Thursday, June 06, 2013


Directed by: Federico Zampaglione
Italy, 2012
Giallo, 89Min

The Giallo! One must love the Giallo. There’s possibly no other sub niche that can vary so much under one collective banner as the Giallo. You can find artistic interpretation like AMER, the glamorous homage approach like François Gaillard's Blackaria, or the classic tight, tense, thriller as Federico Zampaglione’s Tulpa!

Tone and atmosphere is everything in Giallo. Establish that tone, and reel the audience in. Keep them captivated and asking questions. Tulpa opens with a fantastic initial attack that hammers the referents to classic Giallo in as if Zampaglione was crossing off the Giallo 101 checklist.

A mysterious encounter leads to a BDSM game where pleasures peak. The man wanders over to a desk and snorts a line of coke; whist the woman still enjoys her state of submission. She catches something out of the corner of her eye as a leather trench coated, black gloved and fedora wearing shadow steps into the room. Gagged and bound she panics as she tries to break free, but this doesn’t catch the attention of the man, who continues to get high on his cocaine. Seconds later profound violence fills the screen; blood, knives, death and mutilated genitals are left resting in front the still bound woman face as she tries to release her muffled screams.

Yes, after this amazing, rough and visually stunning, opening there’s no doubt about it; Federico Zampaglione has created a Giallo that vibrantly resonates with all the right tones, colours and holds a solid atmosphere. Early on Zampaglione has in interviews said that he wanted to make a film that was actual Giallo, and true to his word he’s done exactly that. From a story co-written with legendary Dardano Sacchetti - writer of many fine Gialli and Italian horror classics - and a screenplay penned with his co-writer on Shadow, Giacomo Gensini, Tulpa is everything that we loved about old school Giallo.              
Following the initial attack, a brief moment of time is spent establishing the lead character Lisa Boeri [Claudia Gerini]. This is done swiftly and effectively as we see her in her workspace. She’s rapidly established as a strong and powerful businesswoman, with a key position in the company, fluent in several languages and also someone who even the boss [Michele Placido] holds a secret desire for. We also get to see a third persona of Lisa when we are introduced to her friend, bookshop owner and love sick Giovanna [Michela Cerson], possibly Lisa’s only real friend and the person who she can really be herself with.  

Each well written leading character needs dimension to make them interesting to the audience, and Lisa’s “dark secret” is that she spends her nights at an erotic “members only” nightclub. Here she takes a drug laced cocktail, supplied by the mysterious Kieran [Nuot Arquint – who also played Mortis in Zampaglione's previous film, Shadow], slips out of her clothes and starts the nights carnal encounters with fellow club members.
So starts the intrigue. Being a Giallo, we as an audience are on our feet; paying attention to detail and already placing together the pieces that will make this film click. The initial murder is connected to the club members, the woman Lisa was intimate with at the club becomes the murderers next victim – in a fantastic merry go round, victims face versus barbed wire session – and we realize that the killer is stalking club members… now we start to lay the puzzle of who the killer is, what is the motif and what’s the connection.

Zampaglione plays it by the book; lush settings filled with vibrant lighting, solid camera work and a genre typical soundtrack all written and performed by Zampaglione and Andrea Moscianese as The Alvarius. The soundtrack is contemporary, but at the same time it breaths classic Cipriani, Morricone and Goblin scores, and more than one theme that sticks in my head after the movie is over. I can’t wait for it to be released so that I can listen to it again.
It’s obvious that Zampaglione knows his Giallo traits, and he uses them perfectly. He keeps the killer mysterious and sadistic – which makes for some outstandingly murder set pieces – in the safety of the off screen space until the very last moment. He also tosses in a few red herrings and a few loose ends – which I’d claim are vital Gialli traits as the entire genre is about deceiving and keeping the audience guessing. Then there are the obligatory murders. Oh yes, there are a great variety of murders in Tulpa. Even if you aren’t a fan of the Giallo as a genre, Tulpa has some great special effects that will satisfy your blood lust. Really, there are some really spectacular moments in this film that are top notch. Finally the ultimate trait – the amateur sleuth! Lisa becomes the amateur sleuth as she comes to the same insight that we as an audience do – that someone is murdering the clientele and that only she can solve this mystery. Yes, there is logic and a stern motivation to why she get’s drawn in, which I’m keeping hidden from you as not to spoil the intrigue, and her rush of insight moment is fantastic.
I’ve seen many a neo-Gialli try so hard to be Giallo, and perhaps some of them try to hard and become pretentious and illogical, which makes them fall flat on their faces. Tulpa avoids all those pitfalls, as it stays real, and instead of being a pastiche or homage, it is a pure and simple Giallo, so when the big reveal is made, there’s a logic to the killer’s raison d’etre. Another great detail was the use of cell phones to spy and share information between characters. We all know the classic “camera” POV of early Giallo, Zampaglione brings it up to date and uses it in a smart way in these days of fast access and constant online living.
On a final note, I find that one of the key ingredients of Italian genre fare – or at least one of the features I find ever so enchanting – is the way the films are dubbed. Yes, I love that somewhat out of sync not quite right match of mouth and dialogue. Now let it be made clear that I work with TV productions and have been responsible for several hours of TV during my years in that profession. I’d never for a second accept out of sync sound and image there, but I actually feel that it’s important part of Italian cinema, and if you know your cinema history, you’d know that the main part of Italian cinema was post-synched. Fellini, Pasolini, Visconti, Argento, Fulci, Bava, all of them worked this way, and this makes it kind of sad that some people can’t appreciate this as a key ingredient to what makes Italian genre cinema such a passionate obsession.
Federico Zampaglione’s Tulpa is the slickest and grittiest Giallo since the eighties! I enjoyed this energetic return to the greatest genre in the world so much, that I watched it again, straight away. Tulpa is required viewing for Giallo fans! It get’s right to the point, nails it perfectly and violently rams a razor sharp dagger down the throat of all competition! A showcase of what made that Giallo so great, and unquestionably the best neo-Giallo of the last thirty years!

Tulpa hits Italian cinemas on June the 20th, and is set for a Swedish DVD release later this year.


Jewbo said...

I quite enjoyed this but it was almost laughed off the screen when I saw it at Frightfest in London last year.

Doug Roos said...

Sounds good. I want to see this. I need to see more Giallo films.

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