Black Belly of the Tarantula, The (DVD)

Starring Giancarlo Giannini, Claudine Auger, Barbara Bouchet

Directed by Paolo Cavara

Distributed by Blue Underground

According to Wikipedia “the word giallo is Italian for ‘yellow’ and stems from the genre’s origin in paperback novels with yellow covers.” In film, however, the reference is to a genre of movies that focus heavily on terror, crime, and eroticism. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know it; I had to look it up myself. I’d heard the term before and knew sort of what the intent was, but that’s a lot more succinct that I ever would have been. Most gialli are characterized by whodunit type stories, often involving killing women, and said women are often in some stage of undress.

Though I don’t have immense experience with this particularly subgenre, it seems to me that The Black Belly of the Tarantula (La Tarantola dal ventre nero, in Italian) embodies all of those aspects extremely well. The movie begins with the stunningly beautiful Maria Zani (Barbara Bouchet) lying naked on a table in a fancy spa. She’s getting a thorough massage and frankly sort of teasing the young masseur. All of this is done to soft music full of a woman’s breathy moans. It’s a pretty sexy opening. Maria’s massage is interrupted by a phone call from her husband, wanting to see her. They have a bit of heated conversation, and then the scene cuts to him smacking her around. He’s gotten a photo of her with another man and accuses her of attempting to blackmail him by threatening his business, which she of course denies.

Later that night a man in a very nice house (I love the lamp) is doing something diabolical…heating what appears to be a long needle of some kind. You don’t see his face, but he’s wearing plastic gloves and a black overcoat, so you know he’s up to no good. And he’s not. He sneaks into Maria’s house and, after a brief struggle, stabs the needle into the back of her neck. She then lies paralyzed as he cuts her belly open. We don’t see what he does to her after that, which is probably best. The next morning the body is discovered. At this point we meet Inspector Tellini (a young and very handsome Giancarlo Giannini) as he questions Mr. Zani and learns the couple were separated. Mr. Zani is a good suspect, but Tellini is a terrible detective. Thankfully he seems to be aware of that fact, as he tells his wife he’s not cut out for the job. Zani goes into hiding and hires a PI, a very strange man who calls himself The Catapult and is about 3 feet tall.

When another woman is killed in a similar manner — well, similar in that they are both paralyzed with the needle before being killed; the second victim owns a fur store, traffics cocaine, and has her throat slit — the investigation is stepped up further. They learn that the needles are acupuncture needles, and when the missing Zani is sighted at a beach house, it comes to light that he’s close friends with an acupuncturist. Looks like the case against him is really piling up! But there’s also the matter of the mysterious young woman, played by the lovely Claudine Auger, who’s been lurking in the vicinity of both crime scenes (not that the police see her, but she’s obviously doing something there). Still, Zani pops up in the back seat of Tellini’s car and tells him he didn’t kill Maria and is in fact trying to find the killer. He asks Tellini to back off, and Tellini seems to think that his coming in person instead of calling makes this an honest request (yeah, he’s really not cut out for this job).

Instead Tellini decides to meet with an entomologist. At first it’s unclear why, but then the man explains about (listen closely, folks, cause here’s where the terrible title gets explained…sort of) the tarantula’s only enemy: the tarantula hawk wasp. The wasp apparently stings the tarantula, which paralyzes the spider, and then disembowels it and lays its little wasp eggs inside the belly of its foe. Thus, the body of the spider feeds the growing babies. Of course, the tarantula is alive throughout the whole thing, as it’s eaten alive. Normally, I’d feel bad about this, but I hate spiders, so I don’t a bit. Anyway, obviously this is what our guy is doing to his victims (the second one’s throat is only slit because he’s interrupted).

So this visit to the good bug doctor seems fruitful, and then we find out he also knew the second victim and is in fact her partner in drug smuggling. It’s genius, really; he smuggles the cocaine into the country by using it as the “sand” in the boxes with the spiders. Those must be some hopped up arachnids! That would be a scary movie, if you ask me…Spiders on Speed!

Tellini may be a bad detective, but he’s a pretty decent guy. You get to see him interact with his wife, Anna (Stefania Sandrelli), who although she has terrible taste in lamps (this one’s hideous) is another hottie. Someone else watches them “interact” too — and records it. Soon you learn that the mysterious young woman and the man in the naked photo with Maria Zani are in cahoots. So it’s pretty clear there’s some blackmail going on here. And The Catapult agrees, directing Mr. Zani to the apartment of the man in the photos, with the police not far behind. Zani chases the blackmailer, and Tellini chases them both, but the whole thing ends badly with very little new info…except the name of the blackmailer’s next target. Tellini goes to meet her but flubs up again, and our killer gets his third victim (and without her telling the police anything either).

The killer has become fixated on Tellin. Why, when he’s the most terrible detective, I’m not sure. But soon we learn who our mysterious young woman is (her name is Laura), and another murder of another of her accomplices brings the police right to her door. Finally, we start to get some clues as the identity of the killer and move towards our climax, which comes on rather suddenly. I don’t want to give any more away because from here to the climax is a short journey. In the end the identity of the killer is revealed, and it’s not a complete surprise…but you more than likely won’t figure it out beforehand. The explanation makes sense, although it kind of leaves you with a “that’s it?” feeling.

The movie itself moves pretty slowly after the first two murders, and the acting is a trifle flat, but it is fairly interesting the first time around. It doesn’t have a very high replay value once you know who the killer is though. Still, it’s not bad at all, definitely worth a watch if you’ve got time to kill on a rainy day. And you can choose to watch it either in the original Italian with subtitles or dubbed in English. For those who appreciate the Italian cinematic style, like myself, you’ll be pleased with the look of the film (Hollywood should take a look at the warmth and color of the Italians). The special features are pretty weak. The disc includes only one trailer, a TV spot, and a 15-minute interview with Lorenzo Danon, son of writer/producer Marcello Danon, in Italian with subtitles. The interview isn’t bad although it’s mostly just Lorenzo talking with a few film clips. He talks about his father and how he got into making movies, and there’s some interesting info. Not terrible, but definitely no great shakes either.

The best thing about the movie, aside from the look of course, is the lookers. The women are almost all extremely lovely, and not one of them is as stick-and-bones skinny at the tepid Hollywood starlets today. If you like gialli, Italina cinema, good looking broads being harrowed by menacing men, murder mysteries, or the deliciously yummy young Giancarlo Giannini, you’ll enjoy The Black Belly of the Tarantula.

Special Features
Interview with Lorenzo Danon
Theatrical trailer
TV spot

3 out of 5

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Jon Condit