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Exclusive: First Details for Federico Zampaglione’s Giallo, Tulpa

Writer, producer, director and Italian rock star Federico Zampaglione launched his critically and audience acclaimed debut horror feature Shadow in 2009. Now, “The Italian Rob Zombie” is prepping to shoot his follow-up, the supernatural giallo shocker Tulpa. Retiring his guitar for a few months after tirelessly touring with the chart-topping band Tiromancino, Zampaglione starts principal production on Tulpa in March for six weeks on location in Rome, Italy, and Brussels, Belgium.

He said, “I must concentrate on Tulpa as it is going to be a hard movie to make. It’s going to be a career-defining movie for me too, no question. Shadow was well received but it was just the first step. All eyes will be on Tulpa to see if I can actually progress and that it wasn’t just a lucky accident. I want it to be fabulous because like everyone else I’ve hated how the Italian horror genre has slipped by the wayside in recent decades. My intention is to reverse that trend and take Tulpa to new heights of controversy and gore.”

Tulpa is a Tibetan word, a description of the manifestation of mental energy according to the laws of Himalayan mysticism. Zampaglione continues, “It refers to any entity that attains reality solely by the act of imagination. The entity is created entirely within the confines of one’s own mind, not drawn out, written down or even verbally described. So if its creator wishes, a Tulpa may become physical reality through intense concentration and visualization”. After researching traditional Tibetan doctrines and realizing certain aspects of this ‘thought-form’ philosophy could provide exciting inspiration for a genre shocker, Zampaglione called up veteran Italian scriptwriter Dardano Sacchetti and asked for his advice and help on the subject. 

He continues, “Dardano had seen Shadow, liked it a lot and was keen to collaborate with me. Naturally I’m a huge fan of his work too – Dario Argento’s The Cat O’Nine Tails, Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie are undisputed classics. Dardano is a brilliant guy and superb in terms of creating nasty and violent sequences. He just comes up with truly horrible concepts without any effort. All he needed was the core idea of a person’s self-hallucination turning evil and slipping from their conscious control and he was away. Dardano is cool and looks sweet but underneath he’s a monster with a very sick mind!”

Sacchetti quickly wrote a treatment for Tulpa, but it soon became clear to Zampaglione that they had struck gold in terms of genre inspiration. He remarks, “The subject matter is not a common one and seemed much larger conceptually and thematically when I read Dardano’s synopsis. It was a supernatural saga, an erotic inferno and a giallo godsend all rolled into one. Frankly I wasn’t expecting the giallo elements to resonate so strongly at the forefront in a tale about someone materializing a metaphorical companion who gets loose to create murderous mischief. So I got my SHADOW co-writer Giacomo Gensini to help me further explore the more esoteric and mysterious qualities of the multi-layered narrative”.

The Tulpa story revolves around an upwardly mobile businesswoman who works in a big powerhouse company. By day she’s the ultimate driven professional. But by night she hits the notorious sex club Tulpa, owned by an enigmatic Tibetan guru, to indulge her many and varied nymphomaniac urges. Male orgies, lesbian threesomes, S&M, everything – she’ll do it all with unknown strangers to add further sleazy frissons of dangerous excitement. Then suddenly her many lovers start getting murdered in horrible ways. She can’t go to the police because the scandal of her private life simply cannot impact on her public one. So she tries to deal with it herself with truly nightmare consequences.

Zampaglione points out, “The movie is all about the different sides to life, the dualism of morality, mental schizophrenia, good versus evil, double personality, yin and yang. The title Tulpa is more a metaphor than anything else. The heroine goes to Club Tulpa to feel free and relax the pressure on her work-related stress and commitments. Everyone can relate to that. But by trying to explore her inner self, something wicked this way comes… And that paranormal activity is rendered in hi-tone giallo style as captured in a opening seven-minute prologue I filmed last October to attract financing”.

That hard-hitting, sexually explicit and mordant prologue will be world premiered at the Film4 FrightFest Glasgow on February 25. Zampaglione is flying from Rome to Scotland to give FrightFest fans the first peek at his Fall 2012 Italian release. Starring Giorgia Sinicorni and Pierpaolo Lovino, the opening sequence depicts some of the more outrageous goings-on in Club Tulpa ending in nasty mutilation. “It was shot in an abandoned Rome motel and I filmed it mainly to see how the special effects were going to work out”, admits Zampaglione. “My director of photography, Giuseppe Di Maio, wanted to see if the mix of special prosthetic effects and CGI would be effective. And it was. It was also exactly what we needed to get producers on board. Tulpa is now a co-production between the Italian Dream Factory (IDF) and the Belgian company Chicane, owned by the parents of famed cinematographer/director Maxime Alexandre (The Hills Have Eyes, Christopher Roth). They are both hands-off and have made me feel free to be able to shoot the movie I want to make and that’s a precious gift. By the way I wear the black leather gloves in the sequence and Roy Bava (Mario’s grandson) was my assistant director. I think people will see quite clearly from this taster how much I’m trying to tap into my Italian horror roots. The look and atmosphere is deliberately Argento-esque as I want to make a giallo for today with new elements, different visual special effects and a cleaner precise style”.

He continues, “In fact, Dario Argento and I had dinner the other night and I showed him the prologue on my iphone. He was amazed at the knife/mouth shot (similar to the one in Opera) and was impressed at how it had been achieved digitally with minimum cost. Dario was tremendously supportive on Shadow too and it has meant a lot to me that he appreciates what I’m doing as I do consider him a mentor. I couldn’t be more delighted when people talk about my visual sensibility being in the same ball-park as his as every wannabe Italian horror director owes Dario a debt”.

He adds, “Directing horror is very difficult, you can write what you like, but it’s often hard to translate that on screen. That’s what I found with Shadow, the reason why much of the gore and horror was off-screen. Tulpa will be the opposite of that: full on, ramped up, extreme and over-the-top. That’s what I like to see in my horror and on my festival travels what I’ve learnt most people do too. For example, one death scene shows this guy having all his bones broken with an iron bar and put in a crate. It’s nailed shut and then rats are put in through a hole to eat him alive. Sound good? That’s Dardano Sacchetti for you!”

Although Zampaglione is currently in discussion with many well-known actors for key roles, the only concrete casting so far is his Italian superstar wife Claudia Gerini who at the moment is working with director Chris Smith (Severance, Black Death) on the fantasy mini-series ‘Labyrinth’. Zampaglione met and fell in love with Gerini while directing her in his debut feature, the black comedy Nero Bifamiliare. He laughed, “Claudia has watched a lot of horror since we got married, obviously. She wasn’t a fan at all and is very squeamish. She still finds it hard to watch her biggest international success, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ! But I think I’ve worn her down to my way of thinking on horror. Her leading role in Tulpa is very complex, she knows that, but she’s not afraid of it, even though it includes as many erotic moments as creepy ones. But once she gets into the zone with the right energy she’ll be fine. Hopefully with me behind the camera she will feel more relaxed doing the sex scenes. Hey, perhaps I’ll get jealous and cause problems, who knows!”

He concludes, “For so many years Italian producers haven’t had faith in the genre that made Italian horror culture world famous. Hopefully that’s all changing now with the new technology allowing great results on less money. I want Tulpa to be a mix of everything we’ve missed about great Italian horror for the past decades. I want it upsetting, confrontational and ultra-shocking, so get ready for zen, giallo and rock ‘n’ roll”.