Cult Cinema: Berberian Sound Studio

Michelle reviews the 2012 horror feature, Berberian Sound Studio.

"What does this dial do?"
One of my favorite sub-genres of horror films are 1970’s Italian slasher/giallo movies. Directors such as Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci had a huge impact on modern horror—they gave it some much needed style and panache. Berberian Sound Studio is both an homage to the genre and an interesting psychological thriller on its own merits.

This film is from emerging British film director Peter Strickland and it’s an amazing effort for only being his second film. The story follows British foley artist Gilderoy (Toby Jones) as he works on the sound production for an Italian horror film and it gets increasingly more surreal as it progresses. Toby Jones puts in a rather subdued performance but the mostly Italian side characters (especially the menacing producer of the film) add a lot of personality where he is lacking. 

The real star of the show is the foreboding atmosphere—the way it is filmed makes it quite claustrophobic and suffocating.  Strickland nails all the tropes that define Italian horror perfectly: tight close-ups, super saturated colors (red in particular), bizarre characters and situations, artful scene framing and an even an ethereal progressive electronic soundtrack remincent of Goblin. It ends up being meta-horror since it’s a movie about making an Italian horror film made in the actual style of Italian horror and it’s genius the way it all fits together.

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As is to be expected in a movie about a foley artist, the sound production in Berberian Sound Studio is outstanding. It’s advisable to watch it in full surround sound to appreciate all the work that went into it. I found all the scenes of the foley guys at work absolutely fascinating as I don’t know much about the technical details of that aspect of filmmaking.  You get to see lots of melons being smashed and cabbages being stabbed and it’s fun to see how it all works.  Since this film takes place in the 1970’s everything is controlled with analog-style equipment so there is lots of dial and switch porn for all you sound enthusiasts out there.  Every crunch and thud is crystal clear and is used to establish a terrifying mood. The score is also excellent and is provided by Broadcast, a British indie electronic group.

"Naww....bitch! I told you he
ain't here right now!"
This film has a rather short running time at 90 minutes so it wraps up a little quicker than I would like. It comes off as a little haphazard and could have been edited tighter to make better sense. Overall, these two issues are small in the grand scheme of things and probably won’t affect most people’s enjoyment of the film. It’s refreshing to see a more deliberate, Hitchcock-style of film making in the modern horror genre since it seems to be inundated with cheap thrills and gore these days. I hope to see more thoughtful films like this made in the future.

-Michelle Kisner