Do you yearn for the heady days of early 1970s Italian exploitation? Of tales of faceless killers in long black coats and big hats despatching helpless victims in a variety of stylish, needlessly complicated and beautifully filmed ways? Of plotting where the climactic reveal doesn’t really make any sense at all and is so beyond the bounds of believability that such events could only take place in the world of cinematic Giallo, that magical neverland of great music, luxurious locations and beautiful women? Federico Zampaglione obviously does, as all the above elements are very much present and correct in Tulpa, a movie that is as much a homage to those flamboyant whodunits of the 1970s as it is one itself, recapturing perfectly the feel of movies like The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh or All the Colours of the Dark. In fact, while there are numerous nods and references to the work of Dario Argento, the acknowledged master of the genre, the director whose work Tulpa seems most reminiscent of is Sergio Martino, the man who gave us Torso and the two films mentioned above.
Claudia Gerini plays Lisa Boeri, a driven professional women who is extremely successful in the company where she works. Forty years ago Lisa would have been played by Edwige Fenech in rainbow striped loon pants and a fetchingly skimpy bra but Claudia in her business suit does a pretty good job of playing the classic giallo role of ‘Heroine Everyone Seems To Be Dying Around’.
Lisa is a member of an exclusive club that advocates the achievement of a higher level of consciousness through acts of sex with numerous partners both male and female. When these people start to die, bumped off by a killer all in black, Lisa realises she can’t go to the police as that might involve risking her career, so she resolves to track the killer down herself, doing the time-honoured giallo heroine thing of going a bit mad and paranoid in the process.
The original story for Tulpa was provided by master Italian screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti, and it’s filled with the kinds of red herrings designed to bring a tear to the eye of all nostalgic for the giallos of yesteryear. Is the killer the leader of the Tulpa cult who is rumoured to be a hermaphrodite? Or the massive muscle-bound transgender door lady? Is it Lisa’s male secretary who keeps giving her odd looks? Or her slimy boss - three times married and constantly asking her out for dinner? Could it be her friend who works in a bookshop? What’s that severed finger doing in the fridge? Should Lisa really take sleeping tablets when there’s only ten minutes of the film to go? All these and more will have giallo aficionados clapping with delight.
And now the downside. While Tulpa is a celebration of all that is mentioned above, it actually manages the whole 1970s European exploitation film feel a bit too well, resulting in some dubbing that doesn’t work, and some dialogue lines that have probably lost a bit in the translation and come out as unintentionally hilarious. As a result Tulpa is only really going to be enjoyed and appreciated by those with a fondness for the movies described above in their entirety – warts and all. If you can see past its few deficiencies, though, Tulpa is well worth watching, and really is a dream come true for anyone who wants to see a twenty first century updating of an extremely well-loved and respected subgenre of the horror film. The murders are beautifully staged and photographed, and are properly nasty and horrible. The performances are all just the right side of odd, and the ending is so deliciously and deliriously bonkers that it will make giallo fans want to watch it all over again.
Well done, Federico – encore, maestro!
JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT
“Tulpa is visually very stylish, which is perhaps the film’s strongest point – although it doesn’t have many others. It’s entertaining to an extent and provides some good laughs (although it’s not clear which are and aren’t intentional). It isn’t fully capable of holding your attention throughout and comes across as a little limp and lazy. Whilst it raises a few smiles (and a few eyebrows), it just doesn’t deliver – it’s largely composed of dull, dragging, dialogue-heavy scenes, and even with some very odd lines, it doesn’t manage to properly entertain. Definitely a spectacle, but one to behold? Not really – it has its charms, there are a few clever moments, but Tulpa will leave you seriously unsatisfied.”
“Whilst it’s difficult at times to decide whether Tulpa should be taken as a hilarious pastiche to or a modern reworking of Giallo, you’re going to have a lot of fun with this one faster than you can say ‘merry-go-round-face-butcher’. Sex, blood and giggles – like a night out in Coventry but less chance of death or disease.”
“Federico Zampaglione’s attempt at revitalising the Giallo misfires so completely that it veers wildly into parody. An impressive and promising opening makes the head-scratching ineptitude of what follows all the more difficult to swallow.”