‘Onyx the Fortuitous’ Creator Andrew Bowser on Gateway Horror, Practical Puppets and That ‘Re-Animator’ Reunion [Interview]

A special treat for the Halloween season, Bloody Disgusting and SCREAMBOX are bringing Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls to theaters on Thursday, October 19. The gateway horror film is filled with monsters, ’80s/’90s references, and that “Weird Satanist Guy,” ensuring a charming spooky season watch.

Based on writer, director, and star Andrew Bowser’s viral internet character of the same name, Onyx tells the story of an amateur occultist who learns that sometimes, when you raise HELL…you get a little burned. 

Bowser stars as Onyx the Fortuitous alongside Olivia Taylor Dudley (“The Magicians,” Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension), Barbara Crampton (You’re Next, Re-Animator), Jeffrey Combs (Castle Freak, Re-Animator), Ralph Ineson (The WitchThe Green Knight), Rivkah Reyes (School of Rock), TC Carson (Final Destination 2), Arden Myrin (Insatiable, Shameless) and Melanie Chandra (Code Black).

Ahead of the film’s release, Bloody Disgusting spoke with Bowser about introducing his viral character to an audience in feature form and how the character has evolved in the decade or so since Bowser first introduced him online. 

On Bowser’s Personal Journey with Onyx:

A special treat for the Halloween season, Bloody Disgusting and SCREAMBOX are bringing Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls to theaters on Thursday, October 19. The gateway horror film is filled with monsters, ’80s/’90s references, and that “Weird Satanist Guy,” ensuring a charming spooky season watch.

Based on writer, director, and star Andrew Bowser’s viral internet character of the same name, Onyx tells the story of an amateur occultist who learns that sometimes, when you raise HELL…you get a little burned. 

Bowser stars as Onyx the Fortuitous alongside Olivia Taylor Dudley (“The Magicians,” Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension), Barbara Crampton (You’re Next, Re-Animator), Jeffrey Combs (Castle Freak, Re-Animator), Ralph Ineson (The WitchThe Green Knight), Rivkah Reyes (School of Rock), TC Carson (Final Destination 2), Arden Myrin (Insatiable, Shameless) and Melanie Chandra (Code Black).

Ahead of the film’s release, Bloody Disgusting spoke with Bowser about introducing his viral character to an audience in feature form and how the character has evolved in the decade or so since Bowser first introduced him online. 


On Bowser’s Personal Journey with Onyx:

It’s been a long journey playing Onyx, especially as the character makes the leap from internet videos to film, giving Bowser plenty of time to reflect on his creation. Understandably, Onyx is personal to Bowser.

“I think the biggest surprise with playing Onyx wound up being how much he meant to me and my emotional growth,” Bowser tells Bloody Disgusting. “At a certain point in playing him, I did a sketch with a therapist in character, and she knew I was playing a character, and she specifically was interested in finding out why I played this character and was so committed to playing this character. Over the course of that hour-long improvised session, I realized that Onyx has been a way for me to process a lot of things from my childhood and deal with a lot of anxiety, fears, and insecurities. I don’t think I understood that in the beginning. I don’t know where I thought he came from, but I did recognize very quickly that he was very close to my heart.”

“I really took offense if people didn’t get him or didn’t like him, and I still do, but I think the biggest surprise was how much I enjoyed exploring his interior life over the years and how, after doing a series of viral videos and a web series and many, many, many, many sketches, how much I felt there was to then put into a feature-length narrative,” Bowser continues. “Then the trick was how to make that narrative feel self-contained enough not to alienate people who haven’t been going on this journey with me because I didn’t want it to feel like an inside joke. That required a bit of tact, but it was also fun. But the biggest surprise has been how much he personally has done for me and my emotional growth.”

Does that mean Onyx is an extension of his creator, therefore his pop culture interests are a reflection of Bowser? Not exactly.

It’s so weird because there’ll be an Onyx joke that he loves something that I actually hate,” Bowser tells us. But most of the Onyx jokes are that he loves something that I also love and maybe feels a bit of shame around loving, or it’s a guilty pleasure. But for Onyx, it can be very much not guilty. It’s different. He’ll be into a band that I think is kind of corny, but then he’ll love The Crow, which I also love. Yeah, so it’s different with every interest of his.”

How That Re-Animator Reunion Came Together:

Onyx the Fortuitous assembles an impressive cast of familiar horror favorites, including a reunion between Barbara Crampton and Jeffrey Combs. That means you can expect a few references to the pair’s work in the film. 

Bowser explains how that came together and informed some of the jokes, “Barbara was always meant to be involved. I’ve worked with her on several things. But weirdly, I had not thought of Jeffrey for Bartok because as much as I have loved him and been in love with his performances and I’ve always wanted to work with him, I thought his energy might be too similar to Onyx. He often plays like a scrappy underdog. Even when villainous, he’s not necessarily a looming kind of Hammer Horror villain. He’s always a little, even in Frighteners or obviously in Re-Animator; he’s a little bit like if Onyx were to turn evil. But Barbara brought him up to me and said, ‘But you haven’t seen him recently. You haven’t seen what he can do.’ And as soon as I had one phone call with him, I realized he was the perfect fit.

“Then, the first day on set, I was so thankful that Barbara suggested him because he was a looming Hammer Horror villain, and he was doing everything that I had hoped an actor would do in that role and got it completely, front to back. So then I retrofitted things to kind of fit the Re-Animator fan in me, and we shot… well, there’s some spoilers, but Barbara improvised some lines to reference Re-Animator. It was a bit of a retrofitting because it wasn’t always the plan, but I’m glad it worked out that way.”

On Puppets and Practical Effects:

One of the most charming facets of Onyx the Fortuitous is its commitment to practical effects, specifically its use of puppets to bring demons, ghouls, and creatures to life. While Bowser always intended to keep it practical, he credits his creature designer with the idea that completely changed their approach.

“I always wanted the creatures to be amplified and heightened and not be too grounded because that’s the tone of the Onyx world. There might be an emotional grounding, but everything else is pretty amplified,” Bowser notes. “But I really didn’t picture all of those characters being puppets until I reached out to Adam Dougherty, the creature designer, to do the Beefy Bad Boy character. He read the script and said, ‘Well, why aren’t they all puppets?’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t know, Adam, because I hadn’t had you read the script yet.’ So he’s the one that said, ‘What if they were all puppets?’ And for the most part, they are. There are a couple of makeups, obviously, in the Meatloaf video. There are two different makeups, and then, towards the end of the film, there are a couple more.

“But originally, I had thought even the ghouls would be makeups. They’d just be actors getting turned over into the ghoul makeup, which would’ve been prohibitive from a time perspective. I’m so happy that he came up with the solution that, ‘No, we just take people’s wigs and hair and makeup and a wardrobe and put it on a puppet. Keep rolling.’ It was really Adam and his team that dialed in that aesthetic. I think that informs the personality of the film just as much as Onyx and all the weird things he says.”

Onyx Almost Wasn’t Gateway Horror at All:

When Bowser first began translating his character to a feature film, his love of horror nearly resulted in a gorier, R-rated turn for Onyx. The filmmaker tells us how that evolved and why gateway horror suits his character.

I thought when I started writing it that it would be very gory,” he explains. “I thought the Onyx horror comedy was him inside of Evil Dead. It’s him with blood splattering all over his face. I even started writing a draft that was that: everybody that shows up at the mansion, maybe some of them are a little two-dimensional, characters that I felt were disposable, but I didn’t have the [desire] to write in that direction. So, I stopped, and I started imagining the ensemble being people I really like and love, and even people based on my friends. It shifted the whole paradigm of the film. I realized quickly that this was going to be friendlier than I anticipated. But that was the correct move for an Onyx film because, ultimately, he’s a bit locked up in his adolescence.

“The dichotomy is he still feels a lot of anger and a lot of big emotions. There’s language, it’s still R-rated, and a certain amount of violence, but it’s always kind of at odds with this childlike persona that he can’t seem to shake. When he does let loose and cuss, it’s a little bit like a tantrum. It isn’t controlled. Nothing’s very managed. I do hope that even despite the language, it could be a gateway horror film for whatever age parents think is appropriate for them to watch the movie. Because I loved those movies as a kid, and I liked things getting a little weird, but not too weird, and feeling a little bit edgy. But I wasn’t yet ready for Hellraiser when I was 12. So I hope it finds an audience with that age group.

Don’t miss Onyx the Fortuitous in theaters on October 19.