Fans of 1970s Italian splatter films might enjoy Berberian Sound Studio.Fans of 1970s Italian splatter films might enjoy Berberian Sound Studio, a new film by Peter Strickland. It would also help if you have a fetish for analog sound gear.
Toby Jones plays Gilderoy, a British engineer hired by an Italian film company to help loop the sounds of a new film by Santini ( Antonio Mancino), a famous director known for abusing actresses. Although Santini blanches at the term “horror,” his film is apparently about witches being killed. Most of the sound effects involve stabbing watermelons to create the sound of bodies being stabbed. Gilderoy , a sensitive soul, grows anxious over the constant sounds of death and violence. He’s also assaulted by mind games as soon as he enters the studio. The Italian crew mocks him behind his back, and even to his face. Still, he’s determined to see the project to its finish, even as the horrors of Santini’s film begin to seep into his mind.
Berberian Sound Studio has the uncomfortable tone of a half-remembered nightmare.Berberian Sound Studio has the uncomfortable tone of a half-remembered nightmare, but it’s quite stylish and is at times beautiful to look at. Strickland’s attention to the minutiae of the Italian horror genre is flawless, particularly his explosive opening credits for Santini’s movie, the clunkily titled The Equestrian Vortex. The quartet of actresses hired to scream for the film within the film convey what must be an agonizing job. Jones, too, is a marvel. He seems to melt and shrivel as the film progresses, as if working for Santini is draining him of life.
As was the case with many Italian horror films of the 1970s, we’re never quite certain of what’s going on. Has Gilderoy been lured to Italy as part of a satanic ritual? Was he mentally unbalanced to begin with? Strickland plays with us a bit too much, taking us down dead ends, setting traps that never spring. The atmosphere he creates, though, is too unsettling to easily dismiss.
The best scene in the movie isn’t even meant to be scary.The best scene in the movie isn’t even meant to be scary. It takes place during a power outage at the studio. While waiting for the power to return, Gilderoy entertains the actors by rubbing a light bulb to create a flying saucer sound. The scene goes on for a while, as if he’s serenading the Italians with his beloved sound effects. A crew member says, “Fantastic.” Jones smiles shyly. The scene is beautiful because it shows a man quietly sharing his gift with strangers, and bridging a language gap with a simple little trick. When the lights come back on, the actors groan. Light means a return to work and drudgery. The dark had meant, for a moment, something like magic.
(This film is playing at select theaters and available on all the usual VOD services.)