The siren’s call which is the Empire cinema in Leicester Square will soon be sounding to many horrorheads as the 13th annual FrightFest kicks off in two weeks time. Like many of you, we are looking at getting into the spirit of the event, so we thought we’d try and help you out with what to look out for at the fest, and for what to watch in preparation for it. We here at ESLF are stepping up and pointing out some of the titles which maybe aren’t the “big ticket” films but could prove to be some of the best, while looking at an example of the filmmaker’s previous work which got us excited in the first place.
Starting off here then, I am going to highlight the fantastically named Federico Zampaglionie, whose film Tulpa plays on Saturday 25th, and his earlier film Shadow which played the festival also back in 2009.
A simple enough story involving an ex-soldier doing some biking in Eastern Europe, who along with a potential love interest is chased by some locals before being experimented on by a bald gentleman with a bad case of malnutrition and a portrait of George W. Bush on his wall. Shadow tickled my horror g-spot in most of the right places it must be said.
Starting off with a rather fantastic throwback feeling score by Zampaglionie, along with Andrea Moscianese, as the camera moves through some striking locations filled with mountains and forests, we are given the barest bones of character before the plot gets kicking off, something which frankly, I wish more horrors would do. We are presented with a multi-layered level of threat as irate locals give way to local psychopath though the level of tension keeps up impressively throughout, even in the earlier “getting to know you” stage of proceedings, as we just know something is coming but we don’t know from where, be it the forest itself, the thugs or something else entirely (at one point a compass starts going haywire opening up new possibilities).
Zampaglionie paces this with the skill of someone with much more under his belt as things go wrong for all involved. The fantastic cinematography makes the area look like a great one to travel through, with an eerie beauty while also being intensely foreboding, however, it must be said that once the main threat of the film kicks in, things take a slight downturn, at least for a while.
Back when this was made in 2009, torture porn was going through its death throes but had not quite reached the level of DTV trash entirely, and it does rear its head here as a few of the characters are experimented on in scenes that, although nicely gory, have a sense of “been there, done that”, but in all honesty, it feels like Zampaglionie knows this is merely going through the motions. However, there is some memorable back related trauma here to spice things up, then as things move on again and we get some more backstory on the villain before a final confrontation. I still could’t help but feel that the ending was a letdown, but it makes enough sense to not feel like a complete wash.
In some ways this does feel like the work of a filmmaker relatively new to the craft, the performances aren’t uniformly all that strong and there is a sense that Zampaglionie is box ticking in certain ways, but what it does show is that when it feels like he’s interested, be it in the dark humour of discovering who the villain idolises, or the creeping through misty forests which has some brilliantly atmospheric sound design, there’s a sense here that this is a man who knows what he wants to do and has the skills to do it.
And this brings us to Tulpa, a film which you can’t say looks like being “box ticking” in any way. Well, I suppose in one way… A story with a woman who finds a strange club where “true freedom comes from promiscuous sex”, only to find herself caught in a mystery as her partners in pleasure start getting murdered one-by-one, and with few to help her as if she goes to the police, her sordid secret life could ruin her career. That plotline alone would have me intrigued, an erotically charged giallo is always something I’d check out, but with this director at the helm, I can’t help but think that this could be one of the highlights of the festival as Zampaglionie looks to be unrestrained in crafting a sure to be gorgeous and atmospheric thriller which should hopefully benefit from fitting music, because one things for sure, Shadow showed that he knows how to score a scene. There’s not much word on Tulpa thus far, as this will be the film’s World Premiere, but I for one am incredibly excited to see what the crazily-named Italian has up his sleeve and we’ve only a couple of weeks until we find out.