‘Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls’ – The Hamden Journal

Genre comedies are a mixed bag, and for every cult gem like 2010’s Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, the Sundance Midnight strand has been known to throw in a bomb. In its opening moments, Andrew Bowser’s fourth feature threatens to be such a write-off, with achingly broad comic strokes and jokes that don’t really land as Bowser introduces his leading man: himself. The awkward slapstick tone is reminiscent of very early Peter Jackson—notably his wonky debut, Bad Taste—but once the story gets underway, and other characters join the frame, things become demonstrably better. To such a degree that the style and production values mature faster than Jackson’s did, blossoming into a likable romp reminiscent of the director’s first real studio movie, The Frighteners (1996).

Bowser plays Marcus J. Trillbury, an amateur occultist who styles himself as the mysterious Onyx The Fortuitous. In reality, he lives at home with his mother and stepfather in a child-like bedroom filled with BATTLRATTS lunchboxes and figurines while making a meagre living as a burger flipper. Despite his avowed interest in the dark arts, Marcus is actually good-hearted sad-sack who desperately craves a change in fortune. Which is why he has his heart is set on winning a kind of Satanist lottery: Marcus’s spooky idol, Bartok the Great (Jeffrey Combs), is to pick five of his followers to join him at his mansion, where they will perform a ritual to summon the ancient god Abaddon.

Against the odds, Marcus is picked to join the group, three women and a guy, and they arrive to find Bartok lying dead on the floor. Their first test is to bring him back to life, which somehow they do, although there is immediately something of the charlatan about this sleazy Anton LaVey lookalike. The new characters immediately bring much-needed gravitas to the project, notably the impressive Mr. Duke (T.C. Carson), a professor of mysticism, who salivates at the sight of a book known as The Grand Grimoire: “All the unholy knowledge in the world,” he says, “bound in the skin of a fallen angel.” Each is then assigned a character type for the ceremony. One is a queen, one a Viking, one a werewolf, and the other a mystic. Somewhat predictably, Marcus is designated the virgin of the quintet.

Though the plot is obviously conceived as vehicle for its writer-director, whose style can be (very) generously described as a Jack Black/Ricky Gervais hybrid, it stands up rather well as a Knives Out-style ensemble piece (a fair comparison is the British old-dark-house comedy The House in Nightmare Park from 1973, which pulled off a similar undertone of the credibly macabre). Here, though, the thrills are supernatural all the way,  as Marcus, more by accident than design, stumbles on Bartok’s real plan. Surprisingly, the stakes are actually quite high, and despite an ill-fitting gothic-musical interlude (Meat Loaf crops up a lot), Marcus become unexpectedly easy to root for.

Whether there’s  a mainstream audience for this is by the by; Bowser has an internet following that supported the film on Kickstarter, and the casting of horror-circuit staples Combs (star of the Re-Animator movies) and Barbara Crampton (star of everything) suggest he knows exactly which festivals it will be heading to next. It could even be a franchise, if the part of Marcus gets a little polish or possibly a whole new actor, but Peter Jackson needn’t be looking over his shoulder just yet.