The Adams Family have done it again! The filmmaking team, made up of father John Adams, mother Toby Poser and daughters Zelda and Lulu, have been writing, directing, producing and starring in their own independent productions for a little over a decade, and have crafted festival favorites including The Deeper You Digand Hellbender. Last week, at the Fantasia Film Festival, they premiered their most ambitious project yet, Where the Devil Roams, a supernatural horror set in Depression-era America.
Hard times have fallen upon a small carnival. Attendance is at an all-time low, and there’s not enough nickels to go around to feed the sideshow acts. Among them are the performing trio, Maggie (Toby Poser), Seven (John Adams) and Eve (Zelda Adams), who do a song and dance routine that hardly draws a crowd. Stealing their spectators is Mr. Tibbs (Sam Rodd, who previously starred in the Adams’ film The Shoot), a magician who slices off his fingers one by one with rusty scissors, only to have them magically reattached the next day to snip them off all over again. Eve is curious to know the source of his power and learns that Mr. Tibbs had made a deal with a demonic force, though he’s careful not to cut off more than he can bargain for.
“The Adams family continue to push the boundaries of independent filmmaking”
When the carnival grounds are sold off to a wealthy landowner, Maggie, Seven and Eve pay him a deadly visit. Traumatized from his time as a medic on the frontlines of the Great War, Seven can’t stand the sight of blood and needs to be blindfolded while Maggie beats the landowner’s brains in. The murder awakens a sadistic streak within Maggie that had been dormant since her childhood, so the three roam the countryside, killing rich folk indiscriminately. But during their spree, they make one fatal mistake, prompting Eve to return to the carnival to steal Mr. Tibbs’ magic, hoping it would fix her problem.
This is not the first time the Adams’ Family have made a period piece. Their 2018 movie The Hatred was set in the late 1800s, however Where the Devil Roams had a somewhat bigger budget to recreate the 1930s (and World War I flashbacks) using wardrobe, locations and props (particularly the old-timey cars). The carnival is populated with actors pierced and tattooed from head to toe and is reminiscent of scenes fromNightmare Alley and Tod Browning’s Freaks, whereas the family’s road trip takes inspiration from real life criminals who were active during the Depression (in fact, Zelda has described the movie as “a mix between Bonnie and Clyde and Frankenstein”).
“The story feels torn between the carnival and the crime spree, like it were two separate movies”
Zelda and John Adams were awarded the Cheval Noir for best cinematography at Fantasia for Where the Devil Roams. It was well deserved. With every new project, the Adams are experimenting with new techniques, pulling off impressive shots with their shoestring budget. Bit by bit, as the story draws to its conclusion, the picture slowly transitions from full color to a grainy sepia tone. Once again, the Adams have enlisted the help of Trey Lindsay for the visual effects. While not entirely seamless, the creative kills, numerous decapitations and gruesome magic tricks fit within the film’s homemade aesthetic. As if they weren’t wearing enough hats already, the Adams also provide a bass-heavy gothic punk soundtrack with their family band H6LLB6ND6R, a sound that isn’t exactly suited for the time period, though Zelda’s haunting vocals amplifies the film’s dark vibe.
The story feels torn between the carnival and the crime spree, like it were two separate movies crammed into one. Personally, I would have liked to stay at the carnival longer and learn more about the evil spirits at play. A poem read in full at the top by a legless carny and repeated throughout offers some exposition and serves as a warning for those who seek a Faustian contract with the devil. The concept and execution of Where the Devil Roams is nonetheless original and should be celebrated as a triumph. The Adams family continue to push the boundaries of independent filmmaking, and their creativity and ambitions are undeterred by their modestly-sized piggy bank. I look forward to seeing what the family can accomplish in the decade to come.
“….original and should be celebrated as a triumph.”
[#Fantasia2023 Review] Indie Horror WHERE THE DEVIL ROAMS Blends Murder and Black Magic in Depression-Era America
The concept and execution of Where the Devil Roams is original and should be celebrated as a triumph. The Adams family continue to push the boundaries of independent filmmaking, and their creativity and ambitions are undeterred by their modestly-sized piggy bank.