Lou Reed once immortalized “Little Joe” Dallesandro’s swinging lifestyle in his biographical ode to Andy Warhol’s Factory set: Walk on the Wild Side. In that seminal track he skewed Dallesandro’s penchant for sex and his past of prostitution. Once a part of The Factory, Dallesandro made his mark as the male embodiment of sensual wanton lust in underground masterpieces like Trash, Flesh and Heat, before moving ever so slightly toward some mainstream notices in Blood for Dracula and Flesh for Frankenstein. No one at the time would have told you that Dallesandro was cast for his acting prowess or his absolute rage of emotion. Simply put, Dallesandro was cast for his looks, his body and his penchant for appearing in the raw. Indeed, Dallesandro was designed to appeal to the hetro, homo and pansexual patrons of Warhol’s weirdly androgynous world of 15-minute fame.
The Gardener (aka Seeds of Evil) represents the first non-Factory role that Dallesandro shot for the US marketplace (He did a few Italian films in the early 70’s) and it is marred by a lackluster storyline and Dallesandro’s incredible wooden portrayal. The film, which stars Katherine Houghton (the niece of the incomparable Katherine Hepburn), follows the strange happenings at a posh Costa Rican estate when Houghton hires Dallesandro to spruce up her garden. Dallesandro’s performance (and to call it “performance” may be stretching reality a bit) sees his depiction as a gardener from hell that holds an unnatural power over the plants. Perhaps his lack of emotion is what instantly creeps out the housekeeping staff, forcing dreary exposition like “it’s just unnatural”…I’ll say!!! In much of the same way Dallesandro exacts control over the lush landscape, he seem to have a hypnotic effect on the women of the film. You know what – if this is all beginning to sound a bit dull and contrived for a horror film, then your astute judgment is right on. In fact The Gardener is more like a dreary episode of Days of our Lives with some odd supernatural elements thrown in to break up the stilted dialogue and soft focus shots of the shirtless Dallesandro. It’s a yawn fest that would try the patience of a saint.
Subversive Cinema offers the film in a deluxe special edition that is so far superior to the source material that one would shudder to consider the time and energy expended on such a handsome release of such a wholly inept film. In fact the DVD edition is so top notch that it almost pains me to have to spend so much energy, dismissing the film as a lost production that would have better remained lost.
Subversive is fast becoming the next great genre supplier, with fantastic titles like The Candy Snatcher, The Freakmaker and the retail releases of David Lynch’s Short Film collection, Eraserhead and Dumbland and this DVD release features two major selling points; in fact combined they are nearly worth the price of having to experience the feature film. The first is producer Chalmer Kirkbride Jr.’s 1980 documentary on the production, which also served as his Master’s Thesis – Million Dollar Dream. This documentary shot 5 years after the completion of the film chronicles the tragedy of the production. The 30-minute film, although designed to showcase the effort required in making and marketing a product, very nearly serves as a case study for how not to make a movie. The second featurette is the newly produced, Planting the Seeds of Evil, which as humor would have it, is exactly the documentary that all the fans wanted to see about the making of Alien 3. This is the one where the cast and crew tell you all about what they were trying to accomplish and theorize when and where the whole damn thing went to hell in a hand basket. As far as special features are concerned, this disc is the pick of the litter, so maybe its ironic that much like Terry Gilliam’s fated Don Quixote flick, the tragic tale of this films utter failure is the most compelling element of the production. It is a film that needs to be seen to be believed, but don’t pop this puppy in without recognizing that you’ve been warned.