HELLBENDER A Family Affair for a Family of Vampires
February 25, 2022
Adams Family-Made Coming of Age Vampire Witch HELLBENDER Scored by co-director/co-writer John Adams
– Randall D. Larson
There will be Hell to pay when a lonely teen discovers her family’s ties to witchcraft. HELLBENDER, written and directed by the homespun filmmaking team of Zelda Adams, Toby Poser, and John Adams, is “a lo-fi punk rock horror assault on the senses that marks yet another fascinating entry in the coming-of-witch subgenre that has slowly crept its way into the canon — THE WITCH, THE CRAFT, and THELMA first come to mind,” writes Karl Delossantos in his review of the movie for smashcut. “Upstate New York filmmaking family The Adams make up for the movie’s rough edges with its pure audaciousness and genuine creeps that get under your skin.”
HELLBENDER is “solid horror, not for the faint-hearted,” writes Pramit Chatterjee of highonfilms.com. The film is a story of a family of vampiric witches who live a reclusive mountaintop lifestyle where trespassers are poofed into dust. Their mama reveals their bloodline has been tainted long ago, which cause concern for young. Izzy as she blossoms into her own blood-drenched womanhood. Mother knows saying “no” only furthers their child’s rebellion, so it’s time for Izzy to learn the truth.
The film’s premise, writes the New York Times in their review, “is familiar in horror, but HELLBENDER takes a fresh approach. Some keen editing by John Adams and special effects by Trey Lindsay elevate this into formidable genre fare, with psychedelic sequences that are remarkably polished. If you thought a no-budget film couldn’t feature pirates, flying witches and underground lairs, think again.”
Over the last two years, the Adams family — Toby Poser, her husband, John Adams, and their daughters, Zelda and Lulu — began producing lo-fi rock under the band name H6LLB6ND6R. That music project inspired the movie project, which found Poser, Zelda and John trading places in front of and behind the camera, while all family members took on acting roles.
The film has been scored by co-director/co-writer John Adams, who has composed music for most of the filmmaking family films, which is performed by Zelda, Toby and John’s band H6LLB6ND6R. “John is really an engine for music and action,” said Toby in an interview for the filmint.nu website. “He is constantly writing and recording music/sounds, devising wild moments for active horror in the film, and making sure the ball stays rolling.”
“At the very beginning of creating HELLBENDER we all knew we wanted the musical soundtrack to drive the joyful aspect of the mother/daughter relationship,” John said in the same interview. “Fun, revealing, dark lyrics tucked into tribal grooves or a sparse warped acoustic guitar. The band music had to be primitive and stripped down so it could actually be just the two of them. Keeping it simple really helped to keep a fluid tone to the main numbers and was incredibly fun to record.
“The background soundscape was an entirely different beast. An eerie but powerful foreboding needed to underlie the drama that was unfolding onscreen. Hopefully we achieved the feeling of seeing a distant cloud front of a coming storm on an otherwise beautiful, still day. For that, droning keyboard sounds slowed down til they were unrecognizable, and beating on metal doors in an abandoned military bunker served our purposes best. My favorite sound discovery was realizing that squeaky bicycle brakes recorded in a concrete pedestrian tunnel had the exact sound of everything we wanted a Hellbender to be. A wail that is relentless, and harrowing.”
The band not only appears on the soundtrack, but also has a role as an actual band in the script, giving the film as much of a rock vibe as hard-edged horror music.
HELLBENDER is currently streaming on Shudder.
Watch the film’s trailer: