One of the complexities of seeking out weird movies is that there are a lot of films--maybe a majority of weird movies, in fact--that are way more fun to read about than they are to actually... you know... view. "Seeds of Evil," released on DVD by Subversive Cinema as "The Gardener," is just such a peculiar little film. It's really a pretty paltry feature, tracking a wealthy married woman's obsession with a mysterious gardener (played by Paul Morrissey regular Joe Dallesandro). The flick comes off as sort of a "Night Gallery" episode stretched on a Torturer's Rack of seemingly endless dialogue-over-cocktails scenes into a ninety-minute feature.
The story waffles between being an allegory of something I never quite understod, an updating of the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades, and what I'd like to call a "Rappaccini's Beefcake" story. Shirtless, leather-pantsed gardener Carl comes into housewife Ellen's (Katharine Houghton) employ after the mysterious death of his last lady-boss. His green thumb turns her Costa Rican mansion into a paradise of colorful blooms, delighting Ellen and yet alarming and/or aggravating everyone else in her household (including her aloof, shaved-Burt-Reynolds-esque husband). Allusions to Greek myth are heavy-handed and frequent, including several explanations of the Persehpone myth. There are some scenes in which there could have been explorations of the sexual tension between Ellen and Carl, but the director pointedly backs off of this plotline.
This feature is padded to within an inch of its life, with long scenes of shirtless Carl tending the plants and an epic Carnivale sequence in which people dance and chat about nothing. I felt as though I was watching plants grow in real-time at some points during the film. There's about thirty minutes of actual meat to work with here, and a reluctance to Go There that I've gotta object to on principle. To give you an idea of the pace with which this movie drags along, it takes forty-five minutes for anything Of Significance to happen, and said event occurs in the form of Ellen's husband cutting his hand. Really.
Sure, there's some Groovy workin', but things never get as weird as a story about a supernatural plant-man ought to. There's virtually no no violence until the final 10 minutes of the film and we only get a peek of male nudity (as can be expected from any film featuring Dallesandro). I found myself more interested in Ellen's parade of bizarre fashions than in the story at most points. She dons a series of strange dresses, ranging from Little House on the Prairie Chic to a split-personality mumu to what realy looks like a rainbow windsock. This is not the kind of Groovy I seek to emulate, but it sure was diverting.
There were things that could have been done to salvage the film that weren't. The potential for dream imagery was vast, but all of the Heavy Weirdness is backloaded into the last ten minutes of film. It's unclear whether things actually happened or whether Ellen's obsession guided her to terrible deeds. And not the "good unclear"--just the vexingly cop-out kinda unclear. The plot could have--and probably should have--brimmed with sex. In addition to the obvious Ellen/Carl chemistry that wasn't, there was a TOTALLY uncapitalized-upon potential lesbian subtext between Ellen and her pal Helena, a saucy widow played by Rita Gam.
The Subersive Cinema DVD is painstakingly put together, complete with a making-of featurette and producer Chalmer G. Kirkbride Jr.'s 1980 Master's thesis on the distribution of the film. First-and-only-time director Jim Kay clearly had trouble balancing his inspirations with his need to... you know... turn a profit. The 30 minute documentary on the film, featuring interviews with the director and the two leads, is more of an apology than an insight--everything that coulda been done right, but wasn't, is hashed over in what becomes excruciating detail. To me, the entire production can be summed up in Dallesandro's actually-kinda-priceless anecdote: "He [Kay] wanted to see me do something I wouldn't fail at... I don't know if he believed that I could do a script. His attitude was, if it was real simple, I could get away with it. I don't think I had very much dialogue in the film. Especially when I was a tree."
Bask in the Flickr gallery of stills from "Seeds of Evil" on Flickr (there's A Little Something For The Ladies on there today--you're welcome, girls).