By ROBERTO E. D’ONOFRIO
The desire to stay positive during the tough times we’re going through due to the pandemic was the creative drive behind BIANCA, the short psychothriller directed while in quarantine by Italian filmmaker and musician (leader of the band Tiromancino) Federico Zampaglione. The reception was strong enough that the director, whose features include the backwoods chiller SHADOW and the modern giallo TULPA, released a follow-up short, BIANCA–FASE 2 (PHASE 2) on Friday (you can watch both below), and he spoke with RUE MORGUE about both.
“The forced lockdown due to this virus–not being able to go on tour, playing my music and meeting fans–plus my sadness over the illness of some friends, was getting me down in the dumps,” Zampaglione says. “One night I was chatting on-line with my friend, producer and screenwriter Gianluigi Perrone, who is living in China, the country where the virus originated, and we came up with the idea of turning this difficult time into something creative and positive. So, we wrote the script of the first BIANCA short.”
Zampaglione shot BIANCA at home in four days on his iPad, “because its screen is bigger than the one on a smartphone and, as I wear glasses, it was easier for me,” he explains. Starring his daughter Linda in the title role and his companion, actress Giglia Marra, with an appearance by Zampaglione himself, BIANCA is about a mother and daughter’s quiet family home being threatened by a mysterious stalker who seems to have broken into their house to terrorize them. But just as in any good giallo, there’s an unexpected final twist. “I paid homage to the genres I love, as in the shot through the peephole, the voiceover and the kitchen knife grabbed by Giglia; we made one using cardboard and tin foil for the scenes where she is running. But I toned down the horror elements, showing that blood on the floor is actually strawberry jam [incurring the wrath of Bianca’s mom, worried about the parquet] and depicting Bianca as a likable character. I wanted my short to watched by everyone, even by those who are not accustomed to the horror genre, because I think the reality we’re living in now is already tragic enough.”
BIANCA also emphasizes the digital divide between current younger and older generations, and Zampaglione built the title character out of current kids’ skill at technology. Linda, who’s just 10 years old, even helped her father with the editing! “I shot it at home while in lockdown and had no idea how to edit it, although I’ve often overseen the editing of my films,” he recalls. “Linda came to my aid, advising me to download iMovie, a free editing software, and taught me how to use it, so we edited it together.”
Following in the footsteps of her father (she sings, acts and plays piano and guitar), Linda is a revelation, revealing a bright personality and strong acting talent as her character steals the show. Bianca has the candor of a child and, at the same time, the craftiness of an adult, stopping at nothing to get what she wants. She made such an impression that her father decided to bring her character back. “I received many positive reviews for BIANCA,” Zampaglione says, “even from people who don’t like this genre, like the fans of my band. Everyone wanted to see Bianca again, some even suggesting I create a web series, so when Italy exited the lockdown, I brought her into Phase 2 and took Bianca out of her home.”
BIANCA–FASE 2 quickly gained its own enthusiastic reviews after it hit YouTube. Shooting outdoors, in a beautiful Rome park, Zampaglione turns it into a spooky labyrinth inhabited by a creepy psycho, in which Bianca and her mother are stranded. The filmmaker plays with the genre here, and fans will spot references to Dario Argento’s PHENOMENA (the swarm of insects that attacks the mom), and SUSPIRIA (the statues in the park that seem to whisper in an ancient language), along with other Italian classics. He even pays homage to Asian horror by introducing a Sadako-esque ghost.
But most of all, Zampaglione demonstrates that with no budget, his iPad, a good idea, the help of his friend Perrone and his family (FASE 2 also features a cameo by actress Claudia Gerini, his former companion and Linda’s mother), he’s able to express his creativity, and shoot an entertaining story with a unique blend of mystery and thriller elements, a throwback to the golden era of Italian horror. “It’s very important right now to stay positive,” he says, “and on top of that, I had the chance to get back to my old love: horror.” Zampaglione picked up the scepter of Italy’s new King of Fright with SHADOW and TULPA, and now, after a hiatus from movies due to focusing on his music, he’s back to stay. The Italian horror scene needs an artist with his personality, passion and inventiveness, and hopefully he will find the support he deserves.