The Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)

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*. On the cover of the Blue Underground DVD of this film there’s a blurb that calls this “the best giallo ever made!” This is opinion is credited to a website called Horrorview. I actually went there to read the full review, which was written by someone called “Monkeyman.” Note to self: Do not trust Monkeyman.
*. This may not be the worst giallo ever made, but it’s a long, long way from the best.
*. You expect a giallo to have a complex story with lots of red herrings and kinky twists, but this film is just a mess. It’s not even clear what the title is referring to. There’s a nature documentary insert where a bug doctor tells us of how a certain type of wasp kills a tarantula and lays its eggs in the spider’s belly without killing it, sort of Alien style. It makes for a gruesome premise, but it’s never clear why the killer is choosing to dispatch his victims in such a complicated and cruel way. And the spider being killed by the wasp isn’t even a tarantula. The only tarantula we see is the one being used to guard the cocaine. As for the black belly part, I don’t know what this is getting at.
*. It’s no surprise that the killer is the one person the movie wants you to believe it can’t be. But then he’s so improbable a killer you’re still left mystified. His only way to get back at women (because of his impotence) is to pose as a blind man at a spa? And why such a bizarre modus operandi? The obligatory psychological explanation at the end is rushed and pathetic: he is “a psychopathic personality who’s developed paranoia.” But this tells us nothing we didn’t already know.
*. I wasn’t even sure what the connection was, or if there was a connection, between the killer and the blackmail scheme. Was he in on it? Or were the two plots completely independent?
*. Usually you can at least count on these films to be stylish, but this one just looks sleazy. We begin with an erotic massage scene that has no function in the plot at all. It may, however, have had some influence on Ennio Morricone’s score, which is full of blissful sighs inappropriate for the rest of the picture. I wonder if Morricone even bothered watching any more after this opening scene. The giallo genre, whatever its excesses, was rarely exploitative in this way and it sets a wrong note.
*. Most of the rest of the movie is filled with style fails. Director Paolo Cavara seems out of his depth. In the first murder we see a wine bottle knocked over and emptying on the carpet as the woman is disembowelled. This isn’t clever. In the next murder the victim runs into a room full of mannequins (someone had been watching their Bava) and goes crazy tearing about. The camera goes crazy with her, which makes everything very confusing without any good reason. Then the scene ends with a bunch of blood splashed all over one of the mannequins. Well, give Cavara points for trying. We’re still giving those out, aren’t we?
*. The special effects aren’t that great. There are no creative or explicit (read: “good”) kills. The man falling from the roof is just a dummy, and those contacts shouldn’t have fooled anyone much less a police detective.
*. One of the film’s main claims to fame today is the presence of no less than three — count ’em three! — Bond girls. These are Barbara Bouchet (from the first Casino Royale), Claudine Auger (Thunderball), and Barbara Bach (The Spy Who Loved Me). As an added Bond bonus even Giancarlo Giannini would appear as Rene Mathis in the Daniel Craig vehicles Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.
*. I like the idea of models/actresses getting to live in Italy and finding work in such fare. There are worse ways to make a living in film. Though I recall Claudine Auger saying that she has no recollection of making A Bay of Blood, released the same year. I wonder if she’s even more embarrassed by this outing.
*. In any event, none of the actors are any good. Giannini may be the worst, over-emoting like a madman. The final fight between him and the killer is typical. Why on earth does he throw his gun away and just run at the killer, to take him on hand-to-hand? And why does he turn on the waterworks full blast, crying over his wife body, when she’s only been paralyzed? Shouldn’t he be trying to revive her or call an ambulance?
*. I love gialli, but this is a real stinker. The writing, directing, and acting are terrible. The plot was confused as hell, I wasn’t even remotely interested in the killer or what he was up to, and there’s no suspense at all. Even fans might want to take a pass.

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