The Black Belly of the Tarantula July 11, 2015
Unless you tend to believe that subgenres crumble once their prime decade ends, gialli never died — just rested in blood colored coffins until gorehounds rediscovered their artfully minded slasher perks in the 2000s and couldn’t help but lap them up. The Black Belly of the Tarantula is one of the better known examples, so long as you pretend Dario Argento and Mario Bava don’t exist for a moment. Because gialli not helmed by Argento or Bava strove for killer offings rather than smartly nourished whodunit charades, and, unfortunately for this film, which often seems to rank high on those blood soaked “best giallo” lists, does nothing more than pale in comparison to all those damned Argento and Bava pictures. Stylish to a fault but also shoddily dubbed, acted, written, and directed, it intrigues for bits and pieces (those bits and pieces being the murders themselves) and then leaves us in the cold with Giancarlo Giannini, who, despite his later Oscar fame, turns charisma into emotionless leaden material with just the bat of an eyelash.
As in all decent giallo films, The Black Belly of the Tarantula details a series of murders, all involving attractive women and cringey circumstances. The killer, maniacal and sex obsessed (a shock), practices a particularly cruel method of slaughter — in addition to his butcher knife, he brings along a needle dipped in black wasp venom, causing paralysis for anyone who gets the stuff in their bloodstream. That way, his victims are forced to remain defenseless as they watch (and feel) their insides get ripped open. A joy.
Young woman after young woman is stalked and slashed; each murder is edited with such impressive precision (cross-cutting is as well-executed as an excruciating long-shot) that we can’t help but want to applaud Paolo Cavara for taking a route authentically suspenseful rather than hackish. But I digress. As the madman sneakily wanders around, eyeing potential victims, the killings themselves are being investigated by Inspector Tellini (Giannini), a young policeman not so sure he can stomach such a high amount of atrocities for much longer.
While The Black Belly of the Tarantula keeps us interested with its frenzied mystery-meets-gore approach, nonexistent are the normally intoxicating images presented by most gialli. Aside for clean-cut edits and assertively framed shots (mostly found within the scope of a murder), the film is mostly dry, thrilling only when action is present. In better giallo pictures, such as Suspiria and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (both directed by Argento), terror is always part of the atmosphere — distinctively nightmarish imagery, after all, is what makes giallo so much finer than your average slasher. The Black Belly of the Tarantula oft threatens to be your average slasher — so thank goodness so much attention is put into how the killings are shot. Otherwise, we’d have a bad case of sex-and-death-101 nobody wants.
But aside from a grouping of inventive offings (the second victim’s demise, photographed in a clothing store, cleverly inserts doll-like mannequins to mirror the soon-to-be dead woman’s paralyzed helplessness), The Black Belly of the Tarantula is nothing more than a subpar giallo. Considering it was made as a cash-in ready to imitate the success of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage at the time, it’s only fitting that it hardly compares to the best of Dario Argento and Mario Bava. There are those names again. C+