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DIRECTED BY: , ,
FEATURING: Toby Poser, John Adams, Zelda Adams
PLOT: A scrappy family trio travel Depression-era Catskills pursue an ascension into big time carnival show-biz, all while executing harsh justice.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: It probably shouldn’t—if not for that final shot. My goodness.
COMMENTS: Dark times bring forth dark magic in this meditative and macabre motion picture from the renowned indie horror team the Adams Family. They entered our collective awareness with The Deeper You Dig, knocked off socks (and knocked out ear-balls) with the metal-infused follow-up Hellbender, and gloriously return once more with Where the Devil Roams. Tobey, John, Zelda, and Lulu continue to hone their craft as a family-filmmaking team (and unlike the Ormonds, these are fun-time, fun-filming folk). Their “tiny” movie explores big ideas, delivers big gore, and proves to have a big heart beating at its tattered core.
The slow death of the carnival business grinds down the poor carnies of upstate New York, perhaps none more so than Maggie, Seven, and their daughter Eve. This trio aspire to earn a place at the “Buffalo Horror Show,” the last remaining big to-do in the circuit. While traveling along with their bare-bones circus group, they drop in on various ill-doers—a cruel landlord, a crooked financier—smiting the enemies of the little man with a smiling viciousness. Maggie wields the weapon, Seven speaks the scripture, and Eve, born mute, captures their handiwork on camera with a quiet relish.
Taking a moment to consider the inputs for this film—third- and fourth-hand props and costumes, self made sets, musical chairs camerawork (who ever was not in a frame at the time was typically behind the lens), and the mystical fusion of American myth with homemade magick—the film is impressive. But then, it feels impressive even without that qualifier. I mention those elements to share how much heart and soul went into this little wonder; and that’s not mentioning the blood. Papa Seven cannot abide further carnage after his time as a medic in WWI, so Mama Maggie applies his blindfold before the blood and fury. These grisly doings are a grisly delight: either through the sheer bluntness of a chiming skillet, or a deadly harpooning with a fire poker, it’s always fun to watch these righteous murderers. And with the black magic tied in (heh), there is an unreal aura whose moral ambiguity becomes darker and darker.
The image gets a bit dark, too, and strange: beginning in a full-palette, it flickers and devolves into grainy, black-and-white harshness. By the end, as the family’s already meager fortunes collapse (along with a couple of their bodies), we enter a saturated, white-light nightmare.
Which brings me to the punchline. In the penultimate shot, our heroine Eve has transformed from an angel of light to one of darkness, who escorts an unknown entity down one of those looong corridors typically reserved for nightmares. With a reassuring bend of her finger, she beckons to her follower, along with us, to go through the final door to end stage. A song emerges from her lacquered lips, a spotlight jolts into life, and BAM!
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…a conscious homage to early cinema traditions… Formally, the film is audacious, again pulling off stylistic flourishes that in the hands of less confident, skilled filmmakers could feel hokey or cliched.”–Alexandra Heller-Nicolas, AWFG.org (festival screening)