This year’s FrightFest saw the return of Italy in a big way, with the attendance of cult director Dario Argento to name but one of the many highlights.
Although the festival had several new Italian horror flicks included in its program, it was director Federico Zampaglione’s neo-giallo TULPA that set tongues wagging.

Zampaglione is no stranger to FrightFest, his creepy 2009 horror Shadow was well received upon it premiered at the festival a couple of years ago.
The same can’t be said for TULPA, which received rather mixed reactions after its world premiere at the Empire, Leicester Square. Once again featuring a memorable performance by the gaunter than gaunt Nuot Arquint (who had played Mortis in Shadow), Zampaglione’s latest offering also sees the director’s partner, acclaimed actress Claudia Gerini, in the lead role.

There’s no doubt that TULPA (the concept of a physical being created through sheer mental power) is a visual feast, with plenty of style and stylishly dressed actors. Zampaglione comes from a rock star /rock videos background and it certainly shows! It’s not as if the plot stands in the shadow of the movie’s visual content, after all, we are talking a giallo… in which the story isn’t always required to make sense.

However, in parts the film is flawed due to the way some scenes are executed and above all, the way the dialogue is handled. And that’s an understatement! Sandwiched in between subtitled Italian dialogue are whole chunks in which the Italian actors are dubbed in English – unfortunately, to seriously poor standards! As a result, the English-language bits appear unnaturally spoken which in turn distracts from the on-screen action. Worse still, a lot of the dubbed dialogue is so awfully bad it caused waves of unintentional laughter during the premiere screening, going something like this: (Lisa, in a darkened room) “I can’t remember where I put it, I took sooo many pills…” (Joanna, standing next to her) “The lights are out!”.
I had problems believing that all this was NOT done on purpose!

But enough of that, let’s talk about the story. Claudia Gerini (see interview) plays Lisa Boeri, a corporate high flyer who by night winds down in Club Tulpa, a mystic sex club that makes its members believe that enlightenment and true freedom are achieved by having promiscuous sex. And bi-sexual Lisa has plenty of that. The club is owned by the mysterious, snake-like Tibetan guru Kiran (Nuot Arquint – see interview), a cocktail wizard who infuses Lisa with his own ‘tulpa’ concoctions and philosophies.
During a board meeting at work, her boss gets agitated about a scandal exposed in a financial paper, while Lisa gets agitated over a different headline altogether: the newspaper reports about the brutal murder of three people who turn out to be two women and a man that Lisa had sex with in the club.

Already stressed out, courtesy of constant competition and backstabbing at her workplace, Lisa now has the additional stress of the Tulpa murders and the discovery of her twilight lifestyle to deal with. Everyone is implicated; she even implicates herself. For obvious reasons she can’t confide in her co-workers and thus asks best friend Joanna (Michela Cescon) for help. Not a good idea, especially since poor Michela Cescon’s ott facial expressions and acting skills are cringeworthy, while the lousy English dubbing only makes it worse.

While there are plenty of references to the classic giallo in TULPA (most notably the elaborately staged, ultra-gory killings and the camera angles), it has a decidedly contemporary note. For one, the story is set in Rome amidst an international banking and financial crisis. And the sexual acts and club atmosphere equally belong to the 21st century as opposed to typical 1970’s giallo territory.

Claudia Gerini delivers a strong and audacious performance as anti-heroine Lisa Boeri, which must have been an emotional rollercoaster ride for her. Likewise, Nuot Arquint skilfully combines allure with creepiness – and a very penetrating look.
Director Zampaglione has an eye for detail and blood-drenched aesthetic, using bold colours set against shadows to emphasize ever-looming threats as TULPA unfolds its full horror. Trust me, never again will you go on a merry-go-round ride and look at it the same way after seeing TULPA!

At the time of writing this review, I’ve been informed that the movie’s original length has been cut and some of its dodgy dialogue has been re-dubbed. That's excellent news, as it should now make for a bloody good and scary watch without the unintentional comic relief!

Until its DVD release you can catch TULPA at the ‘Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival 2012’ (should you happen to be in Catalonia between 4th and 14th of October).