31 Nights Of GIALLOWEEN: The Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)

For tonight's GIALLOWEEN feature presentation...we delve into Paolo Cavara's lone giallo classic (unless you are inclined to include Plot of Fear...however, we are not inclined to include that in any giallo conversation)...1971's Black Belly of the Tarantula.

Shot on location in Rome, Italy, Black Belly of the Tarantula  is the result of Argento's growing popularity in the early 70's with his original gialli. Italian cinema began to produce subsequent knock-offs in order to cash in on the thriller madness...with most being subpar attempts. However, Black Belly  was part of the better wave of gialli that came out during that great era and has become Cavara's shining moment. Because, while the film has its fair share of missteps and awkward moments, it still ranks highly among fans of the giallo and ends up being a pretty entertaning experience.

The film opens with a pretty hot massage featuring the insanely gorgeous Barbara Bouchet as disgruntled wife, Maria Zani and a blind masseuse. We are treated to an all nude Bouchet, displaying most of her *ahem* assets while also dropping hints that she hates her husband, thus setting up red herring number one in the form of her husband, Paolo Zani (giallo staple Silvano Tranquilli). Maria is quickly murdered by a sadistic killer who enjoys paralyzing his/her victims first with a turkey-baster style needle, rendering them helpless...then proceeding to cut 'em up while still conscious. Pretty nightmarish, if you ask me. It is an intriguing element that resenates with the viewer and truly creates a formidable antagonist. Perhaps the most noticeable deviance of this particular killer is that there are no black leather gloves worn during the executions here. Instead, we see the killer opt for some strangely thick surgical gloves.

Anyway, the polizia show up to investigate the murder and we are introduced to famed Italian actor Mr. Giancarlo Giannini as Inspector Tellini...a detective who might have been better suited as a vacuum cleaner salesman. Still, he's got charm and screen presence for days...so, his character is given a pass. A word on this particular giallo character. I would have liked Tellini much better had he been an artist of some kind. Maybe an antique dealer, or something. Anything other than the inept inspector that he plays because his amateur detective skills would have served the story much better as such and we wouldn't have to deal with the whole useless sex tape subplot that forces Tellini's resignation.

The film also stars Claudine Auger, Barbara Bach and Rosella Falk...along with a pretty strong ensemble that tightens up the shortcomings quite a bit. One could forgive all of the convoluted ideas if the actors are on point. I think that's why I like Tellini so much...because of the great Giannini. Had they cast someone else I don't think the role would have been so memorable.

I feel like the movie suffers mostly from introducing stuff like all of these odd and out of place red herrings just for the sake of it...rather than building a mystery that we can get behind. At one point, I thought that the actual tarantula (a cute pink-toe) in the film might be the actual killer. Seriously...so many crazy red herrings. There's even a blackmail subplot that never goes anywhere significant, not to mention a rooftop fight, complete with amazing obvious dummy falling-to-its-death scene. The gore and hot nudity are pretty standard for a giallo...however, I will point out that these particular tropes make it all feel more like a paint-by-numbers giallo rather than a genuine stand-out. There's not much style to wrap all of the elements together...whereas an auteur like Bava or Fulci might have put their own particular stamp on the film.

Still, Black Belly of the Tarantula  is a good example of the genre filled with great performances and a wonderful soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. I would have loved watching it in theaters back when it first came out...and it still serves up a fun time on any given night. It's just not a giallo that goes too much deeper than the sum of its parts. I pretty much guessed the killer when he first shows up onscreen. Ok...maybe not when that particular person first shows up...but, let's just say I figured it out pretty early. It's an obvious one. Unlike that of an Argento...or even a Bava film...where the killer comes out of left field and surprises the goddamn out of the audience. The surprise in Black Belly  comes more in wondering how the hell Tellini gets home in time to fight the killer in the film's climax. Oh...by the by...have I mentioned that there's a beautiful special edition release of that great soundtrack HERE?!

Thanks for reading,

Peter Neal