At the world premiere of Italian horror, Tulpa, directed by Frederico Zampaglione I was left squirming in my chair and grimacing throughout. Although, my reactions weren’t classic symptoms of being in my seat feeling uncomfortably scared- they were scenes of awkwardness amidst laughter and yawns whilst the entire cast sat amongst the audience. I’m talking roaring laughter in a film where clearly comedy was never part of the intention- each giggle must have felt like a suitably horror worthy stab in the back for the director as he sat and heard the reaction to his latest masterpiece amongst his target audience. Ouch.

Zampaglione said in a recent interview: “… black gloves, stabbing, the atmosphere is completely different. Everything takes place in Rome, and you can tell its Rome. So the mood of the film is different – more sick – there are a lot of murders, eight in total, and they’re very bloody and there’s a lot of sex too”. That is exactly what you get; yet somehow the film just doesn’t live up to its dizzy heights of hype. 

Tulpa held a lot of promise. It had been heralded as the return of Giallo- an in-yer-face whodunit style thriller slash gore fest with a sprinkling of paranoia that makes it synonymous with Italian cinema and literature. Whilst all the ingredients were there to embody this sub-genre, poor acting, terrible dubbing and a focus on sexual promiscuity overshadowed any ounce of credibility.

Protagonist Lisa Boeri is by day a driven, successful and hard-faced businesswoman who doesn’t have time for petty concerns like romance and boyfriends. However, by night she satisfies her carnal urges by frequenting the notorious and members-only club Tulpa. Tulpa is owned by a mysterious Tibetan guru- his mysteriousness is validated when the script reveals: “nobody knows anything about him, except that he’s a hermaphrodite…” That clears that up then… He teaches a philosophy in the club that having promiscuous sex with numerous partners can help to experience true freedom.

Lisa’s erotic enlightenment takes a turn for the worse when her several lovers start getting murdered in the most shocking of ways. Cue male castration, a girl’s eye being dug out on barbed wire and a man being fed to the rats. Obviously Lisa cannot go to the police as she risks personal scandal if her sordid ways are revealed. So she takes it upon herself to unmask the anonymous killer- even deliberating at times if maybe she is the one creating all of this murderous havoc by committing crimes in her sleep.

Sounds scary huh? No not at all,  but I still gave it a watch. However, I wouldn’t recommend any of you do the same…unless may you’re looking for a ‘so bad its almost good’ addition to your film collection?

The camera shots, musical score and dialogue give it an altogether retro feel. Again, something that could have worked to the film’s advantage but the atmosphere is slightly wrong making the murder, spiritual guru and office work seem like a pointless and ropey sub text for a low budget soft porn film circa 1970.

Although, many Giallo fans will argue that liberal nudity and extended sex scenes are classic pointers towards the Italian horror and crime genre. This may well be the case, but I can’t help but feel that nowadays horror films appear to get their shocks from graphic sex scenes and genital mutilation rather than good murderous montages. Moreover, the horror in Tulpa is in some ways derived from the fear that protagonist, Lisa Boeri, may be revealed as a sexual deviant to her colleagues. It holds a moralistic slant in some ways suggesting that if a woman is sexually liberated there could be nightmarish consequences.

I’m not saying that sex, or ideas surrounding sexuality shouldn’t be broached- and there is validity to linking sex with horror- but the leering fascination with sex scenes and degrading women and sado/misogynistic killings seem to be becoming the new horror staple.

The true downfall, and I hate to say it, the comedy value, comes from the poor acting and equally poor script.  I don’t think I need to expand on that point after the ‘hermaphrodite’ line. I felt a twinge of sadness for Michela Cescon, who plays Lisa’s close friend, Joanna. Her performance is the most side splittingly funny as she has been dubbed, badly, with a ludicrously unrealistic British accent.

In Tulpa everyone is implicated in the murders- you can literally trust no one- yet for some reason there is no real suspense or fear that generates from that fact. The Giallo has the potential to be truly frightening as a masked black gloved all seeing murderer picks off the characters one by one, but the focus on sexuality bring down the tone. Also the death scenes are so elaborate, lengthy and filled with gallons of obviously fake blood they convey an almost black comedy feel, as the characters are pursued in such an absurd manner.

My tips for Tulpa would be have everyone speak Italian throughout, work on the script and cut down on the sexiness. Sometimes revealing too much takes away from the suspense, and Tulpa lets it all hang out.

About The Author

Emily Stockham

Emily is from South London and has a degree in English Literature. Emily is a marketing assistant who writes about films and music in her spare time. Horror and grindhouse are her thing – although she will happily watch anything if it means a trip to the cinema.