You don’t need gore to make a great horror film at Dedfest 2012

Toby Jones in “Berberian Sound Studio”

Who’d have thought eating an olive could be so fraught with contradictory emotions?

There’s a scene in a creepy new film called “Berberian Sound Studio” where actor Toby Jones is forced to eat an olive, pit and all, and his face conveys so many different thoughts, feelings, and possibilities that it has to rank as one of best acting scenes in the past year. That it takes place in a cinematic homage to Italian horror film director Dario Argento is even more astonishing. Still, when you’ve got an actor of this calibre, you don’t really need blood, gore, monsters or any other standard trappings of the genre.

There are plenty of other films which can provide those kind of thrills. Berberian Sound Studio is only one of fifteen films playing at Dedfest, the sixth version of Edmonton’s horror film festival, presented at Metro Cinema’s Garneau Theatre Oct. 17-21 by local horror movie fans Derek Clayton and Kevin Martin.

Berberian Sound Studio director Peter Strickland is obviously aware of the treasure he has in Toby Jones. A product of a distinguished theatre family known for playing Truman Capote in the British Capote film “Infamous” (Philip Seymour Hoffman did it in the American one), Jones delivers an exceptional performance as Gilderoy, an English soundman brought to Italy to work on a horror film for an egotistical “genius” director. The character is a fish out of water, alienated by the foreignness of his situation and upset at both the type of film he’s working on and how the talent is being exploited. Also, he may be going mad.

Besides paying tribute to the stylistic innovations of directors like Argento, the film is also a nostalgic salute to the eccentric voice artists who create bizarre witch and goblin sounds in such cinematic fare, and to the old-style tape machines they used. Strickland, along with his editor, Chris Dickens, and cinematographer, Nic Knowland, create an atmospheric film as light as the daddy longlegs spiders Gilderoy keeps finding in his room, and as tactile as the unwholesome-looking vegetables he stabs to provide sounds to accompany the film he’s making. The other actors, from the “screamer” actresses to the sinister studio technicians, are also well-cast, especially Cosimo Fusco as a bullying producer.

Another example of Dedfest offerings this year is “Miami Connection,” a camp 1987 D-grade exploitation movie which involves an amalgam of rock bands with 1970’s hair and moustaches, kung-fu, ninjas, cocaine, buxom beach babes and motorcycle gangs, directed by one “master” Y.K. Kim (who also stars) and Woo-sang Park. It features such memorable scenes as a biker being asked if he’s seen one of the characters, and responding, “I ain’t seen anybody since 1962.”

The film was a bomb on its first release, but is enjoying a cult success among people who find this sort of thing hilarious, now that it’s been re-released both theatrically and on DVD and Blu-ray by Drafthouse Films.

You couldn’t find two features further apart in quality, style and atmosphere, or intent, but that’s part of what makes Dedfest interesting.

There’s a terrifically wide variety of films for the horror fan to sample. Others which have a strong advance buzz are “Sushi Girl,” which features Star Wars icon Mark Hamill as a psychotic gangster; “Grabbers,” a comedy about alien invasion foiled by Irish drunkenness; and horror master Don Coscarelli’s latest, “John Dies At The End.”