Italian horror movie Tulpa “isn’t a homage to giallo”

Tulpa director Federico Zampaglione talks horror history and working with the writer of Demons

Tulpa Giallo

Tulpa Giallo
Tulpa stars Claudia Gerini, Michele Placido, Nuot Arquint, Michela Cescon and Ennio Tozzi

As guest of honour at this year’s FrightFest, Dario Argento and his brand of cinematic discomfort obviously cast a long shadow, and none more obviously than on neo-giallo thriller Tulpa, from a story by recurring Argento, Lamberto Bava and Lucio Fulci collaborator Dardano Sacchetti. Rock star and director Federico Zampaglione introduces the movie, which made its debut at this year’s FrightFest and cemented his reputation as “the Italian Rob Zombie”…

Tulpa is having its world premiere at FrightFest – what can audiences expect from the movie?

It’s gonna terrify the audience! It’s very emotional for me, I was at FrightFest in 2009 to premiere my first horror feature, which was Shadow. That was an incredible experience, because before that premiere I was just a musician, and afterwards my life completely changed. I started going round all over the world with the movie; effectively, I became a horror director.

Apart from being terrifying, Tulpa is a giallo, so will fans of that genre be able to pick out some specific references to classic Italian movies?

It’s very important for me not to have done an homage to the genre. I know those films and I grew up watching Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, but I want to make something more contemporary, representing my time. But you’re gonna see a lot of black gloves.

Dario Argento famously used to put on those black leather gloves himself, to play the killer in his movies. Did you fancy trying that out?

I did just one scene. I was so busy, because I’m the guy behind the camera, so I was too busy moving the camera and finding the right angle and so on. But I did it for one murder – you know, sometimes it gets very difficult to explain to people how to do it, because you just want to be very slow. And normally the guy who’s playing the killer tends to rush a little bit. Maybe he doesn’t enjoy killing people.

There have been a few neo-giallo movies made over the past few years. Why do you think the genre is coming back into fashion?

Because it’s a great cinematic style. It’s not just about the killing, murdering, and torturing, you know? It’s also about the plot, tension, and suspense. In a horror movie you don’t have to give a shit about characters, it’s just about the way they get killed. In a giallo, you have to follow the story like a spider. You have to build up the story little by little, and I love the concept of a whodunit.

So what is a “tulpa”?

Tulpa is a term that comes from Tibetan Buddhism. By meditation and esoteric rituals, you can create this tulpa which is a representation of the metaphysical. This tulpa is supposed to help its creator in life, but sometimes things go wrong and tulpas become kind of evil presences. They can turn into something evil, and they are no longer under their creator’s control. At that stage, tulpas become very dangerous. In the movie, we use that idea as a metaphor. I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s not a supernatural thing – it’s more on the giallo side.

Tulpa Giallo 2
Claudia Gerini in Tulpa

You are obviously a fan of the horror genre. How did you first get into horror movies?

When I was very young, my dad took me to an amusement park with a Tunnel of Terror and I remember this incredible feeling: I was terrified, but when we got out of the tunnel, I thought, “Oh my God, that was so exciting!” And from that moment on, every Christmas I asked Santa Claus for some monsters instead of normal gifts. When I was around 11 years old I started watching a lot of genre films, especially Italian ones, and that was part of my life but then I became a musician. I couldn’t have known that one day the horror would come back to chase me somehow.

What made you move from making music to make films?

I directed some video clips, and I felt so good directing. Normally, the video clips of my band Tiromancino weren’t just us playing the song; they were like short films. And the video clips were successful, and so little by little I found myself making movies.

Being a musician must affect the way you approach filmmaking, though – is the music very important in Tulpa?

The music is probably 40% of the film because in a giallo, you don’t talk that much. It’s not about dialogue, it’s about atmosphere and suspense, so the music plays a very important role. But I’m not the guy who’s doing the music. I think my brother and Andrea Moscianese did a great job, because they found an original way to do a score. It’s not the typical score you expect from a giallo; it’s not like Goblin, they did something modern and it makes a big difference.

You co-wrote the movie with Giacoma Gensini and Dardano Sacchetti (writer of Zombi 2Demons, Demons 2, City Of The Living Dead, The Beyond and many more) – how did that come together?

The script comes from a story written by Dardano Sarchetti; he gave me the atmosphere, the idea of this woman who works for a financial company, and the club. Then I rewrote the screenplay with Gensini, and then we gave back the script to Dardano just to make it more bloody, cruel, and crazy, because Dardano I think is actually very sick. He looks like a very cool, nice, sweet person; he seems very calm and relaxed, but when it comes to horror, his brain is kind of damaged.

You get that with a lot of horror directors and writers – they seem very nice, but who knows what kinds of dark things are going on in their minds?

It’s true. When you are a musician, you think about music, lyrics, etc, and when you make horror films, it’s the same – but making music, and taking inspiration from the natural world is a positive experience. Feeling bad and thinking about horrible things can hurt you. But horror and fear is part of human nature.

Tulpa‘s release is still TBC, but director Federico Zampaglione’s previous film Shadow is available on to buy on DVD for £3.25 from