I first experienced Italian Giallo cinema nearly two years ago when I sat in the Hyde Park Picture House at Halloween and witnessed Dario Argento’s Suspiria. The sounds of smashing glass, gruesome screams and the violent musical score were some of the most enchanting elements of the film. The bright crimsons that splashed onto the screen constantly drew me in and I discovered a deep appreciation for Italian horror that could now accompany my love of American 1970s horror cinema. Since then, I have certainly neglected the genre that I intended to so thoroughly explore. Who would have thought that it would in fact be a British film-maker who would reignite my interest in Giallo. Peter Strickland’s latest film Berberian Sound Studio highlights the importance of sound to cinema and introduces us to the world of 1970s film sound creation. Set in 1976, Berberian Sound Studio emphasises the nightmarish nature of Italian horror in this decade. We join the bumbling and awkward Gilderoy, an English sound engineer, as he starts work on a new film in Italy. Things start to sink into a surreal and eerie world where fantasy meets reality as Gilderoy becomes increasingly uneasy about those around him and the film he is working on.
The audience are teased by Strickland, who never allows us to see the film Gilderoy is working on. Instead, we see melons being chopped in half and cabbages being hacked up, in order to recreate the sounds of murder, torture and decapitation. The electronic equipment that we are introduced to allows us into the studio along with Gilderoy. It is as though Strickland has intended his audience to perch on a stool in the corner of the studio, silent and observant. We are drawn into Gilderoy’s nightmare as he is drawn into the sounds and visions of the horror film The Equestrian Vortex upon which he works. Despite the sinister director’s continuous claims that this is not a horror film, there is horror all around, within The Equestrian Vortex and the studio itself. Outside of the cinema screening rooms, Gilderoy experiences as much eerie behaviour and atmosphere as he does on the screen.
Toby Jones gives his greatest performance yet in this mysterious and captivating tale of one man’s alienation due to his career, nationality and manner. There is a divide created between the Italian characters and Gilderoy, who is the encapsulation of stereotypical ‘Britishness’. I was expecting there to be more of a plot to follow but despite my prior expectations of the film being wrong I remained consumed by the story and the characters. There are elements of Giallo cinema that blend flawlessly with segments that are reminiscent of Lynch. As unnerving and confusing as Berberian Sound Studio is, there is no denying its cinematic power and its appreciation of the years of cinema that have gone before it. Prepare for no resolutions, no conclusions and no explanations and overlook your usual, ‘Hollywood constructed’ need for answers and endings. This film is impossible to label and categorise, something so rare for film-makers to achieve these days.
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