Where the Devil Roams Sees the Return of DIY Horror Auteurs The Adams Family with Another Miracle of Independent Filmmaking

DIY horror auteurs The Adams Family (John, Zelda, Lulu Adams, and Tyler Posey) have given audiences ghost/possession stories such as The Deeper You Dig and a delightfully wicked entry into witchcraft and folk horror with Hellbender. In Where the Devil Roams they take up to the 1930s and the world of the great depression where carnivals and revivalist tents went hand in hand travelling across America providing penny entertainment.

Where the Devil Roams begins with a Tod Browning-esque scene where a man reads the story of Abaddon and the romance that led to him leaving a claw in the heart of a mortal woman he loved. That same heart has somehow been passed around for centuries providing uncanny powers to the one that possesses it.

The current owner is Mister Tipps (Sam Rodd) a carney who recites scripture about God turning his face from him while cutting off his fingers. Each night he sews them back on with the needle. His is the most successful act at the dying carnival. The carnival also features the Axons: father, Seven (John Adams) a PTSD riddled ex-veteran and doctor from WWI, mother Maggie (Toby Poser) a deeply flawed yet loyal wife and parent, and daughter, Eve (Zelda Adams) a girl who is mute but has the voice of an angel when she sings. They’re paupers but also avengers as they take to the road and murder greedy landowners and officials who have foreclosed on the farms of working people.

Seven and Eve are to an extent trapped by Maggie’s dark clouds which are born out of early trauma and loss. Maggie is mercurial but the one thing she can always be relied on is fiercely protecting her family and has a particular sense of justice – you don’t cross Maggie and you don’t try to pull one over her. Travelling through the Catskills she ensures her family will survive and puts together a plan to help Eve thrive by enhancing their act and taking it to the Buffalo Horror Show where they can perhaps be more than a side act.

After seemingly violently dispatching a home filled with wealthy dilletantes and society types the Axons find themselves amidst a new tragedy. A woman with an axe (Lulu Adams) strikes down Maggie and Seven leaving Eve to do the only thing she can – steal the devil’s heart from Mr. Tipps and reanimate her family. Eve has always had a penchant for sewing, scissors, and cutting up dolls, and Seven has taught her the rudiments of surgery, so she is the perfect owner of the artefact but perhaps she doesn’t realise that when “You dance with the Devil you make it quick,” and unwittingly turns Seven and Maggie into rotting puppets.

The sheer love the Adams Family has for genre films is palpable. Toby Poser digs from her dreams to write the scripts (in conjunction with Zelda, John, and Lulu). However, what they love even more is community. Their carnival of freaks is populated with talented outsider performers such as Hitomi Nakamura, Razor de Rockefeller (excellent as the peek-a-boo girl Roxy who is kindness itself), and Justin Julio. Everything in the Adams Family repertoire is focused on bringing to light the outliers and making them shine. The shoe-string budget they work within means that a true art community is formed when they create – everyone does something, from painting scenery, to providing locations, finding costuming and props, to contributing to the practical and other effects. It is little surprise that they would choose to honour the carnies of the 1930s who had to form their own families to protect themselves from a hollow and cruel time that crushed anyone considered “other.”

For all its grotesquery, and there is much provided – severed limbs, teeth pulled, blood and gore dripping from the frames, Where the Devil Roams has a certain sweetness to it. There are few innocents in the film but there is love that transcends the horror. The strength of love is a concept the directors have explored in both The Deeper You Dig and Hellbender. Love binds and blinds, whether it be a devil who refuses to believe that he cannot love a mortal, or a parent who will do anything for a child, or vice versa, love and horror walk hand in hand.

Once again, the soundtrack is provided by H6LLB6NDER – a blend of gothic rock and metal (also the Adams family band). Zelda’s sweet but biting vocals float over the film with lyrics that speak to the darkness within and without. The fusion of the anachronistic soundtrack within the carnivalesque world the Adams family have envisioned is a masterstroke of the uncanny.

Where the Devil Roams is both impossibly beautiful and excessively ugly. Horror often uses the aesthetics of beauty to heighten the relationship between the sacred and the profane. The Adams family know how to create a specific balance between heaven and hell and the seductive pull of each. Although, to that point it is the god-fearing who have crafted an earth-bound hell for any they consider transgressive. In Where the Devil Roams transgression is both applauded and punished.

If you have already seen an Adams family film, you will have a sense of what you are going into with Where the Devil Roams – a breath taking journey into the dark recesses of the psyche. Where the Devil Roams is arguably their most visually accomplished work (although Hellbender is also a marvel) with an array of changing formats, black and white, desaturated colours, then bursts of brightness. The Adams family are the real deal in independent filmmaking and we heathens should be grateful they exist.

Directors: John Adams, Zelda Adams, Toby Poser

Cast: John Adams, Zelda Adams, Toby Poser

Writers: John Adams, Zelda Adams, Toby Poser

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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