“Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls” finds our nervous Satan-worshipping hero on a retreat to hang out with his favorite occultist, Bartok the Great (Jeffrey Combs). It’s a break from his regular droll life of working at a burger shop (“How can I make your day a bit beefier?” he says with frightened eyes) and living with his mom (Barbara Crampton) and dad. At the retreat, he meets the other eccentric winners, like Melanie Chandra’s ornately dressed Jesminder (who claims she was married to Bartok in a past life) or the eloquent Mr. Duke (Terence ‘T.C.’ Carson), who loves Bartok, Satan, and education. These characters are like cartoons come to life, and show how this loving send-up of geek culture is a holy fusion of Halloween production design and VHS tapes from the ‘80s and ‘90s. You can practically taste the delivery pizza and soda when watching it.
Everyone is gathered here for a special ceremony led by Bartok and his assistant Farrah (a scene-stealing, green-haired Olivia Taylor Dudley). But they are unaware that they’re pawns for something more insidious, which Onyx accidentally and slowly starts to figure out. The plotting by Bowser’s script does a lot of table-setting for its exposition, and sometimes the character introductions can feel like a game going through the rules. But the movie is paced with such giddiness that once the movie takes off, the elaborate specifics within Bartok and Farrah’s evil plot prove not to be vital for enjoyment (nor do you have to like Dungeons and Dragons and such). You just follow the movie from one inspired and amusing sequence to the next, which sometimes includes stunning puppet work (the practically made monsters here are great) or laugh-out-loud jokes about running into cobwebs in the evil mansion’s passageways.
Onyx is our terrified surrogate throughout these ornate sequences (including a Meat Loaf music video hallucination). He calls himself The Fortuitous while never looking the part, and that’s why we love him. With nearly all his characters and their adventures, Bowser shows that he knows a good-spirited joke based on a horror archetype. Maybe Onyx should only have this one great cult adventure, but Bowser proves here that geek movie culture needs a sense of humor and a mind like his.
Daina Reid’s “Run Rabbit Run,” acquired by Netflix on the first day of the fest, begins with two intriguing mysteries but struggles to maintain its slow burn as we watch them converge. First, why is Sarah Snook’s worn-down fertility doctor Sarah so avoidant of something, like when she gets calls from an assisted living care home or talks to her ex-husband? Second, what is happening with her daughter Mia (Lily LaTorre), who starts to draw sinister-looking black and red figures on the back of her schoolwork and wears a big pink mask that looks like a rabbit? And if that’s not weird enough, then Mia starts demanding to be called Alice, which we learn in time to be the name of Sarah’s sister, who went missing when they were both young.