Sound studio

Some things should be left to the imagination: CENSOR, BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO and Horror Through Absence

At the beginning of Prano Bailey-Bond Censor (2021), we are introduced to Enid (Niamh Algar) in a state that is most likely intimately familiar to most horror aficionados. Bathed in blue light from a cathode ray television as she watched her third or fourth VHS of a horror movie that day, a remote control clutched tightly, her hand constantly hovering above a dial of mistreated and wide-eyed rewind seeking spectacles of excessive violence and gore to replay until nauseated. The crucial thing missing from what would be a relatable painting is the fun factor. Enid was a BBFC-certified censor in the mid-1980s when the Puritan moral panic over unregulated horror tapes (dubbed the Video Nasties by a sensational press) in the nascent UK video market came to a head. , and she doesn’t watch those movies. for pleasure. The scrutiny she applies to those recurring images of viscera, sadism and cruelty that peppered the exploitative fare of the time is not out of fascination, but rather outrage, expressed in her civic duty – she thinks these depictions are detrimental to the public and “some things should be left to the imagination”.

Although Enid’s life and career revolves around cataloging these scenes of spectacular violence, curiously Bailey-Bond’s film rarely shows them. Audiences are deprived of a solid view of the sordid materials Enid catalogs day-to-day, offering only gruesome clues from glimpses of her detailed notes and the asides she speaks to her fellow censors. The rest, to borrow Enid’s unwavering conviction, is left to the public’s imagination. We hear the screams emanating from her TV, we see her taking notes describing the “eye exaggeration” and “exaggerated blood and gore” she thinks should be cut. We listen to him describe scenes involving “a tug of war with intestines” or a “stomach ripped open with serrated scissors” when such imagery is noticeably absent from the film itself. Through this notable absence of objectionable images for the period, Bailey-Bond questions the supposed power they carry.

Censor takes the underlying narrative of ‘video mean’ moral panic about impressionable youth and the imitation of on-screen violence and sadism and takes it at face value using Enid, a person whose career dictates an endless media diet of these supposedly corrupting images. Specifically, as the film never deliberately swaps these images or emphasizes their visceral affectations, as Enid descends into mental instability and ruthless violence, Censor it cannot be said that she is emphasizing her viewing habits as a contributing factor. Her grip on reality begins to loosen due to a traumatic moment she’s carried since childhood that was unearthed while inspecting a movie titled Do not enter the church (probably deliberately named for the real villainous title of the video Don’t go into the woods.)


Although this discovery sends Enid into a self-destructive obsession that leads her to bloodshed and her oscillation between reality and delusion, it is not the excessive brutality of the video’s infamous villains that inspires her own violence. Much like the propagators of video’s nasty moral panic, the real “evil” of these videos is what the viewer projects onto them, especially when they are already inclined to believe they are inherently wrong to begin with. Enid’s degenerative blurring between reality and fiction cannot be attributed to the gruesome images she reviews daily, but to her deep belief that film contains an answer to her unresolved trauma. And since Bailey-Bond leaves the content of these films to our imagination, the power attributed to them by the moral panic narrative becomes inherently suspect due to their pointed absence.

Although the film is set in the UK in the mid-1980s, when the emotional potential of horror and exploitation films was an intensely debated topic worthy of government scrutiny, the conscious decision not to attract attention to exactly what was being debated puts the power they have in the hands of the viewer to fill in the blanks. It’s reminiscent of another tributary horror period piece that also questions the power of on-screen violence in the form of Peter Strickland. Berber sound studio (2012). A deliberate throwback to the giallo set in the subgenre’s heyday of the 1970s, the film follows another outsider to the horror phenomenon in the form of sound engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones). Having enjoyed a successful and stoic career in Dorking, England, overseeing the sound design of natural history documentaries, he is hired by the titular studio somewhere in undisclosed Italy to oversee the post-production of The Equestrian Vortex; a giallo deliberately inspired by the model of bloody and satanic witchcraft popularized by Dario Argento.


A bit like in Censor, Strickland seizes the narrative opportunity of a reprehensible loner in the face of the macabre imagery the horror genre markets to explore their emotional power. Like Bailey-Bond’s film, it is set in a time when the subgenre peaked in popularity, which inadvertently brought these films under a more intensive level of critical scrutiny. Official lists of obscene videos released by the BBFC a decade later featured films being reviewed for censorship or successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act. Italian horror and exploitation films were more prominent than any other national cinema. Like Bailey-Bond’s film and its relationship to history, Strickland’s film lives up to the cultural cachet of giallo in order to question the viewer’s relationship to on-screen violence through the engineer Gilderoy’s Nebula sound.

In the same vein as how Censor interrogated video villains and their corrupting influence through poignant use of suggestion and absence, Berber sound studio is virtually bloodless. Strickland never permits a frame of fiction The equestrian whirlwind and its purported bloody material to be shown to the public, leaving only its graphic content to be sonically teased via Gilderoy’s work. Much like Enid’s carefully selective eye, which focuses exclusively on morally suspect material, Gilderoy ruminates on these scenes of transgressive violence to ensure they sound as realistic as possible for an industry that operates exclusively in the dubbing of post production. Often this involves watching a number of scenes of gratuitous brutality on repeat until the sound effects sync perfectly.


But what the sticky qualities of these scenes contain, we can only infer from the context and our own imagination. Our curiosity is piqued by actresses (Fatma Mohamed, Chiara D’Anna and Eugenia Caruso) in a sound booth, thrilled as they recite their dialogue and let out bloodcurdling screams. We are treated to descriptions of disturbing scenes spoken by the sound engineer and audio cues scribbled in Gilderoy’s notes to help fill in the ugly blanks (“Flashback to the interrogation of a witch, in which a poker hot is inserted into it”). And we are witnessing the work of sound effects associated with the uncomfortable Gilderoy, who splashes water on a hot saucepan to the rhythm of cries. But again, the picture is never complete, and it’s up to the audience to fill in what Strickland leaves out.

By drawing our attention to the materiality of how these scenes of on-screen violence are invoked by sound (Gilderoy using a blender and tomatoes to suggest chainsaw murder, throwing ripe marrow on the floor to simulate someone ‘a falling to death), we are faced with the artificiality of the recorded image. Even when Gilderoy struggles morally with the film’s content, eventually slipping into a precarious state similar to Enid’s where his reality begins to merge with the film he is working on, Strickland repeatedly points out the dubious verisimilitude of the footage that sent him spiraling. As his supervisor Francesco (Cosimo Fusco) says when Gilderoy can’t continue with the hot poker scene: “It’s just a movie. You are part of. You can see how it all comes together. What is your problem?”


A sin Censor, by analyzing the suggestive properties of on-screen violence, we begin to reevaluate their power to influence us. Gilderoy and Enid become unable to tell reality from fantasy to grave consequence, but neither Censor neither Berber sound studio place this mental unraveling as the fault of the genre of film they consumed, willingly or not. That both films constantly invoke gratuitous violence as they take place in times when it was synonymous with cinema and yet rarely, if ever, feature it, inherently removes this ascribed power and forces us to look beyond the content of the film. image and rather to whom looks at it, how is it produced and why is it monitored. Left to the imagination, horror movies can only influence us if we let them.

Censor is now available on DVD and on-demand from Magnolia Pictures under the Magnet label, streaming on major platforms, click below to watch now.