“They say that ambiance is really important,” someone says in Where the Devil Roams, the latest creepy homespun horror movie from the marvelously talented Adams Family. Whether you enjoy the film will depend a lot on whether you enjoy its icy ambiance.
I do. The film, now playing at Montreal’s beloved Fantasia Film Festival — a festival that isn’t remotely afraid of bold and even divisive programming — follows a family of three played by real-life filmmaking family Zelda Adams and her parents, John Adams and Toby Poser. The trio wrote and directed the film, and dad and daughter deservedly picked up Fantasia’s jury award for best cinematography, and Tubi just announced that it has purchased the film for streaming.
The Adams Family
The Adams have one of the best backstories in filmmaking: Based in rural New York, John and Toby began making films with daughters Lulu and Zelda years ago, earning especially wide acclaim for their seventh feature, 2021’s Hellbender, a story of family ties and witchcraft . That film, like this one, is propelled by a heavy metal soundtrack performed by the family band, H6LLB6ND6R.
Hellbender was a success by any measure — after premiering at Fantasia, it aired on Shudder, was featured on the cover of Rue Morgue Magazine, and was ranked No. 1 on Rotten Tomatoes list of the best horror movies of 2022. The New York Times wrote a profile. We interviewed Zelda Adams. But for all the film’s achievements, taking it on the road helped inspire a story of a less-thriving family of entertainers.
Set during the Depression, as carnivals struggle and die out across the United States, Where the Devil Roams follows a humble carnie family including dad Seven (John Adams), a shellshocked World War I doctor; mom Maggie (Poser), who plunges easily into violence; and dark-angel daughter Eve (Zelda Adams), a singer.
It may take you a moment to realize you’re in a period piece because the facial piercings and goth-like makeup of some of the carnies feels Marilyn Manson inspired. But tattoos and piercings were as possible then as now, and ultimately, who cares if it might be an anachronism? It plays.
The paint-smudged faces add to a mood of faded desperation — Look at us! — but no one will. Not only have audiences stopped buying tickets, but the corrupt and well-to-do of America have stopped seeing the anguish of the underfed people chugging down their backroads.
Building Where the Devil Roams Out of Discarded Antiques
Appropriately enough, decades of benign neglect in the real America helped fuel the making of the film. As the Adamses explain in their production notes, they began assembling Where the Devil Roams while driving across America in the summer of 2021 during Hellbender‘s festival run.
“We began hitting every secondhand and antique store we passed,” they wrote. “America is filled with stuff people don’t want — and we wanted it.”
They began collecting an assemblage of evocative items — “a lonely unpaired baby shoe, a rusty-toothed broken saw, an antique porcelain dead-eyed doll.”
By the time they returned home, they had their costumes and props. Home itself was their set.
“Fortunately, we live in a place that is in many ways a ghost town. Our tiny rural spot in the Catskill Mountains of New York is haunted with the rust of farming days past,” the family wrote.
As the title suggests, the Bible and the devil are strong guides for various characters, though God is hard to locate on snowbanks and dead farms they encounter on their journeys. Maggie has a quick eye for sussing out the real (and sometimes imagined) sinfulness of the people they meet, and punishing them for it. Eve helps keep her father in the dark.
The family’s targets in the film could have avoided their dark fates by paying a little attention — and a little kindness.
In real life, no harm will come to those who ignore the Adams family’s work. They’ll just be missing out.
Where the Devil Roams premiered July 27 at the Fantasia Film Festival and is coming soon to Tubi.
Main image: John Adams, Zelda Adams and Toby Poser in Where the Devil Roams, courtesy of Yellow Veil Pictures.
https://www.moviemaker.com/where-the-devil-roams/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=where-the-devil-roams In Where the Devil Roams, Desperate Carnies Travel 1930s America