DVD Review: Is Berberian Sound Studio a screamfest or something more?

Character actor Toby Jones (“The Hunger Games,” “The Girl”) stars as Gilderoy, a mousy, uptight British sound effects expert who arrives in Italy for postproduction on a feature entitled “The Equestrian Vortex.” Accustomed to nature films and promotional shorts, he is stunned when the film turns out to be scene after scene of seemingly pointless violence. When he expresses some dismay about working on a “horror film,” pompous director Giancarlo Santini takes offense, informing him that this is “not a horror film, but a Santini film!”

One might easily have a similar confusion about “Berberian Sound Studio” itself. It might seem like a standard screamfest at first, but director Peter Strickland, in his commentary track, tellingly reveals he was influenced more by way-non-mainstream types like Kenneth Anger and Peter Greenaway than by Jess Franco. As Gilderoy is increasingly misused by Santini and his producer, his sense of reality starts slipping away, as does that of the audience. It's as though Strickland has pulled 80 minutes of footage from David Lynch's three-hour “Inland Empire” and reassembled it into something a tiny bit closer to a normal structure.

Visually, this DVD-only release has an adequate transfer, though a few dark scenes are barely more than a solid black image. The effort has gone primarily into the sound mix, which is far more important to the storytelling than usual.

The extras include a decent 20-minute “behind the scenes” short; several deleted, extended and alternate scenes, totaling about half an hour; and the “full” five minutes of the “Box Hill documentary,” allegedly an earlier Gilderoy project, a minute of which pops up in the feature as Gilderoy's memories or a dream or, well, something. A 20-minute “photo gallery” is actually logos and time charts from the film, explained in voice-over by the director. On his rambling commentary track for the feature, he reveals a lot of his intentions but is so self-effacing that his voice often trails off before he's finished.

Berberian Sound Studio (MPI Home Video, DVD, $24.98)


ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).

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