This “Adams family” still makes drama films, they just “pour a little blood on ‘em,” said Toby Poser.

“Hellbender,” a coming-of-age story with no shortage of supernatural horror, is the seventh movie that Poser has made with her family. She, her husband John Adams and their two daughters, Zelda and Lulu, all get behind, or in front of the camera at various points.

“We just wear every hat and we kind of love it that way,” she said.

Based in New York, the family has been taking the film on the festival circuit, including a screening at the Montana Film Festival at the Roxy Theater on Friday.

Festival director Carrie Richer said the movie encapsulates the story-oriented, do-it-yourself spirit of independent films that the festival aims for. Next year, it will premiere on Shudder, the horror-specific streaming service, which also picked up the family’s last film, “The Deeper You Dig.”

Home is where the hellbenders are

Izzy (Zelda) and her mother (Poser) live a secluded life in a house on top of a mountain in the forest, filmed at the family’s actual property in the Catskills of upstate New York. Izzy has been told she has an immune disease, and has been cloistered from any outside contact since she was 5.

Now a teenager, she’s begun to feel constrained by the isolation. The highlight of her home-schooled existence is band practice with their dual bass-drums metal group, H6llb6nd6r. That is a real project the two have that predates the movie. They put on appropriate rock ‘n’ roll make-up (Xs for eyes, black tears, etc.) and perform their originals in movie, and plan on releasing an album next year.

After meeting a new friend, Amber (Lulu), Izzy begins to question her mother about who and what they are. What follows includes (spoilers) witch-like sigils, spells, plated meals of the supernatural, and other art direction they came up with together.

The concept grew out of questions in Poser’s life. In 2019, her mother was dying and told Poser that she was donor-conceived, which was a shock that led to open-ended questions about who her biological father was.

After jokingly suggesting outlandish things (a serial killer), they began to shape it into a story that also taps into their family life as the daughters grow older.

“We thought, ‘let’s spin that on its head and make it a mother-daughter devil piece,” she said. With their budget constraints, they decided to move in the direction of a homegrown mythology and a “matrilineal descent of powerful women.” Notably, they only use the word “witch” once in the film, she said. She studied mythological figures like Lilith, Kali the Destroyer and Lamia — a Libyan serpent goddess — to come up with ideas.

“I had so much fun researching all these women who were maligned because they were just wicked, powerful and sexy and did their own thing,” she said. They moved toward a line of women who are powerful, brutal and “one step higher than humans on the food chain.”

Family operation

Poser worked primarily as an actor in Los Angeles in theater and film, but said that after she turned 40, the roles available to her were “really waning.” John encouraged her to write a screenplay, and their daughters were game to make a movie, too.

So in 2010, they bought an RV and spent a year living out of it while “learning the ropes,” from scripts to camerawork to editing.

“We were totally hooked, and so we made seven features since then,” Poser said.

All of the work she did with teachers and directors in the earlier half of her career “has brought me to where I am, where I feel very comfortable. Not only with the writing and the directing, but it’s all kind of brought me here. Everything is about a storyline,” Poser said.

Their two horror films followed four dramas, which were difficult financially. “People love them, but it was hard to make any kind of living, or get any really good distribution,” she said.

Their move into a new genre, one that’s popular in Hollywood across the board, has been smooth.

“It’s such a welcoming scene. For people who love blood and guts so much, the horror scene is just filled with warm, loveable, cuddly people. They’re just the nicest, most supportive, encouraging people in the world,” she said.

Regarding the content of the films, moving from drama to horror was natural.

“Everyone’s got gut fears and as parents, horror has been a great way, I like to say, to give breath to a nightmare. It’s a safe playing ground for things that, just like a nightmare, that worry you, that you’re terrified of, that you don’t want to happen … but you can’t help but think about,” she said.

Since they shot around the family house, nature was written into the story. Some scenes that include live deer and a deer skeleton in the woods were serendipitous and benefited from the fact that a family crew can shoot anytime they want if they keep a camera in the car.

They also went back to their roots, so to speak, and rented an RV to go around the Northwest, Southwest, and Wyoming.

The blood and guts scenes blend practical effects and digital. One scene with a severed body found its inspiration on a walk on the beach during a trip to the Pacific Northwest. John saw what was perhaps a dolphin spine, and “stuck in through this old piece of log that sort of looked like a waterlogged body,” Poser said, earning him some weird attention.

The horror genre is allowing them to spend more time trying out digital effects and fantasy sequences that more easily lend themselves to these kinds of stories. Their next idea will require branching out yet again, this time in the form of a period piece that will require CGI and old-fashioned costumes and set design.

It’s a “Bonnie and Clyde meets Frankenstein hybrid set in the Depression-era carnival circuit,” Poser said.