Today: February 27, 2024

Berberian Sound Studio

It’s 1976 and timid English sound engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones)

It’s 1976 and
timid English sound engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones) has been lured to Italy and
the titular Berberian Sound Studio by flamboyant, Dario Argento-esque director Gianfranco
Santini (Antonio Mancino) to work on his latest horror film, the lurid Giallo, The
Equestrian Vortex.

Regarded with suspicion by the bullying producer Francesco (Cosimo Fusco), Gilderoy is a gentle soul
and something of an artist, more used to working on genteel nature
documentaries who seems both bewildered and horrified by the nature of the film
and by the Italian crew and actors who either treat him with hostility or
ignore him completely with the exception of mournful voiceover actress Silvia (Fatma Mohamed) who offers only cryptic
warnings that he should leave while he still can. Gilderoy is a professional though.

Sequestered in the claustrophobic studio, his only link to
reality the increasingly foreboding letters from home he receives from his elderly
mother, Gilderoy immerses himself in his work, becoming completely obsessed,
and, as his sanity starts to dissolve, finds the film bleeding into his

Despite showing at this year’s FrightFest and being
practically a love letter to movies like Deep
Red (Profondo Rosso)
and The Bird With
The Crystal Plumage
, director Peter
’s (who debuted with 2009’s Katalin
) Berberian Sound Studio is
almost an anti-horror movie, drawing as much on Roman Polanski and David
as it does Dario Argento
and Lucio Fulci to create an ambiguous,
idiosyncratic take on the extreme Italian horror movies popular in the
‘70s. Two thirds of a great film, it’s
a willfully obtuse headf*ck of a movie sure to delight and infuriate audiences
in equal measure, casting adrift it’s meek, mild-mannered protagonist in an
unsettling, atmospheric, Kafka-esque nightmare which dissects, satirises and
celebrates the Giallo genre only to then self-consciously disappear up it’s own
arse with the lazy illogicality of David Lynch’s more recent, less compelling
work, leaving the audience as bewildered as poor old Gilderoy. It is also possibly the greatest
celebration of the sound engineer’s art and the vitally important role sound
plays in cinema since Francis Ford
’s stunning 1974 The
or Brian De Palma’s
1981 classic Blow Out.

Much of the genuine joy to be had from Berberian Sound Studio is in its almost sensuous celebration of the
tactile nature of filmmaking, an art that’s being eroded by modern
digitisation. Gilderoy is an aural
magician, casting spells with magnetic tape, twitching analogue VU needles and
over-ripe fruit; watermelons are stabbed, smashed and bashed, cabbages ripped
and torn, gongs are gonged, oil is poured onto a scalding pan, as Gilderoy
obsessively creates just the right sound effect to compliment the unseen,
onscreen atrocities, aided and abetted by mute sorcerer’s appentices, the very
funny and indistinguishable Massimo and Massimo (Pal Toth and Jozef Cseres)
while the film’s actresses scream themselves hoarse. As the film progresses and the studio is overrun by rotting
fruit and veg, the putrid decay echoes the corruption of Gilderoy’s mind and

The performances are uniformly good with Toby Jones on stunning
form as the meek, homesick, befuddled Gilderoy, a tweedy Englishman completely
out of his depth. Fatma Mohamed is
a little one-note as the doleful Silvia, Antonio Mancino and Cosimo Fusco are
suffocatingly exuberant with an undercurrent of menace and sexual threat as the
film’s director and producer respectively while the wonderful Tonia Soitiropoulou steals every scene
she’s in as the production’s hostile, belligerent secretary.

Often very funny in it’s first half, Berberian Sound Studio creates a fantastic atmosphere of disquiet, creeping
dread and violence, the audience feels constantly under threat, but as the film
wears on becoming increasingly disjointed, opaque and oppressive, it’s just too
detached, too ambiguous, for you to care much about its characters or just what
the Hell is going on long before it’s final act unhinged excursion into David
Lynch territory.

Neither as clever nor as involving as it thinks it is, Berberian Sound Studio is an odd little
arthouse curio, best experienced rather than viewed. While it will no doubt find a home among more adventurous
film geeks and horror fans, at times, you can’t help thinking that the unseen
horror movie at its heart, with its riding students tormented by screaming
witches and what’s described as an “aroused goblin” would have been more fun.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email:

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