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The Black Belly of the Tarantula


‘…if you can handle the murkiness, it’s well acted, slick and full of tension…’

Some quality detective work now; it’s coming up for a good twenty years ago since I was on the Lido at the Venice Film Festival, listening to Tarantino waxing lyrical about the art of the giallo in the piano bar of the Hotel Excelsior. He was introducing a series of hand-picked entries in the stylish, nasty genre, including Paulo Cavara’s 1971 serial killer movie, which at that time was pretty hard to see. Decades later, such films are accessible to all via YouTube, and although 240p isn’t ideal for a film with such a smart appearance, it’ll do for those keen to gain their rare giallo badges.

Checklist? Faceless, gloved killers stalking the more modernist areas of Rome? Cops and robbers foot-chases? A breathy soundtrack from Ennio Morricone? Cigarette-smoking interrogations? Women who decorate their houses with naked photographs of themselves? Detectives who love their cats? All the usual elements are present and correct. There’s a great cast here including Giancarlo Giannini, plus double Barbara duty via Bouchet and Bach. The Black Belly of the Tarantula is a dark, defiantly non-PC thriller, waiting precisely zero seconds to get to the first of many dis-robings, this one in a health spa where a mysterious blind masseuse works. The beautiful Maria (Bouchet) is murdered, her husband is suspected, and Inspector Tellini (Giannini) is on the case. Maria is the first of several women found murdered through a poisoned needle that quickly incapacitates them; we discover that a species of wasp will use a toxin to paralyze and eviscerate a tarantula to lay its eggs in the corpse. A private investigator knows as The Catapult provides some clues, but Tellini is getting old and the killer is only getting more confident…

Ok, so the dialogue isn’t quite Tarantino here; ‘I found a bum,’ says one character. “I was unable to save a woman last night’ our world-weary cop explains, and it’s understandable that he prefers cuddling his cat to the dangers of tracking down a killer whose methods are genuinely disturbing. The Black Belly of the Tarantula isn’t for the faint hearted; the killings are shown in simple but still shocking detail, although the complex web of relationships uncovered keeps proceedings from being too one-note.

The Black Belly of the Tarantula is very much against the grain of today’s cinema; it’s a very male film, and women are generally seen as beautiful victims, reflective of pervasive attitudes of 1970’s Italian exploitation cinema. But if you can handle the murkiness, it’s well acted, slick and full of tension; the scene in which Tellini’s girlfriend watches him get ready for a disastrous meeting that turns out to be a trap is full of portent. While a little too rich for most audiences, this is certainly a giallo that keeps you guessing, and worth digging out for those with the stomach for the tarantula’s black, black belly.

To avoid causing offence, I’ve looked at the trailer below and can confirm it’s absolutely not fit for human consumption so please don’t watch.


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  1. I probably saw this back in the day when I was attracted by the sleaze rather than being aware there was something artistic called giallo. But very disappointing on the tarantula front. And probably demeaning too. Is it a tarantula’s fault it has a black belly. If it was pink, would there be an outcry?

  2. I’m actually trying to rectify my embarrassing lack of knowledge about films made in the 1970s. I’ve got a list of 10 from some older friends of must watch 70s films…..this is surprisingly not on the list.

    • This is a must watch for Tarantino fans, but completely obscure by other standards. Not the place to start…

  3. I watched the trailer. Yup, male film. Yup, tarantula. I assume the tarantula was a male also. I’ve never seen a tarantula in person, and I’m quite good with that. I’m also good with the trailer serving as my lone experience with this project.

    • Very male film, but that’s OK. Very big spider, and I’m less cool with that.
      I review these things so you dodn’t have to, so find something less murky to watch!

  4. Or, as a respected Canadian film critic put it: “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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