Paolo Cavara, 1971
Starring: Giancarlo Giannini, Claudine Auger, Barbara Bouchet, Barbara Bach
Someone is killing off beautiful women all associated with a blackmail scheme. The killer's M.O. is unusually horrifying: he paralyses women by stabbing them with a poisoned needle and slashes open their bellies. Because of the paralysis, they have no choice but to lay back and watch themselves die. The frustrated Inspector Tellini (Giannini) has to solve the crimes before another woman is killed or before he becomes a victim himself.
Best known for the schockumentary Mondo Cane (1962), director Paolo Cavara didn’t leave much of a mark on the giallo genre (he later made Plot of Fear in 1976), but Black Belly of the Tarantula is an effective, creepy riff on Argento’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Aside from a brutal killer who slaughters lovely women who are somehow all connected, the two films share an excellent score from Ennio Morricone and a subplot where the protagonist takes a trip to a doctor/scientist to unlock an important clue. In Bird with the Crystal Plumage, a naturalist helps identify the call of a mysterious bird, but in this much more lurid film, Inspector Tellini figures out that some tarantula specimens are guarding a supply of cocaine – though the drug subplot fades away in favor of a more ludicrous solution
Giancarlo Giannini (Seven Beauties, Lili Marleen) is is like a rare and beautiful flower. Here he's a bit subdued, but is still fantastic. This is also a chance to see him on the cusp of European stardom, as he followed this film with performances in The Seduction of Mimi (1972), Love and Anarchy (1973), The Beast (1974), Swept Away (1974), Seven Beauties (1975), and so on. His lackluster inspector follows on the heels of the previous year’s Death Occurred Last Night, where the police officer protagonist is beaten down by crime, exhausted, and strangely domesticated – he would rather be at home with his beautiful wife than off fighting evil-doers.
There are a lot of other familiar faces besides Giannini, namely three Bond girls: Claudine Auger (Thunderball), Barbara Bach (The Spy Who Loved Me), and Barbara Bouchet (Casino Royale), as well as giallo regular Rosella Falk (Seven Blood Stained Orchids). The ladies of the film are exceptionally beautiful, and as part of it takes place at a spa, the script builds in plenty of opportunities for them to be scantily clad. With that said, Black Belly of the Tarantula doesn’t have an overwhelming amount of sex – this is basically about a guy who just wants to lay in bed with his wife, while she’s busy buying them all new furniture – and it’s fairly light on the gore.
The film manages to be effectively disturbing without showing much actual violence, though the premise – that the killer paralyzes and disembowels his victims – is quite grisly, even for a giallo. This is also far sleazier than something like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and it bears some resemblance to Fulci’s nastier and more hallucinatory Lizard in a Woman’s Skin or his mean-spirited Don’t Torture a Duckling. The film’s first victim is sexually promiscuous and makes arrangements over the phone for an affair while her husband storms in and confronts her with pictures of her and a different lover.
Black Belly of the Tarantula comes recommended thanks to come disturbing, suspenseful set pieces and the ever-dazzling Giancarlo Giannini. It doesn't tread much new ground, but is well-made and entertaining. It's a solid giallo that unfortunately fell under the radar for too long. There are some reviews out there calling it the “greatest giallo made” and labelling it a masterpiece, which I disagree with, but it does boast some beautiful cinematography and great score by Ennio Morricone. Fortunately Blue Underground rescued it from obscurity with this region 1 DVD release. Pick it up and prepare yourself for some spine tingling mystery and gut spilling crime.