April 24, 2011

Black Belly Of The Tarantula (1971)

Directed by Paolo Cavara. Written by Lucile Laks. Starring Giancarlo Giannini ("Inspector Tellini"), Claudine Auger ("Laura"), Barbara Bouchet ("Maria Zani"), and Rossella Faulk ("Franca Valentino"). Unrated. Body Count: 7 people and a tarantula. Boob Count: 27.

Source: Region 1 DVD (Blue Underground)
Run time: 01:37:46
Country: Italy, France

WARNING: Minor spoilers ahead. I reveal the identities of two of the killer's victims, which isn't a spoiler but eliminates the possibilities of them being the killer. Don't worry, though, there are about a dozen other possible suspects to choose from in this movie. Also keep in mind that these are minor characters.

It's a positive sign when a movie opens with Barbara Bouchet naked and oiled up, getting a full-body massage as the soothing sounds of Ennio Morricone play in the background. It's not a good sign, however, when Barbara Bouchet ends up getting killed moments later. Oh well, somebody's gotta be the first victim, right? In this case, it's Barbie. What makes the killer in BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA stand out from the psychopathic murderers in pretty much every other Giallo is this person's technique of claiming victims. A large needle is inserted into the back of the victim's neck, paralyzing them completely, at which point the killer proceeds to carve them up while they're still alive (not for long, mind you) and unable to do anything about it.

Aside from the killer's method, there's nothing unique about this person. The killer's appearance is comprised of the traditional fedora, black trench coat, and gloves; in general the killer is a shadowy figure, which is essential in hiding their identity from both the audience and the other character's in the film. But, that's enough about the killer. What's refreshing about BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA is that it follows not the citizen-turned-amateur-investigator, but the actual detective as he works on getting leads. The murder of Bouchet's character in the first ten or so minutes triggers a police investigation, which brings out Inspector Tellini (Giancarlo Giannini). Initially, the inspector doesn't have much to work with, but, luckily for him, the killer strikes again sooner than later, and the identity of the second victim opens up some new doors for the inspector in terms of determining the killer's pattern.

Is that a giant wooden penis in the background?

If you're familiar with the Giallo genre, there's nothing further I could mention about this film that'll come as a shock; it follows the traditional Giallo plot structure and features many of the conventions of the genre. This one plays it safe but still manages to be a good representation of the genre and have everything you could want from a movie like this: babes (Bouchet, Auger, Bach), blood, style, and a dummy being thrown from a rooftop. There's also an insect expert who keeps a tarantula in a container of cocaine, which was both funny and pretty fucking random.

I was really impressed with how some of the death scenes in BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA were filmed. The second victim's death in particular, which took place in a clothing store, was great. This person was surrounded by mannequins as the killer struck, and I especially loved how the film kept cutting away from the victim and to one of the random mannequins in the room. Some of them looked animate because of how they would move as the victim knocked them over as a result of her struggling. Besides, mannequins just bother me general. Also in regards to the second victim, whoever did the voice work in post-production for this character provided some of the best screaming I've ever heard in an Italian genre film.

The death of Barbara Bach's character was also quite impressive in its presentation, and the reason why I mention her by name instead of referring to the order in which she was killed is because there will be a screenshot of her posted below with the killer standing over her. This was perhaps my favorite moment in the film, visually, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share it. If I have a complaint about how the death scenes were filmed (and the rest of the film, for that matter), it's that the cinematography lacked the type of flash that I like to see in these types of films. This is just a minor complaint, though, and mostly has to do with me being spoiled by the unnecessarily flamboyant cinematography of the Gialli by some of the masters of the genre, like Argento and Martino. However, I do feel that - with the film's insect theme - they could have played with symbolic color schemes and costume/set design.

BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA isn't a great example of the genre, but a refreshing one in which, for once, the cops in the film are doing their job! As much as I love the amateur investigator convention, I would personally much rather watch a Giallo that somewhat follows a police procedural aspect. This one ranks, in my opinion, just below films like Lenzi's SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS that are generally above average and really good in their own right, but never fully attain that certain "something" that make them special entries into the genre. For Giallo beginners (Gia-ginners?), I'd recommend this as a secondary film behind some of the classics, but worth checking out at some point for people who are already fans of the genre and haven't gotten around to seeing it yet.

Score: 6.5


  1. I know what you mean about lacking that "certain something". 'BBotT' has a hell of a lot going for it, but it never fully engages you and I still can't quite put my finger on why.

  2. When I posted this, I actually tracked down your review of it right away to get a second opinion and was glad to know that you basically felt the same way about it is I did, although I seem to have enjoyed it slightly more than you.