Subversive Cinema // 1975 // 87 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 10th, 2006
He plants the seeds of evil.
So would you listen to your voodoo-savvy household help if they told you to avoid the buff, half-naked gardener who can magically grow flowers even though you're a lonely housewife whose husband is either away on business or playing golf and geez if that gardener just doesn't nuke your noodle something fierce?
Ellen Bennett (Katharine Houghton) lives in a posh estate in Costa Rica, has money up the wazoo, a loving, if largely absentee husband, and close friends she can confide in while sipping Bloody Marys. What is missing from her life? How about a butt-load of flowers and a good-looking, inhibition-free landscaper to tend them?
Thanks to a recommendation from her friend Helena (Rita Gam), Ellen brings on Carl (Joe Dallesandro), a man of few words and humongous pectorals. During the day Carl quietly goes about his business in the yard, bringing about wondrous floral creations. Unfortunately, Ellen's service staff has bad feelings about the newcomer, and frequently warns Ellen to use caution with dealing with him.
But Ellen is swept up in the beauty of the flowers and...something else. When Carl lays his peepers on her she just can't help herself and melts, unwilling to heed any warnings, no matter how emphatic they're given. And once the dude takes a "butt-in-the-moonlight" swim, Ellen catches him, and game over man, she's putty.
As the plant life overwhelms the house, and strange happenings befall people around her, Ellen eventually slip-slides out of her horny little trance and begins to suspect that there may be a lot more to Carl than an exceptional green thumb. Can she break away from his hypnosis in time, or is she too far gone?
Subversive Cinema is a studio known for unearthing some pretty funky flicks. They've found a real weird one this go-round with The Gardener (a.k.a. Seeds of Evil), a Giallo-like mystery thriller from 1975. For the majority of the runtime, the movie unfolds in typical, plodding suspense fashion: we meet the odd stranger and note the evolving effects his presence has on our heroine. As the flick rumbles on, Ellen slips closer and closer to the deep end, until the final 10 minutes when she gets a running start and leaps off. But the very end of the movie is where the insanity meter goes to 12. I won't ruin it for you if decide to give this disc a spin, but let's just say a) you don't see it coming, b) the special effects are some of the worst ever, and c) Treebeard would be impressed.
Nerd-a-riffic Lord of the Rings terminology aside, I have to say this film didn't do it for me. While the @#$% went down at the very end, the bulk of the film is slowly paced and event-free. The disc synopsis claims the film is "grindhouse horror," but that's not true. Mayhem is limited to some guy sniffing a flower and collapsing on the ground, a trickle of blood running from his mouth (he survives) and a cheesy and confusing scythe attack. Horror fans: nothing for you here.
But for folks digging for some groovy '70s weirdness, there may be value in the film. Some moments of The Gardener are cheesy as all get-out (e.g. Ellen traipsing through the garden) and when set to the righteous score by Marc Fredricks, are good for a few laughs. On the dramatic side of things, director James Kay is able to squeeze some suspense out of the film, thanks to a strong performance by Katharine Houghton and some creepy camera shots. Dallesandro is an impressive physical presence, but when the guy starts talking, you'll likely head for the hills; he's got a stiffer line-reading than a rusted gate hinge.
Nothing jumps out at me as to why I should recommend this movie. What it's got: a solid performance from the lead, a helping of craziness, and a short runtime. What it don't got: an involving plot, mundane story progression, noteworthy gore, and passable effects. Leaf it be. (Hah.)
On the technical end, Subversive has produced a fine treatment. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks very good, with only some color hiccups and slight edge enhancement bringing it down. For sound: the original mono mix, plus a more potent stereo presentation. A nice set of extras comes with, including two commentary tracks -- one by Joe Dallesandro and the other from a very laid-back and muted James Kay. A robust reunion featurette with the cast and crew and a 20-minute documentary from 1980 (I believe it was someone's thesis) offer even more background info on the film. Bios, trailers, and a still gallery finish it off.
This is a nice disc from Subversive, with impressive extras and solid technical merits. The film itself, however, failed to move me. Green thumbs down.
This bud's not for you.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Subversive Cinema
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Director's Commentary
* Joe Dallesandro Commentary
* Retrospective Featurette
* Documentary Thesis
* Still Gallery