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DVD Review: The Gardener

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Every once in a while a movie comes along that makes you question your commitment to the medium. The Gardener is one of those films. I like horror movies, I really do, but there is something that I require from my horror movies and that is actual horror. I know there are a lot of bad horror films out there, and I like more than my share of them, but this one does not contain horror at all.

When I first heard of this title, I was attracted to the description of it. Here is the quote that convinced me to see it: “The Gardener is a flowery mix of 70s mod-art film, grindhouse horror and Italian giallo!” This statement is flat out incorrect. This movie is just a slow, dry, dull drama with slight supernatural overtones. On top of that, the plot is non-existent; it was a chore to sit through.

The story follows Ellen and John, a wealthy couple staying at their home in Costa Rica (actually, it was shot in Puerto Rico). Ellen finds that a friend of hers had passed away, this leads her to the beautiful garden that she left behind. She was then introduced to the man responsible for the beautiful landscaping, Carl. Ellen ends up hiring the man of few words, and, apparently, few shirts.

There is something strange about this man. The plants seem to respond to him and grow bigger and more beautiful just because he is there. He takes these plants and places them around the house, to the delight of Ellen, and the chagrin of her cook, who, according to the press release, possesses great knowledge of Voodoo, yet there is no real indication of this in the movie. I guess, if you are a native of Costa Rica, you must have knowledge of Voodoo.

As the, uh, story moves along, we watch these rich people sit around and complain while vintage 70s cocktail music plays. They start to complain about the preponderance of flowers, and how the quiet Carl is a strange character indeed. Occasionally someone would lay down among the greenery and just expire, nothing gruesome or bloody, they just died. Eventually Ellen becomes suspicious, despite her friends’ insistence that she is crazy. Her investigation turns up a number of dead women, which leads to her climactic showdown with the mysterious gardener.

Joe Dallesandro stars as the title character. He had made a name for himself after appearing in films such as Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula. Here he gives a stoic, wooden (hehehe) performance. He walks around stiffly, barely delivering his few lines of dialog. Co-starring with him is Katherine Houghton, her first film after Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?. She doesn’t exactly light up the screen, but then again, the script doesn’t do her any favors.

[ADBLOCKHERE]The Gardener was written and directed by James H. Kay, this being his, thankfully, one and only film. The script is awful. The dialog is anything but believable, and it is delivered as if it is being read off cue cards. The film is devoid of any tension or suspense; it just plods along from scene to scene. The exposition is kept to a minimum. We don’t learn of any motive, or reasons for what he does, it just is, and there isn’t much of “it.” The direction is as wooden as its lead actor. The lighting is flat and camera work is pedestrian at its best point.

Video. The image is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphically enhanced widescreen. The transfer is dull and lifeless, and it exposes the low-budget nature and age of the footage. It looks better than some films I have seen of the era, but nothing terribly special.

Audio. There are two tracks, a new Dolby Digital 2.0 track and the original mono mix. It sounds OK, but again, the source leaves a lot to be desired. At times the dialog is barely audible, not a problem with the transfer, just low budget source.

Extras. Considering the small radar blip that this film is, it has a nice selection of extras.
-Commentary with Joe Dallesandro. This track is more of an interview with Norm Hill (founder of Subversive Films, the company releasing this disk). I sampled this track and found it to be moderately interesting, but Joe is a bit of a dull talker.

Commentary with James H. Kay. Kay takes us on a tour through the film, generally just describing what is going on, in the samples that I listened too.
-“Planting the Seeds of Evil.” This featurette runs nearly 30 minutes and contains new interview footage with the director and the two leads. It is pretty good, perhaps a bit more interesting than the film proper.
-“Million Dollar Dream.” This also runs nearly a half hour. This contains vintage footage about the rating of The Gardener and some aspects to consider with low budget filmmaking.
-Cast Bios. Text bios for Joe Dallesandro, Katherine Houghton, James Congdon, Rita Gam, James H. Kay, and Chalmer Kirkbridge Jr.
-Poster and Stills gallery. This contains 35 poster and production stills for The Gardener and its alternative title, Seeds of Evil.
-Trailers. Included are The Gardener, Blood Bath, Metal Skin, Candy Snatchers, Blue Murder, and The Freakmaker.

Bottomline. Avoid this stinker, that is unless you suffer from insomnia. In case of those sleepless nights, this may be just what you are looking for.

Not Recommended. * / *****

Be sure to check out this video on the Subversive Cinema site, they do a good job of making it look like a creepy horror movie.

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