Directed by James D. R. Hickox
Malcolm McDowell grows plants out of humans and makes tea.
First and foremost, I need to explain that I am not a hunter of the Horrible Movie species. Of course I consider it my duty to know the Legends – “Manos”, “The Giant Claw”, et al. – and I have a number of films maligned by most, because I like them, and sometimes I may pick up something out of curiosity (or otherwise – for instance, I purchased the “official Turkish release” of the infamous film often called “The Turkish Star Wars”, but that’s because it was Star Wars! Sort of.), but I normally do not seek out awful films deliberately. I do, however, come across some by accident.
So it was with “The Gardener.” I found this film in a supermarket, packaged with another film for a price equivalent to 6 USD. The film with which it was packaged was – oh, the insult – “The Big Lebowski.” And that film was the one that caught my attention, but since it was bundled with several films of choice, I was not sure which variant to get.
That is not to say, however, that I was not intrigued by “The Gardener.” Malcolm McDowell’s name on the cover is always a gamble, because although it promises a good performance, it may also mean anything from “excellent film” to “a pile of garbage.” True, the cover was a shameless plagiarism of the poster for “The Silence of the Lambs”, but covers are often designed by the releasing studios rather than anyone actually related to the film, so that meant nothing. But since I had the cell phone with me, thanks to the wonders of Google’s providing WAP versions of all WWW pages that it indexes, I read a few brief summaries of the film on the tiny phone screen. They seemed to promise a taunt thriller about a creepily effective serial killer. Tempted, I picked the films up.
Unfortunately, as I found out at home and on the PC’s monitor, those summaries came from a few stores that had this film for sale. They were advertisements. Patently false, as I was about to find out.
A very short while into the film, I had to stop due to its egregiousness, and I went online to see just what the hell I was getting into. The IMDB gave me what should have been the first warning sign of an awful film looming on the horizon: “The Gardener” had been released under several titles. This is a telling mark of a truly bad film, although there are exceptions, of course (“Catwoman” had only one title, I believe.) “The Gardener” had the aliases of “Garden of Evil” and “Silent Screams”, the last title being kind of a – heaven have mercy – spoiler.
Eventually, I survived the séance of “The Gardener” and went to see how well it was known, or rather – how infamous it was. It turned out that the little antigem had apparently gained little recognition even among the dedicated connoisseurs of Fetid Films – such as Jabootu. Therefore it is my pleasure to present it to, hopefully, a considerable audience… and implore anyone reading not to buy this film under any circumstances. Borrow it, steal it, download it if you are curious, but do not finance the sequel – for the idea of a sequel may have been crawling in the mind of director James D. R. Hickox, as you shall soon see.
The cover. Can you spot the similarity to the poster for a certain other film?
“The Gardener” opens with slow-motion shots of a death-head moth – just in case the film’s cover was not enough of a clue as to the, ahem, “inspiration” behind it. This opening scene is actually rather competently made, mostly due to the flawless performance of the moth and the fact that it does not have to deliver any of writer (?) Joseph Gunn’s dialogue; unfortunately, where “The Silence of the Lambs” illustrated its moth close-ups with Howard Shore’s somber, grim score, “The Gardener” puts its moth to dance to the tacky and noisy tunes of 20s swing music. Noisy swing will be popping up in this movie later, too; perhaps James D. R. Hickox is trying to immunize the viewers to it early on; if he is, he does so without much success.
As the moth flies off, happy to be away from this film so early, it gets a nasty surprise: a spider web, complete with its hungry host. Then, in a shocking revelation, the camera pulls back to reveal that – gasp – the spider web is actually in the middle of a flowerbed, which, in turn, is in the middle of a rather impressive garden. Never mind the fact that the close-up shots were clearly taken in nighttime whereas it’s sunny noon in the garden itself – James D. R. Hickox cares not for trivialities.
“Help meee! Don’t let him eat meee!”, screams the insect in a tiny, high-pitched voice, as Vincent Price looks on in horror… but enough about good movies, back to “The Gardener.” A series of tilted and annoyingly short shots takes us on a tour of the garden and then a man walks out into the sun – and so we get a first look at the film’s villain. There is no doubt that the man is the villain, because he is Malcolm McDowell. McDowell, a popular veteran of many screens, is not unlike his fellow Isles’ dwellers John Rhys-Davies or Michael Caine in that, in spite of his considerable talent and charisma, he never, ever turns anything down. I have a feeling that not one of these three actors would hesitate to utter “You want me to play a quadriplegic donkey in a cut scene for a video game inspired by Mortal Kombat, but with naked midgets? Great, I’m your man!”, and, further, I grimly predict that one day we will probably see all of them in “an Uwe Boll picture.”
As Malcolm McDowell dances in the sun and converses with his flowers, we learn that the “screenplay by Joseph Gunn” is “based on a screenplay by Alex Kim.” Which means that someone actually wrote this story, and then not only someone thought that it would be worth directing but, before that, someone else decided to rewrite it, no doubt to improve it. Considering the quality of the finished product, I feel shivers as I think of what Alex Kim’s draft must have been like.
In an abrupt shot, a little dog wanders in the garden and begins sniffing and pawing at a plant. A sinister look on Malcolm McDowell’s face tells us that something is afoot, or rather under; a “tense” score even kicks in at that moment, although the effect is somewhat weakened by the fact that the swing music still blasts at full volume. Malcolm McDowell approaches the dog amiably, but the animal ignores him, which it demonstrates by pissing on McDowell’s flowers. Pissed off, Malcolm McDowell attacks the dog with a snarl. (Actually, he only stretches his hand and emits an unconvincing cough, but a sound effect of a dog’s whimper, plus an ominous cut, let us know that the canine’s fate was not pleasant.
The cut takes us to a building inside which two women – Angie Everhart being one of them – undress in a dark room to place something on their bodies. Just as it seems that James D. R. Hickox may have confused the genres, the tepid revelation follows: they are just policewomen preparing for an undercover sting operation. As they walk out of the dark room, they are cheered by a whole crowd of gawkers, even though nobody peeked at them or even had a chance to. Rather than being annoyed or upset at what, to their best knowledge, is a bunch of peeping Toms, the women just smile and teleport to a Sleazy Motel. In the tradition set by “Highlander II”, the motel is named “Motel.” In the tradition preceding that of “Battlefield Earth”, most scenes are filmed with tilted camera.
Angie Everhart – or, as we find out, “Kelly” – is monitoring the other woman who, alone in a Sleazy Room, awaits someone. Since she has a big suitcase of money with her, and since she’s in a film as original as a boys band, that someone is presumably a Drug Dealer.
Sure enough, a car full of Sleazy Drug Dealers pulls up in a few seconds. A police officer – Joe – stares at it through an uncovered window, perfectly visible from the parking lot; since he is wearing a jacket with huge yellow letters spelling “DEA”, this may not be a good idea, but then, I’m not DEA, so I can’t really tell how they operate. (Although something tells me that neither can James D. R. Hickox)
The Dealers enter the yet unnamed policewoman’s room – on the way, they display their evil by smoking and tossing still-lit cigarettes around – and start a conversation, speaking in suspiciously cockney accents. I’d think there would be easier ways for a Brit villain to get rid of cocaine than to peddle it in USA, but then, I’m not DEA.
Shockingly, the Dealers turn out to be no good, as they assault the policewoman – who, we finally find out, is named “Iris” (Nothing better than subtle and underused symbolism) – trying to steal the money.
The other officers get ready for action, and one of them produces a revolver so hilariously, insanely long that his sexologist would know what the policeman’s problem is just by looking at the size of his holster. He also looks very smug and satisfied, as well as excited; I would expect a policeman to be tense and worried about the safety of his endangered colleague in such a situation, but then, I’m not DEA.
“Think my gun is big enough?”
Fortunately, the first Dealer proves to be deaf and blind, because as he slowly walks outside the officers’ room, he neither hears their loud shouts or walkie-talkie noise, nor does he notice the uniformed and armed people jumping out at him. Even better, he’s also anemic, allowing Kelly to knock him out with a gentle pat on the head. His strange deafness, blindness and weakness are a clue as to the quality of the film, because if we consult the cast list, we learn that he is being played by director James D. R. Hickox himself.
“No, really – is my gun big enough?”
The other Dealer is tougher, which he proves by saying the four-letter verb a few times and firing a gun when the officers enter his room. Fortunately, he does not fire once when the Long-Barreled Cop stands outside the room’s door for a while; of course, considering the shooting proficiency that he displays when the door does open, he would have probably missed, anyway. Kelly also enters, and, having no other use for the bullets in her gun, she places them in the Dealer’s forehead. The Dealer blinks in surprise, takes a step back and only then, realizing that there is now a passage through his skull, does he expire.
“Why am I in this film? Is something wrong with my head or what?”
Things still aren’t over, though, as the Dealers’ Driver wakes up and tries to drive away, bumping – in slow motion – into… no, not a cardboard box, but the next best thing: a shop cart. Because the car moves in slow motion, Kelly has no difficulty in outjumping it, landing in front of it in a “classic Matrix pose” (a year before “The Matrix”! How’s that for spookiness?) and firing at the driver – who, in a scene deemed “too ridiculous” by Hong-Kong action movie directors, lets go of the steering wheel and commences firing two handguns at the same time. He manages to get out of the parking lot, too, but is bumped into by Doc Brown’s DeLorean. It must be DeLorean, because it materializes behind the Dealer’s car out of thin air, never having been seen in any of the previous shot; what’s more, after hitting the Dealer’s car, it teleports to yet another location in the next shot, and even loses the damage from the collision. Then, in the third shot, it disappears altogether.
This preceded “The Matrix”!
Doc Brown’s assistance is not enough, and the Dealer gets away, prompting Kelly to act, by screaming at a passing cloud. Joe the DEA is curiously relieved, even though – or perhaps because – he did not fire his Big Gun at all.
Next, Kelly and Iris drink in a pub, where a singer sings a song “Step Into My Garden”; that’s symbolism, again, and some highly skillful foreshadowing. Kelly suggests that Iris should relax by using the approaching birthday of her boyfriend. “Buy David some flowers”, she says; I suppose the idea of women buying men flowers is some sort of revolutionary feminist reversal of roles. It could also be an utterly lazy and idiotic way of getting Iris to meet Malcolm McDowell, but that’s impossible, isn’t it?
Sadly, I haven’t yet been to the US, but thanks to “The Gardener”, I know that every big city in USA is only allowed to have one garden selling flowers, so it’s not surprising that the next morning Iris ends up at Malcolm McDowell’s, although not before she’s pestered by a black man wearing a thick leather jacket in summer noon and asking her nonsensically “Hey, can I go?” and muttering “Dayumn!” in a thankfully short scene.
Since flowers grow, Malcolm McDowell’s garden grew in size about ten times since the opening montage, and changed looks. McDowell, busy cutting grass and twigs with a giant machine spouting more smoke than New Jersey, notices Iris, he smiles “charmingly” and we cut to the police HQ, where Kelly worries about her friend (see, she’s over 10 minutes late for work; she was obviously abducted.) Joe is there, too, and now he’s a desk cop from Homicide, even though a day earlier he was clearly DEA. Maybe he was demoted.
Well, how about now?
In another random and useless scene, we cut to Malcolm McDowell’s “inner lair”, as the (tilted) camera flies around a cellar of his house, showing several sinister tools and dark walls. Though this is a copy of the “basement flight” of Jame Gumb’s house in “Silence of the Lambs”, the scene could actually be half decent if it lasted more than the four seconds that it does, and if it did not end with a shot of McDowell sitting cross-legged on a table, wearing a white bathrobe for no reason whatsoever.
The four seconds concluded, we see Kelly at Iris’s house, trying to break in. In a scene that actually is funny, a pair of stoned hippies passing by warn her not to do it, because “a cop lives there!”. Of course, stoned hippies are always funny, and besides, I thought the film was supposed to be a dark and somber thriller – but then, I’m not DEA.
Having vandalized the exterior of her best friend’s house, Kelly now proceeds to rape her privacy by thoroughly checking the inside – at tilted camera. She discovers the phone number of Malcolm McDowell’s garden and, like a true detective, goes to check it, too. She makes an Important Discovery – Iris’s car is parked outside the garden. She also discovers the black man, who makes passes at her and grabs his crotch. Kelly reacts by introducing her gun to said crotch and stating “If I pull this trigger, you’re gonna be pissing out of your asshole for the rest of your life.” I seriously doubt this is physically possible, but I don’t want to find out if it is. She actually pulls the trigger, too, and – surprise! – the chamber is empty. I’d say such an action would be enough to warrant at least a suspension if reported, but then, I’m not DEA.
Outside the garden, Kelly meets a female graduate of Jake Lloyd’s Acting School for Children; the girl is the (ex) owner of the dog we had seen earlier, and, as camera tilts in all directions, she informs Kelly that the mean gardener killed the doggie. Kelly, being a detective trained to accept facts over words, instantly grows suspicious of the gardener.
Kelly then visits Iris’s boyfriend, David, a very sleazy individual (he is not concerned with Iris’s disappearance, he wants to “take Kelly’s photos… in the back”, and, worst of all, he wears a clown suit.) Iris’s and Kelly’s superior is not concerned, either – and I really should be DEA, because if an officer of mine went missing for three days without a trace, I’d certainly do more than say “So what?” and “I’ll fire her!”
These tense moments are interrupted with the first (and last) scary image in the film: a frog-view close-up of the face of a man resembling a goat. He is, it turns out, one of Malcolm McDowell’s prospective customers busy admiring his new flower, which, as an attending woman puts it, “is so alive… almost breathing!” Gee, I wonder what it could mean? Especially with that frog-eye-view of the shots, sort of looking as if – gasp – the flower could see the people staring at it (maybe I should say “at her”, but I don’t want to ruin the shocking creativity of Alex Kim, Joseph Gunn and James D. R. Hickox.)
Now this is scary.
Kelly enters the garden, too; to her disappointment, Malcolm McDowell is present, which means that she cannot break in. Still, she witnesses McDowell babble about “his creations” and “his search for purity” to a reporter from a gardening magazine, and then finds out that not only did Malcolm McDowell see Iris, but “she reminded him of an iris”, too. Ooh, those mind games! We also find out that Malcolm McDowell’s real name is “Ben Carter.”
Kelly is given a tour of Ben’s garden; “You did all of this? Breathtaking!”, she exclaims, and I wish I could share her joy, but since all that the film showed were three second-long close-ups of very average flowers, I cannot.
“This is my life’s work!”, says Ben, pointing to a wooden gate, but before the audience may think that he’s actually a carpenter, the (tilted) camera reveals a moderately large and unmemorable bunch of ivy growing on its other side. Kelly is, for some reason, awed, even saying “Oh!”
The gate opens to reveal several flowers, including a – drum roll – iris. Spooky mind games, again! Kelly then makes a mistake of picking a flower, sending Ben into a rage. “You mutilated a flower! Flowers feel pain!”, he yells, and, in a new funny scene (unintentionally, this time), he hugs and kisses the flower, crying and shaking over it. Too bad Kelly did not cut the flower with a giant, smoking machine instead – that would have most likely been fine, considering that Ben was doing it himself a while earlier.
Back at the HQ, Kelly uses her computer, equipped with a special monitor that displays focused images when filmed, to check information about missing women. Each of them apparently disappeared in “SPECIAL CIRCIMSTANCES”, which is indeed unusual. Joe, the Cop with the Long Barrel, wanders over and gets the task of checking out Ben – he is, as Kelly describes, “Ben Carter, 60-65 years old.”
And so, a shocking revelation follows; you see, after only one day of checking, Joe manages to look into Ben’s driver license, discovering that… Ben is actually only 35! What is the mysterious reason for his old looks, then? Now, a mean person could say that Malcolm McDowell’s real-life abuse of certain substances may have very well caused him to look 65 at 35, but that would be mean and so I will not say anything of the sort.
Old Ben. (Actually, Young Ben Who Takes Really Bad Care of Himself. Stolen from the best cartoon of the last century.)
Kelly, mystified, checks with Ben’s teacher. Based on her looks, the teacher must have taught Ben when she was 15 years old, but since it’s already been established that in this film looks do not equal age, this is fine. Kelly learns that Ben was “the best student in the class”; since this is a movie, such a statement naturally means that he turned to crime (and, as such a specimen myself, I object to the Hollywood prejudice that makes best students of the class always grow up to be serial killers, terrorists, kidnappers or at least heist-meisters.) Eerie clues pile up, as Kelly finds out that Ben was teased by students because of his looks and that he lived with a strange woman who may have pretended to be his mother. (See, “Silence of the Lambs” alone is not enough.)
And that’s whom Kelly visits next. Mrs Carter explains Ben’s condition: “accelerated growth disorder”, which apparently causes him to age up to 4 times faster than normally (although at that rate, Ben should be calling Stephen Sommers about free positions in the Mummy movies.) She also reveals that she’s really Ben’s aunt and commences a “sorrowing” but actually unintentionally hilarious tale from Ben’s teenage years. (A tale which she should not know at all, really, but what the hell, this is probably accelerated mind-reading disorder)
A series of tilted flashbacks reveal the past of Ben. Teenage Ben is identical to the adult Ben, except for one difference: a wig so laughable it would make William Shatner wince. He is also an outcast, accepted only by a girl named Betsy, whom he considers to be “pure” and with whom he’s secretly in love. All other women are “unpure”, he says to anyone and everyone around; none of the teachers pays attention to those rather telling statements.
(I think it was at that moment that I glanced at the timer then and saw The Third Unholy Sign of Watching a Bad Film: though it seemed to me that over an hour passed, “The Gardener” had actually been running for just 30 minutes.)
Things aren’t going well for Ben, though: during a class visit to a botanical garden, he is chased by an evil camera which tilts in every direction until the viewer’s stomach rebels. As he runs from his pursuer, Ben stumbles upon Betsy… and a teenager lying on top of her, both of them giggling and enjoying the moment. Ben is shocked and enraged; so enraged, in fact, that when he attacks and kicks the teenager, the power of his kick makes Betsy disappear between shots and turns the boy into a stuntman with different hair. Ben pummels the stuntman for a while and then stops, upon which the body changes into that of a boy again, and Betsy, somewhat late, screams “Ben, stop it!” At this occasion, we also clearly see Betsy’s face for the first time, and a suspicion that the “aging disorder” is contagious arises, because, though she is young and attractive, Betsy certainly does not look like a teenager.
“When Ben got home, his face was bleeding from hundreds of cuts and his clothes were torn”, concludes Mrs Carter somberly, although she never explains what tore Ben’s clothes (and face), considering that he was in a mostly open space with a few lone trees. Mysteries abound as she reveals that Ben was arrested but not sent to a juvenile hall “because of the way he looked.” Funny, I thought “the law” would be more interested in what his papers said about his age than what his face did, but that’s probably a disorder of some sort.
Another important clue is found as Mrs Carter tells Kelly that Ben had told her “he would always hate women, all of them.” Hmmm, could this mean that Ben is… a serial killer?!? Who, I don’t know… hates women because they are not pure? Curse you, James D. R. Hickox, for tormenting the audience so with your clever surprises and tight plot…
And those unintentionally funny scenes, too. As the film cuts to Ben’s lair again, we see him through a jar. Distorted views through the glass are often used to create good, spooky scenes, but since in this case the jar is full of juice and covers only the lower half of Ben’s face, all it does is make Ben look rather like a stretched version of Robert Z’Dar. I somehow doubt that is the effect that James D. R. Hickox intended to create.
My jaw enhancer is now complete.
That, by the way, was another completely pointless, five-second-long scene that accomplished exactly nothing other than being a filler between Mrs Carter’s house and Kelly’s visit to Betsy, who is – shock! – in jail. Fortunately, the “disorder” is not contagious, because Betsy looks exactly as she looked in her teen years; she only lost a bad wig. (On the other hand, that’s what happened to Ben, too, so perhaps there is something to this contagiousness after all?)
Kelly’s clever plan is to release Betsy from jail and send her off to see Ben, to find out if he will go into a murderous rage at her sight. Blackmailed, Betsy agrees, and, with tilted camera and a wire, arrives at Ben’s. “I don’t know if he’ll recognize me”, she worries, completely unnecessarily as we have seen. Leaving her treasured used chewing gum with Joe the Long Gun, Betsy fails to be recognized by Ben.
Or does she? Soon afterwards, a tilted camera delivers flowers to Betsy’s room… but it’s just a delivery boy. That clever ruse prompts Kelly to whisper “He’s very smart”. Though it’s not justified in either case, she probably means Ben rather than the delivery boy.
And so… Ben recognized Betsy after all! Gasp! Who would have thought, what with her looking the same and all? And so the two meet for a dinner; Ben confesses to “looking for the perfect woman.” I thought he hated them all because they were not pure? Oh, well.
(It’s only been 50 minutes, it felt like two hours, by the way.)
The dinner gives Kelly a chance to satisfy her fetish of breaking-and-entering. She burglarizes Ben’s den, stealing… earth from beneath the flowers. She also intensely searches the insides of the flowers, because, who knows, some bodies could be hidden between the petals. Sadly, James D. R. Hickox passes the chance to try more Khomedy here by having bees fly out of the flowers. Instead, Kelly discovers a shockingly big iris. Actually, it’s a shockingly paper iris, but I’m sure it just suffers from an accelerated papering disorder.
Speak, evil flower!
Meantime, Ben informs Betsy that “he has been chosen by God”, and she makes the cardinal mistake of not running away the second that such words are uttered. God wants Ben to create something spiritually pure (weren’t angels more or less that, at least originally?)
Khomedy follows now! Kelly gives the garden earth to a gay technician who lisps and speaks in an atrociously lame (and often disappearing) “German” accent, and who proceeds to analyze the dirt, in a scene so painfully antifunny that the Wayans brothers are already trying to adopt and raise it. Example:
(Staring at the sample)
This is covered in feces.
The technician, by the way, is played by James D. R. Hickox’s brother Anthony, himself responsible for quite a number of atrocious films (and a few moderately decent ones.) If the talent inheritance progresses and grows in the Hickox family at this pace, Anthony’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson has a chance of actually making a good film.
“Hey, bro, what’s my motivation here? And what the hell’s yours?”
“You’re a gay German technician, kin of mine! Speak funny, it’s a dark thriller!”
Anyway, Anthony Hickox finds a drop of blood in the dirt – blood that matches Iris’s type! How’s that for a twist? This prompts the police to search Ben’s garden (as Joe the Big Gun helpfully explains: “The search warrant covers everything, and I want everything searched!”) The cops indeed search the whole garden, except for checking the ground. Which, seeing that Ben is a gardener who, you know, digs and buries things, might be a good idea. But then I’m not…
Ben is so upset by the search that his hands start bleeding. He must be stigmatic, because all he’s holding is a very soft flower with no thorns; perhaps he was frightened by the sight of Joe who, once again, pulls out his enormous gun (and will I spoil much if I say it now: he doesn’t fire it this time, either…?)
Suddenly dogs start barking and Joe, his big gun in hand, goes to investigate. Tense score grows in volume and everyone gathers around (the crowd is rather small for a thorough search of such a big place) – and then Joe finds… a dead rat. Damn! And with only 50 minutes left, I was sure he would find something incriminating already! So much suspense for nothing… damn you to hell, James D. R. Hickox, for those evil games of yours!
Kelly is so disappointed by this that she immediately takes a vacation, but since her superior is worried for her safety, he gives her an enormous cell phone (almost as big as Joe’s gun), which prompts her to ask intelligently “What’s this?” It’s a good thing he didn’t give her a VCR. Kelly then stares at the phone so intently that it just must come of use in some later scene.
Ben, meantime, throws a bunch of roses into a shredding machine. I guess roses aren’t like other flowers and they don’t feel pain. The scene seemingly serves no purpose at all, and in some films that could mean that the machine will yet return and Become Important. Of course, in some films, the machine would have been introduced discreetly, and James D. R. Hickox has already shot several pointless scenes, but perhaps this time something’s actually cooking there.
Soon we discover Kelly’s clever plan: she only took the vacation to rent a flat facing Ben’s garden, so that she could stake him out. She speaks for a while into a pocket recorder, describing her actions, then turns it off, and continues describing her actions, presumably for anyone watching.
But Ben knows he’s being watched, too. “I know you’re out there somewhere… I just wonder where you are”, he mutters. Since Kelly is standing in uncovered windows of her apartment all the time, a look across the street would have been enough to find out, but Ben’s mind-reading powers apparently have a limited range. Besides, he’s too busy sitting in the white robe again, but this time on the grass.
Kelly keeps watching Ben and gets excited when an attractive woman comes in to buy flowers. To her disappointment, however, Ben neither kills, nor attacks the woman. Kelly is thus forced to run in circles in her room, laugh, bump into walls and shriek “He’s crazy! He’s crazy!”
Not surprisingly, a few days later, Kelly informs her (once again turned off) recorder that she is now attracted to Ben. Her budding love is interrupted by Iris, who shows up for a moment and then turns into a very bad special effect. Although being painted green, throttled by a big vine, and covered by petals does not seem very pleasant, Iris laughs and falls into a huge flower. And by “huge”, I do mean huge: this sucker is bigger than Joe’s gun with an attached silencer!
She seems to be having fun, though…
Kelly wakes up; it was all a dream! Only the Iris / flower part, though; the rest of the film did happen, unfortunately. What’s more, Ben used Kelly's brief nap and is now sneaking out in his van. Kelly, being the masterful cop that she is, teleports to her car quickly and follows Ben before he even leaves his own parking. She isn’t even fooled by Ben’s ingenious trick of changing the color of the van between scenes. On the way, she observes the little girl playing with the allegedly murdered dog; considering that this is what initially made her suspicious of Ben, she is curiously uninterested in this discovery.
“What a horrible nightmare I had… I was being eaten by lousy animations!”
During the extremely slow, long and boring “chase”, Kelly passes a thug from the USS Enterprise. A few streets later, she stops and witnesses Ben throw something huge (yes, bigger than Joe’s gun) into a dumpster. Ben is singing very loudly while doing this, which might prompt some to believe that he is not doing anything sinister that he might want to hide, but the diligent Kelly checks the object. It’s a bag full of… twigs! And dirt.
The thug from the Enterprise uses the beam device to teleport from his original location and appears right behind Kelly. He attacks her – not with a nerve pinch, sadly – and yells “This is for my brother, you forking witch!” Hey… it’s the Dealer’s brother! How lucky he was to be at this part of the city at this time, and to have that teleporting device.
Enter Ben. Using the ancient art of brick-fu, he bashes the thug on the head and helps Kelly up, embarrassing her and – what a surprising turn of events – changing her opinion of him. The next scene shows that she may be wrong to do so, as Ben surveys his giant iris (or is it giant Iris?), muttering “Don’t worry, my dear… you won’t be alone for much longer.” He then feeds the iris tea and the scene quickly fades out, perhaps because big paper flowers and pots full of tea do not mix well.
Kelly, meantime, is attacked and raped by vines, showing that James D. R. Hickox is familiar with low-budget horrors, too (Or at least I think this is a rip-off of “The Evil Dead”- perhaps it’s actually, er, homage to the tentacle rape scenes from Japanese manga.) The rape traumatizes her so much that, courtesy of laughably bad animation, she changes into cabbage. Could it be another bad dream? Why, yes, it could! And it was!
A historic event follows, as the first really good line in the movie is delivered: at a flower show, Ben presents his iris, describing it as a monocotyledon. Asked if he could spell it, he responds: “Yes, I could. But I won’t. You’ll have to look it up – that’s the only way we learn.” The man who asks this question, by the way, may be the man who used to be known as The Embarrassing Clinton Brother, until a twist of fate better than those in the films of the Hickox family turned him into The Less Embarrassing Clinton Brother. Yes, ex-US president Bill’s wannabe-actor kin Roger. Roger Clinton is definitely credited with a role in this film, and the only Clintonian face I’ve noticed in it was in this scene. (Of course, it’s more than likely that Roger Clinton’s character is someone entirely different, someone whom I completely missed: in such a case, I extend my apologies to the Presidential Brother.)
Kelly attends the show, too, and hears this from Ben: “I’m sorry I’m not the guy you’re looking for.” She replies with this bon mot: “Part of me is… and part of me isn’t.” That’ll learn’im.
Afterwards, Kelly accepts Ben’s invitation for tea and walks around his garden in slow motion. A scene in which Ben’s hand holding a teapot slowly appears and begins pouring tea follows, and the awkward positioning, as well as Malcolm McDowell’s visible difficulty in keeping the pot steady seem to prove that James D. R. Hickox took great pain to ensure that only Ben’s arm and the teapot would be visible in this take. Why, I have no idea. Maybe it’s symbolic of something (the hand that pours the tea is the hand that rules the world? The hand of fate?), or maybe he just thought it would be funny to make his actors do silly things (and it probably is.)
A mental game of chess between Clarice and Lecter follows… er, that is to say: a mental game of Pong between Kelly and Ben follows and ends abruptly with Kelly passing out. See, Ben put “something” in her tea! What a shocker.
This may be symbolic or prophetic or poetic or idiotic.
Kelly wakes up naked, covered with flowers and chained onto a literal bed of flowers. She begins thrashing around and bouncing. Since the flowers are roses, this should be really, really painful, but she’s such a hard-boiled cop she doesn’t seem to notice. In a scene so hilariously stupid it would have been cut from “Manos”, Kelly rubs her ear on her shoulder to remove her earring (she wasn’t wearing any during the whole film; it’s a good thing she remembered to wear them on the day of her abduction), pick it up with her tongue, chew it for a while and spit it into her hand to try and open the padlock.
“Does this look like porn?”
“No? Here, let me try this.”
There are probably many other uses for earrings apart from wearing them in ears (and I don’t mean “many” as in “many other body parts to mutilate with them”), but I am certain that opening padlocks is not among them.
It’s all for naught, anyway, as Ben enters, revealing the giant size of his cellar (and prompting the question: did the cops bother to look here while searching he place?) “I’m a cop!”, Kelly reminds him in an attempt to convince him not to harm her. Wasn’t Iris a cop? Ben observes “The last thing you want to is to run around and make a fool of yourself”, even though Kelly has been doing just that for a better part of the movie. Ben also finally reveals his plans: “I have been chosen by God to create a new, pure woman, through my flowers”, he says, as Captain Obvious breaks the door down to give him big thumbs up.
Ben trots around his cellar reciting insipid poems and throwing petals around, and then proceeds to siphon blood out of a dead woman kept on another flower bed. The woman – who, we see, is Iris – spoils the effect a little by trying not to move her eyelids during close-ups and failing. The blood is used to grow Ben’s flowers, you see. Not being a gardener, I do not know if flowers would indeed grow on a steady diet of female blood, but maybe they would? I’ll have to ask that girl selling flowers next time I see her; hopefully she won’t find the question strange.
“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”, sobs Angie Everhart, and although she adds “Iris”, one is tempted to think she’s silently adding “for signing this contract” instead.
“The circle is complete”, announces Ben. “I’ve become one with every woman.” Why the need for Kelly, then? Or, for that matter, Betsy? Yes, Ben has this surprise: he keeps Betsy in a freezer. This revelation is clearly meant to be horrific, but since not only is the body frozen in a very silly pose, but the face it’s making is downright idiotic, all that the revelation provokes is a laugh. Once again, perhaps not the effect that James D. R. Hickox wanted.
Betsy is holding Kelly’s phone, which, in spite of being frozen, is on and works. Ah, now Kelly will be able to get to it and use it! So that’s why it was introduced.
Goddamn phones with their bad reception!
Ben has another surprise, and he walks out to find it, leaving Kelly to fumble with the padlock again, unsuccessfully. Ben returns, with a scythe which he raises above his head to strike Kelly; this boosts her nervous system so much that in about three nanoseconds she not only opens the padlock on her hand but also manages to unlock her feet and kick Ben. He still comes at her with the scythe, so, naturally, she grabs a piece of foil and covers her important body parts, previously strategically obscured by flowers. One has to admire a woman so modest that, when threatened by a maniac trying to cut her head off, she still finds time to cover herself with makeshift clothes. Her skills surpass even those of MacGyver, since she even found the time to knit a bikini top, which can occasionally be seen through the foil.
Ben attacks, but Kelly’s foil beats Ben’s scissors, and she runs toward the phone… only to pass it by and run out, into a system of tunnels so vast that Ben must have dug it under his neighbors’ properties. But wait! James D. R. Hickox delivers an explanation for the curious audience: “This is a bomb shelter built by the previous owner”, a helpful piece of exposition from Ben reveals.
Thus, the phone is revealed to have been a clever McGuffin. Or maybe an example of stupid and pointless “writing” just in order to insert a few more scenes into a barely existent plot… but I’m sure it was a deliberate McGuffin. It must have been.
The phoneless Kelly manages to find her way out, and, more importantly, discovers a gardener’s uniform. All dressed up, she’s now ready for action! In a scene that may have been actually plagiarized a few years later by the tepid French thriller “Haute tension” (sounds unbelievable, indeed, but since 85% of that film was a plagiarism of Dean Koontz’s “Intensity”, the rest had to be plundered from somewhere, too, and perhaps “The Gardener” was one of the sources?), Kelly hides in a glasshouse, confronts Ben and attacks him. Just then, the police – all two of them – arrive outside the garden, alarmed because the DNA from the blood sample was matched with Iris’s. Maybe this test should have been run before all that search fiasco?
The cops enter the garden and are immediately set upon by Ben. Who, a few seconds ago, was in the other end of the garden, but teleporting has been prominent throughout this film already. The first one to get it (“it” being the scythe in the face) is, of course, Joe – and this time he doesn’t even have his big gun out. Kelly’s boss is next – and he too is unarmed, which, considering that they’re at the property of a serial killer suspected of murdering a cop, seems rather strange to me. But then, I’m not DEA.
Having witnessed her boss’s demise, Kelly is not thankful at all, and attacks Ben with a conveniently found axe. However, she foolishly hits him with the side rather than the blade’s edge. Still, I find it hard to believe that a man struck in the jaw with a heavy blunt piece of steel, and a very loud “WHACK!” accompanying, would have been able to get off the ground, much less simply rub his jaw, mutter “You bitch!” and chase the attacker. Yet this is what Ben does. Guess those flowers are really healthy for you.
Ben cuts Kelly’s axe in half and intends to do the same with her, but she throws a very tiny handful of earth in the general area of his chest. For some reason, Ben covers his eyes at that and roars in agony, reminding me of Leslie Nielsen screaming in pain and terror at having a small fluffy towel thrown in his face, in another and mostly funnier film.
Ben is so enraged that he attacks and kills a window. Having satisfied this lust of his, he grabs Kelly and attempts to insert her in the twig grinder. Aha! The scene with the grinder and the roses was significant, after all! The machine looks much too small for a human to fit in from the outside, but as we see in subsequent takes, inside it changes into a different and far bigger machine. This would have been interesting in another movie, but since this one already had teleports, an object with changing dimensions isn’t all that impressive.
Kelly is already in the machine when shots are heard. Bullets hit Ben in slow motion, not only causing him to absent-mindedly insert his arm into the grinder, but also somehow propelling Kelly out of the machine and a considerable distance behind Ben. The bullets turn out to belong to Kelly’s boss, who is still alive; he just won’t give up until he can fire Iris, as he had promised.
Inside the machine, Ben’s arm grows to twice its size and changes texture, from fleshy to stretchy and rubbery. At the same time, it becomes unbreakable, since it pulls Ben inside the machine, spraying his blood all over the flowers around. Do flowers grow on male blood, too? I’ll really have to ask…
Kelly’s boss expires again, and returns to life in the next scene. He’s already quite chatty, too, because his condition is no longer so serious: fortunately, his wound changed positions. Joe, on the other hand, is dead meat, being only a supporting character and a buffoon to boot. To calm down, Kelly walks off to tour Ben’s garden, the obvious, logical thing to do after being chased around it by its psychotic owner. Ben’s flowers are still there, and Kelly witnesses a scene that is dumb and inexplicable even for this film: courtesy of really lousy morphing effects, the flowers change into women’s faces who wail “Help, Kelly, help!” This scares Kelly so much that she, too, morphs into a close-up of a white rose, and end credits roll.
“Do I look fat in this?”
Perhaps James D. R. Hickox could explain what exactly he wanted this final scene to mean: the logical assumption would be that it’s, ahem, symbolic, with each flower stemming from the life and blood stolen from each woman, blablabla, but considering the quality of the entire film, I would not be surprised at all if the scene was meant to be taken literally, with the flowers being hybrids of people and plants. Or something.
“Alice, my nose smells the Bread-and-Butterfly!”
“The Gardener” is one of those Bad Films which most definitely do not fit the famed and coveted So Bad It’s Good category. Instead, it goes into the much broader So Bad It’s Awful group. Although Malcolm McDowell is, as usual, good in his performance, hamming it up just a little bit in some scenes, his presence alone is certainly not enough to save the rest of the film, which fails on practically every level, from the script, to the editing, to the camera work, to the utter lack of any tenseness, suspense or ambience. I.e. the basic requirements for a thriller.
For some reason, James D. R. Hickox has not directed much since this feature; I wonder if he would be willing to record a commentary for a Special Edition…