Gardener, The (DVD)

Starring Katherine Houghton, Joe Dallesandro, Rita Gam, James Gongdon

Directed by James H. Kay

Released by Subversive Cimena

Subversive is fast becoming known for giving rarely seen or heard of films like The Candy Snatchers or The Freakmaker amazing restorations and surprisingly stacked DVD releases. What’s great about that is that both of those movies are pretty damn good. The Gardener, however, is not.

Originally released here in the states under the cooler but far less appropriate title Seeds of Evil, The Gardener is one of those films that really make you wonder what the hell everyone involved was thinking when they made it. It’s dull, plodding, lacking in any sort of tension or suspense, and the ending barely makes any sense at all, utilizing the cheapest of cheap effects that even by the standards of 1973 must’ve not looked too good.

The story deals with a bored socialite woman named Ellen (Houghton) who finds out that Carl the gardener, most recently employed by a newly-deceased friend of hers, is now free of employment obligations. Taking the time out from the grieving of her friend’s passing, she sees that her friend’s garden was quite amazing, full of all sorts of rare flowers and blossoms, so she offers Carl (Andy Warhol staple Dallesandro) a job at her sprawling estate.

The next day he shows up wearing the exact same thing he was the day before, a pair of skin-tight pants (indeed, his only “wardrobe” for the entire film… never is a shirt needed), looks around the place, and says he’ll take the job. Immediately Ellen’s housemaids, who seem to be of some sort of Spanish descent, take a disliking to Carl, saying his ability to make things grow when they shouldn’t is unnatural, and he’s got to be some kind of evil voodoo guy… or something like that. Ellen soon realizes that the last few women Carl’s worked for are now dead, but when her niece disappears without warning so she feels she has to let him go… only for him to be employed by her other bored socialite friend Helena (Gam). Some bad stuff happens, someone dies (I think they do, at least. The editing is questionable at best), and eventually Carl turns into a tree. Roll credits.

While the premise is just this side of interesting, the execution kills any potential the film had by making it way too long and way too dull. I couldn’t count the number of shots that involved Ellen and Helena having a conversation on one outdoor patio or another over drinks, which was the only way the plot really moves along for the first hour or so. Not exactly fast-paced action.

But you know why this disc isn’t getting the score it seems like it so richly deserves? Seemingly everyone involved knows this movie sucks.

The first extra on Subversive’s disc is a brand-new documentary called “Planting the Seeds of Evil”, and during it’s 35-minute running time you learn more about how the movie was supposed to be, and what went wrong, than most filmmakers will ever reveal to anyone. From the stars to the director, they all chime in with their theories as to how a script that was supposed to be a modern-day retelling of the Greek legend of Persephone (more or less) turned into an hour and half long snooze fest without enough horror to call it a horror film, not enough titillation to call it exploitation, but just enough blood to make sure it got slapped with an R rating. It’s a pretty fascinating documentary and very well done. The second featurette on the disc, however, is even more so.

That would be “Million Dollar Dream”, the full title of which is “The Distribution of Low Budget Films or The Gardener’s Seeds of Evil Killed My Million Dollar Dream”. It’s a 30 minute documentary that served as producer Chalmer Kirkbride, Jr.’s Master’s Thesis in Public Relations, detailing the history of funding, creation, and distributing The Gardener, which ended up being a worst-case scenario for almost everyone involved. Kirkbride, Jr. is the host of this program, and he comes of very good-natured about the whole debacle, which at the time of the doc’s making was 7 years behind him, and managed to interview all sorts of people with more experience than they had when they made the film, who gave some great points on getting your film marketed. They’re not very useful points now, as this was done in 1980, but it’s still really interesting to see how it all used to work. The highlight is a brief chat with the then-president of Avco Embassy, who conversely had a best-case scenario on their hands when they agreed to release Don Coscarelli’s low budget classic Phantasm.

“Million Dollar Dream” is definitely the highlight of this disc, and in all honesty I would recommend the entire experience, first watching the film then both docs, to really appreciate how screwed up a film can get from the production to distribution stages.

There are also two commentary tracks here, one with director Jim Kay by himself, which tends to be a bit dull and sporadic, and the other with actor Dallesandro and Subversive president Norman Hill, which is far more entertaining. Norm does a great job moving things along with all sorts of questions and conversation-spawning inquiries, and eventually Dallesandro seems to get pretty into it.

Oh, and I should take a moment to say what a great job they did on the clean up of this movie. Never is it more evident than when you’re watching the clips from it in “Million Dollar Dream”, where it’s hard to tell what the hell is going on. It’s not exactly a pristine transfer job, but it’s pretty damn close.

Other features include cast and crew bios, a nicely animated five-minute slideshow of posters and stills, and a slew of trailers for other upcoming Subversive titles. I can’t forget the packaging, either. It comes in a cardboard slip case with the original cover, but the DVD cover itself has much better looking art set to a white background, it’s just that the title is pretty much impossible to read. Inside is a foldout mini-poster and some lobby card repros, which look fantastic.

Another great job done by the guys a Subversive, who have managed to prove that even a film as dull and unexciting as The Gardener can still be worth buying because of the smart choice of DVD extras.

Special Features
“Planting the Seeds of Evil” featurette
“Million Dollar Dream” featurette
Commentary by director James H. Kay
Commentary by star Joe Dallesandro and Subversive pres Norman Hill
Cast & Crew bios
Still gallery

3 ½ out of 5

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Johnny Butane

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