Where the Devil Roams
During the Great Depression a family of circus sideshow performers comprised of father Seven (John Adams, "The Deeper You Dig," "Hellbender"), a former army medic with PTSD, his serial killer wife Maggie (Tobey Poser, "The Deeper You Dig," "Hellbender") and their dark angel of a daughter Eve (Zelda Adams, "The Deeper You Dig," "Hellbender"), who is mute yet sings, follow the carny show “Where the Devil Roams.”
Laura's Review: B+
The filmmaking collaborative known as The Adams Family for obvious reasons which are also amusingly ironic (Gomez and Morticia have an extra ‘d’ in their name) has become a real indie powerhouse in the art horror genre. Their films don’t shy away from the grue or the gore, but are always beautifully crafted. Their latest, a period piece, won the recent Fantasia festival’s cinematography award (for father John and daughter Zelda), for example, and it's easy to see why, one stunning shot featuring a killer’s reflection in the shard of glass she’s using as a weapon. Fans of practical effects will also appreciate their work. This DIY family also has their own band, H6LLB6ND6R, providing the score.
The story this time around is strange and unique, beginning with a black and white prologue in which a legless man in a tuxedo stumps onto a stage to recite the titular poem. This is followed by a flashback which establishes Maggie as a murderer in childhood, goaded to finish the job by a sister who has just stabbed their father to death and left their mother appealing to Maggie as the family dog cowers.
We then skip to the present, behind the scenes at a traveling circus, where the adult Maggie (winner of best actress at 2023’s FrightFest) greets Miss Rocky (Razor de Rockefeller), a performer in whiteface with a lower lip full of piercings, a kewpie doll face and Betty Boop hairdo. Meanwhile Eve visits performer Mr. Tipps (Sam Rodd) in his tent, who repeats lines from that opening poem to explain just how he does his act as he sews back the fingers he sheers off during it with a needle and black thread taken from their human heart pincushion. She’s sworn to secrecy.
Manning a game stall, Seven and Maggie try to persuade banker Dashiell Gray (Stephen O'Donnell) to cough up a nickel for ‘three throws,’ but he dismisses them as con artists. Come to find out, he’s the man who took their farm and they’ll pay him a most fateful visit for dinner, one in which Maggie’s true talent is given rein, documented by her daughter’s budding gift for crime photography. This will be followed by a murderous montage, the WWI nightmares explaining Seven’s paralyzing PTSD and the psychology behind Maggie’s relationship with baby shoes. All the while the family, traveling through the Catskills in a vintage auto, is trying to get by, something illustrated most disturbingly by Seven’s method of removing his wife’s aching tooth.
Which leads me back to the truly notable cinematography, the aforementioned scene made eerier by Seven’s use of a match to illuminate the inside of Maggie’s mouth, a real campfire ghost story image. The production design feeds right into the film’s cold color palette where even blood appears to run black. Tension is built with every encounter the family has, some, like a woman who demands 75 cents per person rather than per night to rent a room, getting off lucky, while others, like welcoming Norwegian farmer Erik Johannessen (Harald Sørlie) suffering for interrupting Eve’s song and Maggie’s assumption he is German. But the family will go a bridge too far, (allowing daughter Lulu Adams to join the action and pick up an axe) and, upon seeing what’s happened, Eve will decide to roam with the devil.
“Where the Devil Roams” can be quite funny, as evinced by its wrap-up which is preceded by a look at the family’s new act, filmed like an ethereal Goth music video. This isn’t just one of the best horror films of the year, but a true American original.
Robin's Review: B
Yellow Veil Pictures releases "Where the Devil Roams" into theaters beginning 11/3/23. It will also be available on VOD and digitally beginning 11/7/23.