Federico Zampagiione

This years Glasgow Frightfest was filled with many an unscheduled treat, from a silat demonstration by the star of The Raid to a couple of interesting short films. One of the most exciting and (at least for me) most anticipated “extra” at the event was a seven minute preview of director Federico Zampagiione’s latest film Tulpa, which was said to be a return to the true roots of Italian giallo. I was honoured to be able to chat to Federico before the screening to get a little insight into just what we can expect from the film and how the director felt about previewing it at Frightfest.

I remember seeing Shadow a few years back at Frightfest and being completely blown away…

Federico: It was three and a half years ago man! Times goes by eh?

Well now you’re back at Frightfest once again with your latest film: a giallo called Tulpa. What can we expect?

This new movie is going to be pretty different from Shadow. That was more like an American film, a survival horror that took place in the woods, with some torture. So my inspiration [on Shadow] came from America. Tulpa plays like an Italian giallo – black gloves, stabbing, the atmosphere is completely different. Everything takes place in Rome, and you can tell it’s Rome. So the mood of the film is different – more sick – there are a lot of murders, eight in total, and they’re very bloody and there’s a lot of sex too.

I’m a little anxious as we’re going to shoot the film in one week, but we’re here in Glasgow to present the first sequence which is seven and a half minutes – the beginning of the film – so you can get a feel for the tone.

The film is big, we have a lot of big name Italian actors, and that’s very satisfying for me because normally those kind of big stars don’t get involved with horror, it’s not the type of film they normally go for. But this time it seemed [our actors] liked the screenplay and decided to shoot this movie. It feels a little crazy to me, but its going to happen!

The story comes from Dardano Sacchetti (pictured above with Federico) and I wrote the screen play with Giacomo Gensini, my co-writer on Shadow, and it was a very long process. Writing a giallo is very complicated because everything needs to be connected and make sense, like a circle that needs to be closed at the very end, so we have been changing the script and working on the characters for a very long time… I think its going to be a complicated shoot too as I have so many elements to keep together and at the same time the movie is going to be very extreme, in terms of visual effects etc., lot of the deaths in Shadow were off-camera, but this time you’re going to watch everything!

You’re going to watch something in this prologue, there is a very bloody scene and the is a special effect that you can’t understand how we did it – I showed the sequence to Dario Argento a couple of weeks ago whilst we were at dinner together on my iPad. I asked him to tell me how we did it and Dario was all confused: “What the fuck, how did you do that. Give me the number of those guys”.

What I’m trying to do is put the Italian giallo back on the map because that was probably our best expression of horror. Italy was famous for it.

I remember as a kid walking into  my local video store and seeing row upon row of giallo movies and now, not so much…

That was our expertise for many years which, for some reason, got completely lost.

You have your music side to your career, and Shadow was very much in the rock and roll vein, but I’m guessing Tulpa will have a traditional giallo soundtrack?

My brother is the one who is going to be in charge of the score… My main job is as a musician but when I make a film I don’t want to be that involved in the music because my focus is on making the movie. And so my brother is the one creating the score.

So where does “Tulpa” come from?

Tulpa is a term that comes from Tibetan Buddhism, so it’s there’s a spiritual, esoteric, mystical side to that. It’s an entity. By meditation and some other weird stuff you can create your own Tulpa and the Tulpa becomes real in a way, through your thoughts – it’s supposed to help you in your life. But sometimes things go wrong and those Tulpa become very sinister, aggressive and cruel.

There’s a story of a writer, a woman from Europe, who has been studying strange cultures her whole life – including Tulpa’s – and it seems at some point she had created her own Tulpa which had the form of a little monk. It followed her all the time and she was happy because it was cool and friendly with her, but all of a sudden the monk tried to do something evil to her and she was scared because the monk didn’t respond to her anymore. It was now an evil presence chasing her. And so she went to have the monk removed, which took seven months before it was banished. It was a very tough process, she was very scared and sore to never create another Tulpa again.

In my movie the Tulpa is not a supernatural entity, its more of a double, another possibility of your life. So the title is more of a metaphor. The film itself is about a businesswoman who has a good career, she’s well respected and at the top of her career but she keeps a secret – by night she goes to a club named Tulpa, owned by a guru who teaches her his philosophy. They try to make themselves feel free by having sex with other people. But this woman finds out her lovers are all being murdered in horrible ways one-by-one. She can’t talk to the police for fear of revealing her secret, so she has to live with the situation by herself and she finds she living a nightmare.

How do you marry being a musician and a filmmaker?

It not me, it’s my Tulpa (laughs) When I write a horror film its another me… Originally when I did Shadow the people in Italy were very confused, it was like “What does Federico Zampaglioni have to do with directing horror films?” They know me as romantic singer, my music is soft and cool – sometimes my lyrics get a little political, but generally they’re very… soft… It’s very far from Rob Zombie’s music (laughs). And so when they heard I was doing a horror film they thought I was drunk or there was something wrong with me. That’s why I started promoting and showing the film outside of Italy – to show my “job” and not myself. We started back at Frightfest in London and now only now are people getting used to me as both a romantic singer and a bloody director.

Sometimes if you really want something you go for it – even my closest friends had concerns about me directing horror movies because they thought my fans might lose faith in me, changing their mind about me and my music, perhaps think “This guy is not the person we thought he was”. I grew up watching Dario Argento’s movie that whole Italian wave and I didn’t care about that, I just want to be myself and they have to accept me – even if I like directing bloody movies and singing romantic love songs. I’m kind of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr, Hyde, but I’m fine with that.

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