42nd Street Cinema

The Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)

The giallo, one of my favourite sub-genres and one that essentially served as a gateway for me to fully appreciate Italian cinema. Here at 42nd Street Cinema, I don't feel as though my said love for gialli is fully conveyed and so, with that in mind, I'm going to be taking a look at Paolo Cavara's The Black Belly of the Tarantula/La tarantola dal ventre nero.

Initially starting out as a controversial mondo-documentary filmmaker, Paolo Cavara co-wrote and co-directed Mondo Cane (1962) and Women of the World (1963) with Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi.

Cavara would later go on to direct The Black Belly of The Tarantula/La tarantola dal ventre nero, a competent entry into the gialli sub-genre and a cash-in on the success of Argento's Animal Trilogy.
Yet, while it's not a stand out title, especially when compared to Argento's The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970), Martino's The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971) and Dallamano's What Have You Done to Solange? (1972), it most certainly delivers what a fan would come to expect, with all the trimmings; bright red blood, exposed flesh, shiny blades and ample amounts of red herrings included.
Starring: Giancarlo Giannini, Barbara Bouchet, Claudine Auger, Silvano Tranquilli, Barbara Bach, Stefania Sandrelli, Rossella Falk and Ezio Marano.

Opening with a torridly erotic massage of Barbara Bouchet's back and thighs; the scene is accompanied by a sexually charged score courtesy of Ennio Morricone. We soon slip into the narrative and quickly discover that Maria (Bouchet) is involved in an illicit affair, however she's actually a victim of blackmail, with the materialization of a photograph sent to her husband. Before she is even given a chance to explain, she is stalked and brutally murdered by a shadowy figure. The killer's unique method of immolation begins with a acupuncture needle dipped in the venom of a rare wasp and so when thrust into a victim's neck, it renders them essentially paralyzed, however allows them to witness their own death. Once paralyzed the victim is then stabbed in their stomach and partially slit open.

It would appear that the customers of a highbrow health spa are being brutally offed. Inspector Tellini (Giannini) is assigned to solve the case, unfortunately and frustratingly for him every time he picks up on a new lead they end up being killed off. While working this case, Tellini comes to unravel a drug smuggling ring, who hide bags of cocaine in cartons containing exotic spiders. Unlike a lot of gialli which suffer from dull or sluggish plots, these subplots really add a lot to the overall pacing and at the same time helps to establish and develop lead characters.
Tellini soon realizes that he and his wife Anna (Sandrelli) have become targets and must act fast in order to solve this ever-expanding mystery.

The Black Belly of the Tarantula tends to utilize the conventional formulaic gialli plot development and while it has a rather lackluster twist, I must praise Cavara for the gorgeous mise en scène, which is often a direct contrast to the unflinching misogynistic violence displayed on-screen. From screen splitting close-ups to brilliantly framed murder scenes, Cavara's initiative compositions of lighting and colour use add to the most intense sequences and border on almost art-house sensibilities. Ennio Morricone's tantalizingly seductive score is another strong attribute which serves only to intensify the visual element.
On top of that, the film boasts not 1 but 3 bond girls as cast members who don't really add much apart from their outstanding beauty. The film is predominantly held together by Giancarlo Giannini, who portrays the emotionally dialed in Police Inspector perfectly.

All in all, The Black Belly of the Tarantula is a prime example of the genius of gialli and how captivating the sub-genre can be. Bravo!


Scare Sarah said...

Oh god, I HATE spiders.

Christina said...

i think this is my favourite review.
fucking brilliant.

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