“A lot of what we do is reflective of our fears as parents” — Feeling a Halloween hangover? This family’s business keeps horror movies going all year
ROSCOE, N.Y.—Sitting on a red velvet couch in her living room, Zelda Adams, 17, opened her mouth to describe the plot of her family’s next movie. Before she could begin, a bloody, chewed-to-the-gristle, severed arm emerged menacingly from behind a wall and then waved cheerily at her.
“It’s a period piece,” she said without missing a beat. “Set during the Great Depression.”
Her father, John Adams, 55, bounded in and deposited the limb, along with a gnarly chopped-off hand, next to a plate of homemade chocolate-chip cookies. The appendages appeared ready to duke it out for treats, but aside from the gory props, the family’s rustic hillside house, packed with colourful landscape paintings and portraits, felt downright cosy.
The family of four — Zelda’s sister, Lulu, 23, and their mother, Toby Poser, 52, are the other members — is Wonder Wheel Productions, a production company based out of their home.
They write, produce, shoot, edit, costume design and act in all their films, rotating from behind the camera to the front. They’ve made six small independent movies, and their last two, “The Deeper You Dig” and “Hellbender,” took a sharp turn into horror. Creatively and professionally, they seem to have found their niche.
“Their films are grungy and enthralling explorations of family and fear,” IGN, an entertainment news site, said in a recent review of “Hellbender,” which is touring the indie festival circuit. Zelda’s performance earned her a best actress award at the Fantasia International Film Festival, and the movie got picked up by AMC’s horror streaming service, with a release planned for early next year.
The Adams family even have an admirer in Freddy Krueger himself, actor Robert Englund, who tweeted last year: “Fans craving a summer horror thriller should check out the fresh take on a ghost story, “The Deeper You Dig.” It delivers the goods!”
John Adams and Poser each found success in New York in the 1990s. Adams worked as a model in ad campaigns for Gucci, Giorgio Armani and Calvin Klein. Poser, an actress, appeared in off-Broadway plays and had parts in “Sex and the City” and “Law and Order” and a recurring role on “Guiding Light.”
Adams’ modelling career ended after a Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis in 1994 and he spent 10 months undergoing chemotherapy. Once he recovered, he switched to a music career, performing in bars with his rock band Banana Fish Zero, often in his underwear.
The couple met at a Bogmen concert at Irving Plaza in 1996 and shared a first kiss on their third date, at Coney Island. Two years later, Adams proposed under the Wonder Wheel, when Poser was pregnant with Lulu. “I wore red,” Poser said of her wedding dress. “I figured the cat was out of the bag.”
Zelda came along in 2003, and the family headed to Los Angeles in 2008, where Poser thought there’d be more work for her, but it didn’t pan out.
“I was about to hit 40, and my acting career just waned,” she said. “John kept saying, ‘Why don’t you write your own screenplay?’ The kids were interested in acting, so we got an old RV and took off and shot our first family film, “Rumblestrips.””
The movie, in which a mother takes her daughters on a road trip before reporting to prison for growing marijuana, got picked up by several small film festivals and won a few awards, including the best no-budget feature at the 2013 Berlin Independent Film Festival. The family self-distributed it on Amazon Prime Video Direct.
Lulu left for Lewis & Clark College, in Portland, Oregon, in 2016, and the rest of the family returned to Roscoe. Adams’ family owned an 1890s farmhouse nearby that squatters had wrecked. During a solitary, cold-weather restoration, Adams grew mesmerized by the dust swirling in the light as he gutted the place to its bones. “I came home and was like, ‘You guys, you can just set a camera up and you’ve got a great horror movie,’” he said.
The family began work on what became “The Deeper You Dig,” about a mother searching for her missing daughter with the help of terrifying psychic visions. The stark beauty of the family’s wooded property, with trees stripped skeletal and blankets of white snow — all the better for a certain red contrast — adds much to the film, and there’s a melancholia throughout that came from a real place.
“When we first started shooting, I found out I had endometrial cancer and had to have a hysterectomy,” Poser said. “As I was losing my reproductive prowess, my daughter in the film is disappearing. It became very personal from a writing angle.”
“A lot of what we do is reflective of our fears as parents,” she added. “There’s something to be said about giving a nightmare breath in horror, because a nightmare is just a practice ground.”
The family’s latest film, “Hellbender,” also grew from parental anxieties. In 2019, Poser’s mother made a deathbed confession: Poser had been donor conceived, and her biological father’s identity was unknown.