happened. And then the whole sorry affair is wrapped up with a truly arcane death scene and a hysterically inept metamorphosis sequence. Meanwhile, all 9 of the viewers who actually manage to sit through the whole movie will greet the arrival of the end credits with big mental miasma that screams "That's IT??"
The thing's an absolute mess, and based on the DVD's supplemental material, the filmmakers are well aware of the thing's absolute messiness. The lighting is dim and dingy, the acting performances are uniformly flat and unconvincing. The voice recording (particularly in the case of Dallesandro) is near-laughable, and the dialogue frequently travels right into Stupidsville. More of a mildly supernatural soap opera episode than any sort of juicy little horror flick, The Gardener is a b-level obscurity that more than deserved its 3-decade stint on somebody's closet shelf.
One man's junk is another man's cult classic, which explains why Subversive Cinema has treated this forgotten old relic to a surprisingly solid Special Edition treatment. The film is presented in a surprisingly crisp anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer, with audio delivered in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. And the extra features are, frankly, a whole lot more entertaining than is the main feature. Two separate audio commentaries are included, one from writer/director Jim Kay and the other with leading man Joe Dallesandro (who speaks maybe 28 words in the whole freaky flick). Two featurettes are included, one a recent retrospective piece with Kay, Dallesandro, and Houghton, and the other a rather fascinating 1980 video thesis from producer Chalmer Kirkbride Jr. Rounding out the platter are some cast bios, still & poster galleries, and a bunch of trailers for other Subversive Cinema titles. (Also stuffed inside the DVD case are four lobby cards and a foldout poster!)
Can't say much for the movie, but those Subversive Cinemaniacs sure do treat even the goofiest little movies like they're Citizen Kane ... and that's very cool.