The Adams Family (Actors/Writers/Directors, Hellbender)
The Horror Revolution: First off, what’s your favorite horror movie? What movie scared you the most?
John Adams: Let the Right One In /Phantasm.
Zelda Adams: The Sadness/ The Golden Glove.
Toby Poser: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night / The Descent
THR: I recently reviewed Hellbender and absolutely loved it. What inspired the film?
TP: This is a double-loaded answer! First we had our band H6LLB6ND6R, and we were making a music video that just oozed witchy imagery, so we wanted to explore further this concept of a Hellbender. What is she? And then there’s a wild paternity story. I learned in 2019 that I was donor conceived, so the idea of not having a clue about your biological history made for some fun considerations. What if your dad was the Devil, etc. And as I began to meet my half-siblings, the subject of Nature Vs. Nurture just fell into place.
THR: Feminism is a topic that seems to be more present in modern horror than ever before, and your films are some of the best examples. Hellbender specifically was about two incredibly strong women coming into their own powers. Was it your family dynamic that inspired that part of the film, or is it just something that is incredibly important to portray in your work?
TP: Fun question. I think by sheer nature of there being 3 females in this family of 4, themes of agency and self-realization portrayed through women are forefront, even without our trying to implement them. The fact that our girls began making films as equal partners right from the get-go (when they were 11 and 6 years old) is really cool and powerful. We all make a point to hold each other up and continue learning from each other’s strengths in our family. I’m happy you mentioned both women in Hellbender, as the teenager Izzy isn’t the only one who is growing and evolving in the film. Parents grow and evolve - or stall and devolve - in equal measure. And in Hellbender we thought it was important to show that the younger generation, Izzy, was there to remind her mother of her innate and suppressed powers. And of course the mother is there to attempt to protect her daughter in her own well-meant (if flawed) ways. But yeah, it’s important for us to portray women who are very human (even in the context of being supernatural apex predators) and who have the tools and built-in juice to be independent, autonomous, and solid.
THR: I’ve seen two of your films at this point (The Deeper You Dig and Hellbender), and both were visually striking and incredibly beautiful. Both provide an incredibly visceral experience for the audience in a way that most films aren’t able to pull off. Do you consider yourself filmmakers, artists, or both?
JA: Both, but artists first. And wow, thank you! I love telling stories visually. It’s why I wake up in the morning.
THR: How much of your own family dynamics do you draw upon to form the foundations of the relationships of the characters in your films?
TP: There is always going to be a kind of ambient comfort with each other on film since we slip pretty quickly and easily between life together and shooting. People wanted more of the mother-daughter dynamic in The Deeper You Dig, and that was one reason we focused a lot on those characters in Hellbender - definitely drawing from the ease Z and I have together already. I guess most of our films take advantage of the closeness we all have - except for when John has to be a murderer or creep outside the family, which he is strangely good at portraying!
THR: At it’s core, Hellbender is essentially a bizarre coming-of-age story. How much of this was drawn from Zelda and Lulu’s experience growing up, and how much was just a part of the story you wanted to tell?
ZA: Growing up during COVID was a time of self reflection and isolation, something my character Izzy is going through as well. I wanted to draw parallels from my real life for Izzy: we live in an isolated area and this felt close to home. Cuz it was!
THR: If you could work with anyone in the industry, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
JA: Charlie Chaplin cuz I hear he shot things over and over. I’d love to watch how he works like that.
ZA: Julia Ducurnau, just to learn what goes on in her mind.
TP: FW Murnau. His sensitivity and cinematic sorcery conveying emotion through silence, light, dark, and compelling compositions and performances just thrills me.
THR: Indie filmmaking is incredibly complicated, and most of the players have to wear multiple hats during the production. If there a role that fits each of you best, and if so, what are they?
JA: I like wearing the hat of problem solving and figuring out what has to get done now.
ZA: I love the camera. I can express myself the best through the visuals.
TP: I love writing - finding how the strings in the web connect.
THR: To be honest, I’m not usually a fan of films involving witches because I think it often comes across as heavy-handed or too supernatural. I thought that Hellbender struck that perfect balance of showing realistic natural chemistry without forsaking the supernatural elements inherent in a story about witches. What inspired that particular element of the story?
TP: Oh that’s really cool to hear. Thank you. We didn’t want to make a flat-out witch movie. In fact we only use the world once as a sort of bone toss to the clueless guy Izzy is essentially teasing about hellbenders. But we did want to create a magical space that these women have access to. Because it’s just so much damn fun and it taps into what John always likes to call the “hidden magic” all around us. We love building mythologies - in this case magic energies and devising spells as if we were 7 year old playing with mud.
THR: If you were given an unlimited budget to use for any film you wanted to make and access to every star in Hollywood, what film would you make, and would you continue to keep the roles all in the family or would you branch out?
JA: I honestly don’t know.
TP: None of us knows how to answer this one. It’s just so out of our stratosphere of thinking and doing. Or intent. Maybe that answers the question!
THR: Your movies are very horror-themed but certainly branch out into other genres throughout their runtimes. Is horror your preferred genre, or are there other genres that inspire you as filmmakers?
TP: We began making dramas with a good dose of humor, but we actually meant to make that first film in the horror genre. A dark ghost story. We just weren’t ready to pull it off. So I think we were getting our feet wet with 4 dramas (actually our third feature The Shoot has some brutal stuff) until we were ready to slide into the creativity and wickedness of horror. It felt so right once we got there.
THR: One of the things I was most impressed with about Hellbender was the music. The score was fantastic, and the actual songs from your band H6llb6end3r went straight into my Spotify playlist. So you direct, write, act, and even perform your own music for your films. So, like, is there anything you guys can’t do?
JA: We can only do SFX to a certain extent. For quality FX we need our good man Trey Lindsey, who’s our 5th family member.
TP: Yeah. Trey is a Yes man and such a pleasure to work with - his talent and his wonderful gung-ho attitude. Also he is a total horror mentor for me.
THR: Finally, who wins in a fight: Samantha (Bewitched) or Sabrina (the Teenage Witch)?
TP: Since Z hasn’t seen Bewitched, we’ll just go with Sabrina. I think she’s a cool modern young witch.
ZA: Sabrina also has that badass sidekick cat. Salem. Kind of like ours, Blackdrop. Who’s a total witch.