I had a brief moment of panic this past week. As I was watching Lizzie Borden for the podcast (blatant plug!), I caught a commercial for Seeds of Yesterday, which, due to my exhaustive research, I knew to be the fourth installment in the Dollanganger series. Alert readers will note that I only reviewed the first two movies. I was missing one! As it turns out, only barely. Apparently, Lifetime has grown weary of its Southern Gothic tentpole, as everything about If There Be Thorns screams going through the motions.
For starters, of the once insanely good cast, only Heather Graham as Corrine remains. While it’s understandable that Rose McIver, who is contractually obligated to appear on everything now, might not want to come back, whoever the hell played Chris (I’m not gonna look it up because who cares) has also opted out. In their place, we have two more attractive blond people, this time skewing a bit older in appearance. Now Cathy and Chris are masquerading as the totally not-blood siblings Chris and Cathy Sheffield, married couple. They’re raising Cathy’s two kids, Jory and Bart, both conceived during the events of Petals on the Wind. They’re even adopting young, blonde Cindy, whose never-seen mother is dying of a lingering case of being a V.C. Andrews character.
Alas, everything is not so rosy. While Jory is perfect, Bart is a sullen little weirdo. He has a treehouse stocked with a few girly mags (none of which show any actual nudity) and all the bugs ever in neat rows of jars. He spends his time coming up with ways to be more of an outcast. Oh yeah, and he’s the one person in the family with dark hair. I think the germ of Bart’s evil was because he was conceived as part of Cathy’s revenge (his father is Bart Winslow, Corrine’s lawyer/fiancee). Jory’s dad was a philandering shit, but Cathy at least loved him on their sojourn to Pound Town, so he’s fine.
Anyway, there’s a creepy mansion right next door because of course there fucking is. Chris is a rich doctor. He can live where he likes. Had he picked a gross split-level in some toxic waste suburb, none of this would happen. Bart shows Jory the inside of Addams Manor (it’s where he found those chaste girly mags), but some crows surprise Bart and he falls over, giving himself a nasty cut. He keeps it secret, and it promptly festers because symbolism. Anyway, turns out the house is being moved into by a creepy old lady and her creepier older manservant.
If you guessed this lady is Corrine, congratulations, you have a functioning central nervous system. She basically seduces Bart with gifts and whatnot (thankfully not with sex, which is how this series shows restraint) and gets him to hang out with her. Some of those gifts include a pet snake (which she gives to him in the greenhouse — symbolism!) and a bow. Her manservant is a new character named John Amos, and I was calling him John Anus within five seconds. Incidentally, he’s always addressed by both names, like they’re worried about confusion. This character makes zero fucking sense. He’s basically an evil Bible-thumping Angus Scrimm-looking motherfucker, who hates him some incest. Why the hell do you work for the queen of incest then, smart guy? It never gets explained, and when he goes completely nuts in the third act, it looks like something that could have been prevented by Corrine having maybe one conversation with the man in the hiring process.
John Amos goes to work on Bart, giving him the journal of Malcolm Foxworth (that’s Corrine’s father, I think). Malcolm is the kind of religious conservative that people like Mike Huckabee try to pander to. When the infection from Bart’s wound brings on a fever, John Amos is sure to use that time to get into the boy’s subconscious. When Bart comes out of it, he believes that he is Malcolm, and it’s just as funny as it sounds. Also, this means that the middle child is now Malcolm, and shut up, I have to find my fun where I can. You’re not the boss of me now.
By now, the secrets are all coming out. Jory and Bart aren’t too happy about being adopted by siblings. Also, Bart keeps witnessing everyone having sex. While Jory is considerate enough to head up to the attic (where Cathy has set up an apartment because she’s fucking insane), Cathy and Chris do it in front of a half-open door. And he’s hitting it doggie-style because I guess he watched Game of Thrones the night before and thought it looked fun.
John Amos goes insane and tries to burn Corrine and Cathy together in the barn. Cathy forgives a repentant Corrine. Bart snaps out of the mind control, though it’s not clear how he physically escapes from John Amos. There’s one scene where the old man is grappling with Bart, and in the next, Bart is outside running for Chris’s help. Corrine and John Amos burn to death, and the family is reunited and whole.
Is it worth watching? Kinda. This entire production feels half-assed, like the network was locked into four movies and figured out after the second that they’d rather not. The performances don’t really reach the bravura levels the second one touched. Even Heather Graham feels like she barely showed up to work, and when Graham’s not engaged, you can tell.
Still, there are a couple great moments. The first comes when Corrine confesses the attic episode to Bart and tells him with delicious understatment, “That’s one of my biggest failures as a parent.” The other great line comes when Jory’s paternal grandmother is trying to get him away from Chris and Cathy. He’s initially good with it, but after the fire has reunited them, he’s not having it. He gives her an epic telling off, then finishes it with a muttered, “See you next Christmas.” It’s… it’s so great.
The very end has Jory walking by Bart’s room and peeking in. The boy is by a full-length mirror, putting on a three-piece suit, because sure, I guess he has one. His hair is slicked back like Pat Riley and he sees Jory and grins. The seed is planted! He’s evil!
What did we learn? It pays to interview your manservants. If one has a problem with incest, and you’ve got a lot of that in the family tree, maybe don’t hire him. Tough to slip that question into the interview, so make sure you add a lot of weird questions to disguise it.