Written and Directed by: James Kay
Starring: Katharine Houghton, Joe Dallesandro, and Rita Gam
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Garden of LOVE... Garden of DEATH...He Plants the Seeds of Evil
Nearly forty years after its release, whatever drive-in shenanigans that occurred with Seeds of Evil are still paying dividends. With a title like that and Joe Dallesandroís presence, itís an easy sell to a fan of 70s grindhouse fare, which is probably exactly what contemporary distributors were relying on when it took James Kayís The Gardener and marketed it as Seeds of Evil and Garden of Death in various locations to sell a tedious melodrama as the latest supernaturally-tinged blood-letter. The familiar tactic probably sent many fleeing for the drive-in exits in disappointment back then, and it still serves as an endurance test on home video todayóindeed, itíd be hard to fault anyone who prematurely ejects this one from their DVD player.
After a housewife dies of cancer, her friend Ellen (Katharine Houghton) acquires the services of her gardener, Carl (a perpetually shirtless Dallesandro). Her clueless and often absent husband (James Congdon) surprisingly doesnít mind having the beefcake around; instead, itís the maid who are spooked out by Carlís presence, as they believe heís cultivating a garden of evil (or deathópick your poison). Thankfully for Carl, just about everyone else is clueless and leaves him to his own devices, which result in an incredible display of botany; in fact, itís such a hit with the socialite crowd that he doesnít come under the slightest suspicion when people start to either fall ill or disappear.
Thatís pretty much the entire movie right there, as Houghton and her housewife friends (primarily Rita Gam) swoon over Carlís garden (and physique) while the maids constantly warn everyone that heís actually up to no good. Eventually, thereís some expected domestic drama when Ellenís husband finally realizes the folly of leaving his wife alone with the hunk, but even that thread is dropped and never reaches its logical breaking point. Instead, the film opts for a painfully tedious climax that involves the worldís most thorough background check when Ellen goes fishing for information from Carlís previous employers, a process that nets a big revelation that was already obvious to anyone watching the film (or who just listened to the maids, which is a good thing to do if you want to survive a B-movie). Anyway, maybe that would make for a decent mid-movie revelation that would allow the film to actually do something interesting but it instead shuttles itself straight to the bizarre, incoherent climax (that features dramatic freeze frames in place of actual special effects), which is just as well. Knowing just what in the hell is actually going on in a movie is overrated, anyway.
Despite the summative ratings at the end of our reviews here, I still donít feel like Iím in the business of consumer advocacy, but Iíd be remiss if I didnít take a buyerís beware angle here, not only because the film is not what it appears to be, but also because itís terrible at beingÖwhatever it is. For most of its running time, itís just a sluggish melodrama, and if it lacked the subtle, supernatural elements surrounding Carlís killer plants, one might assume that this was just another tale about a frustrated housewife tempted by the forbidden fruit of an affair. To be fair, it mostly is that, but thereís an occasional reminder that evil stuff is also going down, so once of the housekeepers becomes faint and Ellenís niece disappears after being seduced by Carl. Arguably, the filmís most intense scene is also its most laughable: when Ellen and her husband go out for their annual Carnivale celebration, their tensions come to a head after Carl decks out Ellenís getup with some flowers. Enraged, the husband goes to rip them off, only to prick his finger on them (a moment that represents virtually all of the bloodshed in Seeds of Evil).
The most damning sign that Seeds of Evil bears nothing but rotten fruit? Not even Dallesandro can salvage it; in his first outing without Paul Morrissey or Andy Warhol, heís stuck in the familiar role of the beefy manservant, which is certainly an intentional riff to capitalize on the popularity of his roles in his earlier films. However, instead of being an unusually prescient mouthpiece for Marxist theory, heís reduced here to a monosyllabic brute who skulks around andÖwell, I canít say what heís eventually up to (not because I donít want to spoilt it but because I literally am not sure what the ending is all about). Somehow, one of cult cinemaís most eccentric and impossibly charismatic screen presences is made boring (but at least his Brooklyn accent isnít hilariously anachronistic this time out) alongside the rest of the cast, which isnít all that bad on paper but is done no favors by Kayís sluggish pacing and dull photography. Not only is the plot impossibly half-baked and threadbare, but it goes largely uncompensated for, as thereís a distinct lack of atmosphere or even horror flourishes (mostly because its status as a horror flick seems more like an afterthought).
While the ending is a welcome, trippy interlude that breaks up the monotony of the previous 80 minutes (and features a rough precursor to The Evil Dead), it really only works on a silly level, and it comes far too late. By that point, Seeds of Evil has served as an unfortunate reminder of the exploitation underbelly with its obvious bait and switch approach. Such tactics are inherently frustrating but especially so when it involves a movie that by any other name would smell just as sour. For its new release of the film, Code Red has outfitted it with the Seeds of Evil moniker and stuck it on a double bill with The Touch of Satan (aka Night of the Demonóno, not that Night of the Demon or even that Night of the Demon). Per usual, Code Red has done a pretty good job with the disc itself; the transfer doesnít shy away from the drive-in roots and features plenty of scratches and damage, but thatís sort of the Code Red aesthetic at this point. This is the latest in the ďMariaís B-Movie MayhemĒ line, so you have a special mode that features the former wrestling diva acting as a host, which I can only assume livens up the proceedings considerably. Despite Code Redís best efforts, itís hard to find many kind things to say about this not-so-polished turd of a film; in true, old school video store fashion, its poster art might be its best asset: itís just too bad that the actual movie doesnít feature Dallesandro as some sort of Swamp Thing style monster. If it did, I might be more hesitant to Trash it!
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