(no trailer available)
(18 TBC) Running time: TBC
Director: Federico Zampaglione
Writers: Federico Zampaglione, Giacomo Gensini
Starring: Nuot Arquint, Laurence Belgrave, Michela Cescon, Ivan Franek, Claudia Gerini
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
The Giallo is back was the announcement made ahead of Tulpa’s world premiere at Frightfest, and I for one was very very excited to see if indeed this homage to the classic Italian horror thrillers could live up to that statement. Tulpa works, incredibly well in places, and it is clear on this evidence that director Federico Zampaglione knows his stuff, but there are huge problems with this film, and sadly everything comes crashing down come the end after some seriously messy scripting and one particular actress raising constant laughs from the audience, which I don’t think was the intention.
Tulpa IS a Giallo, it has all the trademarks: razor blades: check, black gloved killer: check, bizarre yet effective music: check, primary colours: check, a murder mystery: check. Hell, even the end attempts to confuse, like most Giallo’s did, but is sadly spoilt by an explanation that we did not really need. However, for the most part, Tulpa is excellent and fans of the genre will find lots, and I mean lots to enjoy in the first hour. We get all of the above, with the kills delivered in terrific and ultra gruesome style, and we get lashings and lashings of sex, it is everywhere and drives the main focus of the story. The story itself is pretty simple: a business man is having some problems and warns his team that by the end of the week, one of them has to go. In that team is the seductive Lisa (played by Zampaglione’s fiancée Claudia Gerini), and by day she is a ruthless business woman, but by night her dark secrets are revealed. She spends her time at a private sex club called Tulpa, which is run by a creep Tibetan guru who spends his time giving Lisa strange drinks filled with chemicals, and orders her to “release her Tulpa” Whatever that means, she does it, and there are a number of sex scenes here to enjoy. However, once her clients begin to get killed off in increasingly sadistic ways, she begins to suspect either she could be next, or it might be her doing the killing.
The film opens with a wonderful scene involving some S&M sex, and the killer (dressed head to toe in black, and hiding his/her face) barging in and violently killing those involved. Using a razor blade and a dagger, and with terrific amplified sound effects and music, the Giallo most definitely has returned! The story then serves as a means to join the scenes of sex and violence together for the first hour: we are blessed with some terrific and horrific classic violence full of sadistic invention. One victim is knocked out, only to wake tied to a carousel which has barbed wire hanging from the roof. As the victim spins round, the barbed wire catches their face, ripping it off piece by glorious piece. Then another victim has boiling water thrown in their face, and after stabbing her, the killer watches as her skin blisters, and the blood pours from her wound. This is sadistic stuff, and hugely satisfying. Then there are the sex scenes, with the films centrepiece being an almost Lynchian moment of utter weirdness: we see Lisa at the Tulpa club engaging in a threesome while utterly bizarre and seriously unsettling music plays, everything is coloured red, and people in creepy face masks look on while almost slithering in the background. Wonderful, invasive camera movements add to the almost euphoric and drug induced feel, and it is here that Zampaglione shows us just what he is capable of. The scene lasts for a good five minutes, and is utterly fascinating.
Speaking of the camera, it likes to hide and creep up on its cast from behind corners or in wardrobes, and gives a sense of us playing peeping tom on a world we probably will never know. The scenes at the Tulpa club, and the kills themselves are the highlights, while the day time scenes don’t really add very much to the film, and Lisa’s fall into a paranoid mess begin to ask more of the actress than what she is capable of. However, Gerini does an impressive job, but it is her best friend who causes the film to lose its way. A terrible actress, even by the Giallo standards (where the cast can often get away with some dodgy acting) this book seller just does not deliver, at all. In fact, so bad was her performance she became the laughing stock of the cinema, to the point where she only needed to be on screen to raise laughter. Now, I doubt the intention of the director was to have people laughing, but it became impossible not to. It did not help that the script fell apart, with dialogue like “she committed suicide”, followed by “oh, that is terrible”, or “for your information I work in I.T” It became embarrassing and sadly Tulpa lost its audience in a big way.
Even some later scenes, like a wonderful chase using some terrific, thumping music, could not claw the film back from where it had ultimately fallen, and Tulpa ended with the majority of the tension and mystery ruined by the faltering script and the fact the actors forgot how to act. This was a real shame considering the early parts were magnificent, and the film was actually very engaging. The main problem we are left with here is too much style over substance, and what started out as a terrific, creepy and very unsettling mystery quickly became a laughable shambles. Tulpa, for the most part, is a brilliant piece of Italian horror: creepy to the extreme, unsettling, disturbing and embracing violence like it was a religion, and the sex scenes both sizzle and baffle, and if you enjoy wonderful, dark imagery then Tulpa is for you. However, to see a film lose an audience so quickly, and so painfully, was just too much to handle, and the end result is a case of a missed opportunity to make a proper, classic Giallo and re-invent the genre for today’s generation.