Review: Tulpa (2012)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #660

Also known as Tulpa – Perdizioni mortali
Number of Views: One
Release Date: June 20, 2013
Sub-Genre: Giallo
Country of Origin: Italy
Running Time: 84 minutes
Director: Federico Zampaglione
Producer: Maria Grazia Cucinotta
Screenplay: Federico Zampaglione, Giacomo Gensini, Dardano Sacchetti (story)
Special Effects: Leonardo Cruciano
Visual Effects: Bruno Albi Marini
Cinematography: Giuseppe Maio
Score: Francesco Zampaglione, Andrea Moscianese, The Alvarius
Editing: Marco Spoletini
Studio: Italian Dreams Factory
Distributor: Bolero Film
Stars: Claudia Gerini, Michela Cescon, Nuot Arquint, Michele Placido, Enio Tozzi, Ivan Franek, Crisula Stafida, Giorgia Sinicorni, Laurence Belgrave, Giulia Bertinelli

Suggested Audio Jukebox

[1] Goblin “Profondo Rosso”

[2] Francesco Zampaglione & Andrea Moscianese “Tulpa”

Giallo is dead, long live the giallo. Masquerading under the Italian word for “yellow”, this particular sub-genre derived from a series of paperback novels, popular in post-fascist Italy, which were published with yellow covers and became massively popular in the sixties, seventies, and to a lesser degree, eighties. The charge was led by the likes of Mario Bava, Sergio Martino and Dario Argento and challenged the opinion of how non-Hollywood films should be classified. Combining the suspense elements of detective fiction with scenes of savage bloodletting, they were easily distinguishable by their stylish camerawork and jarring musical arrangements. Indeed the eighties slasher movement owed a great deal to gialli, and while narrative structure was never its strong point, its influence is still felt to this very day. Alas, it eventually ran out of legs and this giant of Italian cinema has been sleeping ever since.

Eventually things go full circle and modern filmmakers are beginning to cast their eyes back to the golden age of giallo for inspiration. Interestingly, much of the modern output seems to be originating from Belgium and France, with Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani’s Amer and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears and Emilie Flory’s super slick short, Starfucker and upcoming Ravish, looking to take the giallo in an entirely fresh direction, while American director Spencer Grey’s This Little Piggy looks set to push the envelope Stateside. However, the Italians themselves are also primed for a return and Federico Zampaglione’s Tulpa is perhaps the most notable example of this modern resurgence to arrive from its native country. Adapted from a story by the great Dardano Sacchetti, it possesses all the hallmarks of a classic gialli, and is nothing if not respectful of its lineage.

Zampaglione’s film throws back with no end of panache, with lurid visuals, off-centre whodunnit narrative, fetishized violence and a dash of titillating nudity tossed in for good measure. While very much a contemporary giallo, it also supplies straight-faced and knowing nods to the masters whose work clearly inspired it. This man has evidently done his homework and shows more than enough guile to earn his apple from teacher, particularly with regards to the vibrant palate of primary colors it paints from. However, strip it back to bare bones and it’s every bit the same flawed beauty as the films it emulates. Tulpa isn’t so much about teaching a dog new tricks as donating a greatest hits compilation of past glories, in the hope that memory still serves. It does with this particular viewer and the waltz it led duly enraptured. But whether or not it does enough to encourage the fresh lease of life gialli so desperately needs is disputable.

First things first and no giallo worthy of dolce vita could hope to mesmerize without a delectable Donna to place in mortal peril. Lisa Boeri (Claudia Gerini) is our lucky lady, a beautiful and fiercely driven professional with great desire to go places in her chosen field. Every 9-5 she strikes deals, makes acquisitions and takes another assured step up the corporate ladder. However, she is also aware that all work and no play would make Lisa a very dull girl and it’s her extracurricular activities that make her such a fascinating creature to observe.

You see, her travels home each night just so happen to incorporate a certain members only club named Tulpa for which she holds exclusive membership. After a hard day crunching numbers, it’s nice just to strip off, recline and be soundly slathered by a mysterious stranger or two. To achieve the higher level of consciousness she craves, impromptu acts of sexual debauchery with numerous partners both male and female supplies the juice with no questions seemingly asked and only tight lips requested.

Of course, assuming the thankless role of heroine in a Gialli isn’t all meatballs and marinara as rule of thumb clearly states that every last soul one comes into contact with is also placed in imminent peril, regardless of whether names have been exchanged. Sex with Lisa is akin to donning a dead meat overcoat for your upcoming safari. Being a clever girl, Lisa soon puts two and two together once her fuck buddies begin showing up dead with startling frequency.

However, a feisty career woman like she couldn’t possibly risk bringing the police into it and that entails tracking a killer who appears two steps ahead of the game at all times. Perhaps most disconcerting for Lisa are the connotations to ancient Tibetan mysticism that her secret society surreptitiously celebrates. Tulpa is a manifestation of mental energy; a thought that has taken physical form and there’s a clue in there somewhere should she live long enough to decipher it.

The owner of this establishment, Kiran (Nuot Arquint), speaks largely in riddle and is a conundrum in himself. Meanwhile, his hermaphrodite henchman appears to take particular exception to Lisa’s sundown snooping, making Tulpa not quite the safe haven it felt previously.

At work things aren’t any less geared up to induce migraine, with her competition for promotion, Giovanna (Michela Cescon), taking an unhealthily voyeuristic interest in her nocturnal exploits and faintly sleazy boss Roccaforte (Michele Placido) increasingly breathing down her neck. All the while, people are dying (rather horribly I might add), and time is running out for Lisa to stop the rot before she runs out of sexual conquests to implicate. If only her own sanity wasn’t slipping.

Tulpa is perhaps most reminiscent of Argento’s stunning Inferno with regards to its surreal excesses that gleefully defy logic. It’s fully mindful of its failure in a narrative sense; thus overloads our retinas with exotic optics, sensual colours and a more than generous smattering of swift and relentless violence. The pulsating score from Zampaglione’s brother Francesco and fellow composer Andrea Moscianese, encroaches on our personal space effortlessly and with eerily discordant precision, while director of photography, Giuseppe Maio, douses Tulpa in dangerous reds, spinning us on the spot, before removing all exit signs; lending a labyrinthine quality to further enslave our senses.

Meanwhile, the plot is one strewn with herrings of an accompanying shade and the ambiguity of its characters removes any true sense of revelation once we finally learn the truth. That said, here it is all about the journey undertaken and Zampaglione ensures that it’s never anything less than eventful.

It may be a bizarre comparison to draw but Patrick Lussier’s My Bloody Valentine reboot took a similar approach to honoring its heroes, while remembering what a modern audience would crave for in the process. Tulpa can’t quite boast the identity to tell its addressees anything we didn’t already know. That said, sometimes it’s enough just to be reminded, and as far as colorful and hallucinogenic refresher courses go, it does more than enough to make a member out of me. I have but a single menial request – would you mind terribly if Lisa plays no part in our little ménage à trois? It’s just that I’m not altogether comfortable with the company she keeps.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Overlook any slack-jawed dialogue, in favor of the harsh lashings of sadistic violence that keep Tulpa ticking along nicely. Leonardo Cruciano provides ample delicious deep red for our overloaded senses to gorge upon, populating a number of outrageously spiteful set-pieces for Zampaglione’s lens to zoom in on much like Lucio Fulci would. There is a multitude of gory stabbing, slicing and gouging to feast your eyes upon, one decidedly brutal acid facial, and a gloriously grisly exercise in carousel-themed decimation evocative of giallo at its most inventive.

For the Pelt-Nuzzlers: Sexual deviancy is rife here and there’s even a sax solo on hand to add an extra level of sleaze to the seduction. Hard bodies writhe, skin is lathered, and the somewhat divine Gerini appears only too happy to be smack bang in the middle of each tantalizing transaction.

Read Profondo Rosso Appraisal
Read Tenebrae Appraisal
Read Inferno Appraisal
Read Suspiria Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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  1. Wow. This looks pretty interesting, Rich. Good appraisal. I am not a fan of Italian horror (sorry, world) but this sounds very intriguing and reminds me a little bit of Crimes of Passion in a weird way. I do like a good thriller. This seems to fit the bill. Do you suppose De Palma might have been attempting giallo with Dressed to Kill? Hmm……

    1. Absolutely I do. There are definitely flashes of the giallo in Dressed to Kill and I would loved to have seen him explore this more. I’m a big fan of De Palma’s late seventies/early eighties output and Body Double is one of my all-time favorite films.

      I massively recommend Tulpa as it has a wonderful atmosphere and style to spare. Well worth a look even if Italian horror isn’t normally your thing. If you do watch it, I’d love to know your thoughts.

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