Berberian Sound Studio manages to invoke a sense of dread it utterly fails to deliver on. Billed as a horror film, it’s not a horror film at all, though it clearly aspires to otherwise.
That’s not to say it’s not an excellent film (it is). I just want to warn you that, if you’re looking for a scary movie, you’d best move.
Quite simply, English sound engineer Gilderoy travels to Italy to mix sound on an Italian horror film. As he does so, the content of the film and the caustic post-production atmosphere takes a toll on his psyche.
Berberian Sound Studio demands your careful ear while it fetishizes the analog world of the 1970s with its closeups on buttons, knobs, tubes, reel-to-reel recorders and oscilloscopes. It’s fun to watch the correlation between what you’re hearing and the manipulations you’re seeing on these devices onscreen. Film post-production was a much more tactile process than it is today.
The 70’s were also the heyday of the Italian Giallo pics. Giallo means “yellow,” a reference to the standard color of cheap Italian paperbacks that dwelled in the sensational – murder and horror – what we might have called “pulp fiction” in the States. Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi…these directors made a name for themselves with movies about murderers, zombies, witches and the like that were, above all, stylish and moody, much like this one. In a sense, this film has all the stylistic characteristics of a giallo pic without the murder or supernatural.
While we never see the film Gilderoy is mixing (a clever conceit), we watch the actors re-dub their dialogue – a common practice for Italian films of the time, when sound was not recorded in sync with the visuals – and see flickers of light on the sound room windows. We hear descriptions of the increasingly bizarre and grotesque scenes, to the point where it seems that there’s no horror trope left to cram into this god-awful movie they are putting together.
The subject matter and images that we can’t see trouble poor Gilderoy as he struggles to do good work on a project he’s not at all enthusiastic about. And how many of us can relate to that situation?
Will this movie blow you away? That really depends on who you are and what you appreciate. Though it really transcends genre, I might categorize it more as an unsettling dark comedy than a horror flick. It’s weird, atmospheric, beautifully photographed, well-made, and probably more of an art house pic than you’re used to. It might even bore you to death if you don’t have the patience for such things, unless you’re smitten with sympathy for poor Gilderoy and the way he is treated by his dysfunctional co-workers. For me, I was happy to spend some time in the studio with him.
Now that you’ve seen the film…
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Are you looking for me to decipher the ending for you? Sorry, not gonna happen. I just don’t care enough to think too deeply about it.
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