Review: Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)

Written by Lucile Laks
Directed by Paolo Cavara
Starring Giancarlo Giannini, Claudine Auger, Barbara Bouchet, Barbara Bach, Giancarlo Prete
Released August 12, 1971 (Italy)
RT 98 min. (uncut)
Home Video Blue Underground (DVD)
Classic Horrors rating = 7 (out of 10)


As much gialli as I’ve watched lately (Don’t Torture a Duckling, The Suspicious Death of a Minor, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage), the tropes of the subgenre are so familiar by now that I’d consider Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971) to be either a merely average movie lacking anything special, or a solid giallo containing all “the right stuff.”  Let’s go with the latter, since I really enjoyed watching it.

The serial killer in this one wears surgical gloves instead of black leather gloves, but still dons the traditional black coat and hat.  The victims are pretty, young women who are somehow associated with a blackmail conspiracy.  There are the usual red herrings.  However, I was able to successfully identify the killer from the very beginning.  Having grown accustomed to the formula, I gambled on the least suspicious person and won the jackpot.

If all of this so far is not terribly unique, at least the personality of the murders themselves is.  Like the titular tarantula that is trapped by a wasp, the victims are first paralyzed, then killed.  If the women are conscious, the perpetrator gets no pleasure from the experience.  They must be aware of what’s happening to them.  We get most of this insight during a pre-climax scene as Anna Tellini (Stefania Sandrelli) is attacked in her home.

It’s a suspenseful scene as her husband, Inspector Tellini (Giancarlo Giannini), races home to save her.  A law enforcement agent is the protagonist in this story, not an innocent bystander trying to solve the mystery because the police are incompetent.  Giannini is fantastic in the role, creating a full-fledged character that learns as he goes he may not be cut out for this type of work.  The screenplay by Lucile Laks offers the actor this luxury of character development.

The murder scenes are tense.  The killer has to hold his victims still enough to insert a long needle into the backs of their necks.  Then, they’re laid flat on their backs and the killer cuts open their blouses (or sheer nightgowns), so he/she can slowly cut them on the left sides of their lower stomachs.  Though director Paolo Cavara shows the actual cutting in two cases, it’s not terribly graphic.  He uses an obviously fake knife that secretes fake blood as it’s dragged along the skin.


The plot of Black Belly of the Tarantula is perhaps more complicated than usual.  I wouldn’t say it’s confusing, but added to the aforementioned blackmail conspiracy is some type of drug trafficking subplot.  Neither one matters much by the end.  They are probably included to sustain the mystery.  When it comes down to it, though, the killer is written off as just another nymphomaniac.

The movie concludes with a Psycho-like epilogue where a lot of effort is put into explaining the killer’s motivation.  In what we might today consider “meta,” Inspector Tellini cuts short the doctor who’s explaining.  “Please, no more.  I’m not up to it.”  This falls right in line with the character’s path during the movie; however, it also expresses one of two things.  Either the explanation doesn’t really matter, or we just don’t care about it.  It’s a giallo.  We know the routine by now.

Today’s passport stamp:ItalyPart of the Countdown to Halloween.  Tomorrow… Germany!


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