Horror review: Berberian Sound Studio

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, AUG. 7, 2013

With his wimpy, sad-sack face and sheepish, mama’s-boy persona, Toby Jones is not your typical leading man. But he sure was the right choice to top-line this stylishly creepy psycho thriller that pays homage to the Italian horror scene of the ’70s.

Jones stars as Gilderoy, a British sound engineer who travels to a postproduction studio in Italy to work on a sadistic, Mark of the Devil–type witchploitation flick. Before he starts ripping up radishes to imitate the sounds of brutal medieval interrogations, he feebly attempts to get reimbursed for his airfare, but the way he’s dismissed by the entire staff sets a shadowy tone for things to come.

Though clearly out of his element—and more used to working on gentle nature docs—Gilderoy gamely tackles the lurid job at hand, but his work ethic is soon questioned by a womanizing producer (Cosimo Fusco) who gives him some advice about one of the voice-over actors. “Be careful of that girl,” he warns. “There is poison in those tits of hers.”

The film is major eye candy for those who revel in the sight of oversized ’70s soundboard knobs being constantly tweaked while reel-to-reel tape slithers delicately through predigital recording machines. The overall look, sound, and feel brings to mind the classic giallo films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, but without actually showing the shocking violence. (The end credits even reveal a nod to “guest screamer” Suzy Kendall from Argento’s The Bird With the Crystal Plumage.)

The most enjoyment comes from watching Jones skilfully inhabit Gilderoy’s troubled, deteriorating mind. One second he’s straining to re-create the noise that hair makes when it’s ripped in handfuls from a skull, and the next he’s engrossed in a charming letter from his dear mum describing the baby birds she’s discovered ’round the house.

And then things get really weird.

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