With needles dipped in deadly venom the victims are paralyzed - so they must lie awake and watch themselves die!
The wasp is one of the tarantulas’ deadliest foes. The wasp will sting the spider, immobilizing it. Then it will lay its eggs on the tarantulas paralyzed body. In time, the baby wasps will feed on its host.
"Thus the victim can do nothing to defend itself, although fully aware of being disemboweled and eaten alive ..."
That’s a direct quote from BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA. And, in its own way, is an uncomfortable comparison to what happens in nature.
This is a giallo, so there’s a killer on the loose. Are you surprised? No, I didn’t think so. Said resident slasher is targeting women in a swank healthy spa. He/she is garbed in typical giallo wear: fedora, trench coat and, for a kinky twist, surgical gloves. It’s almost enough to bring to mind the rare Canadian slasher AMERICAN NIGHTMARE.
Our stalker uses a standard knife to off his victims. But, before he/she gets down to their ghoulish work, a needle is inserted into the victim’s neck. This paralyzes them and leaves them helpless as the killer makes mincemeat of their nubile bodies.
The first victim is Barbara Bouchet. She’s a nymphomaniac and, when we initially see her, she’s attempting to seduce her blind masseuse. Back home, she gets into a fight with her estranged husband. He uses a naked picture of Bouchet, an unseen man’s hand on her breast, to drive home the fact that she’s cheating on him.
The husband leaves in a huff and this sets up Bouchet to face the stalker. She’s paralyzed and forced to watch her body be opened in a gruesome scene where the stalker slowly uses his knife to split open her belly.
This brings to mind Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. Mirroring his film, BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA opens with an obvious female protagonist being murdered early in the movie.
Giancarlo Giannini plays Inspector Tellini. He’s called to the scene to investigate the murder. Of course, he first suspects the husband. Things are made even worse for Bouchet’s husband as his alibi is destroyed and he disappears. This leaves Giannini with the torn picture of a naked Bouchet and her lover.
Is the husband the murderer? In his absence, another girl, in an identical murder to Bouchet, is found dead at an exclusive boutique. At the scene, Giannini finds a large quantity of drugs. Now he has to piece together the two clues to prevent any more victims from piling up.
So gruesome are the murders that Giannini tells his wife that “he’s not cut out for this work” and that he’s dancing with the idea of quitting the police force. However, when danger starts to hit closer to him, Giannini finds himself getting deeper and deeper into the case.
In this film, the health spa replaces the usual fashion house as the killing ground. This, of course, gives ample opportunity for well-stacked females to be showing off their nude side. There’s also an arty feel to the film, which sits oddly with its exploitative nature. Not that that is a bad thing, mind you. It’s nowhere as destructive as the uneven pace that drags down the middle of the film.
The movie, however, is highly bolstered by its actors. Giannini is excellent as Tellini. He plays the lackadaisical cop to a tee. Unfortunately, most of the time he’s on screen, he’s discussing selling the furniture in his apartment with his wife. It’s hardly the stuff that makes for a good thriller.
There’s also a bevy of recognizable co-stars. We have Barbara Bach and Rosella Falk, neither newcomers to the giallo genre, as potential victims for the killer’s knife. And an eagle-eyed viewer might recognize Walter Eugene, who played a more sinister role in HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS.
I also have to mention that BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA shares shady comparisons to other gialli. There’s a rooftop chase sequence that brings to mind CAT O’ NINE TAILS, and a Bava moment where a female finds herself incapacitated by mannequins as our killer advances on her.
Special mention needs to go to Ennio Morricone’s score. It injects the film with an eerie “glow” as the victims are routinely murdered.
Director Paolo Cavara does his best with the material given to him. Though he apes certain films, as mentioned, he still manages to give his own slice of giallo an original touch.
I also have to take a moment to discuss the film’s finale. Most giallo murders their stalker in inventive stage set-ups, rarely taking the routine way out. The end to THE BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA, however, leaves our killer to go out in a way that is almost laughable. Giannini has little trouble in dishing out the final kill of the murderer. And no I don’t consider that a spoiler. If you’ve seen more than one gialli you know the killer is going to die. No sequel motives here, folks.
Now, where does that leave us?
We have a killer utilizing the wasp’s way to kill tarantulas, a wise cop getting deeper into a mystery, and the usual drugs/mystery that most any giallo serves up.
As mentioned, Cavara does his best to deliver an original giallo. And though he utilizes scenes that mirror other entries into the genre, this film still feels flat.
I’m going to admit that it took me three times watching it before I found any gems in the rough. It’s that middle sequence, which is flabbier than a fat man’s gut, which really takes the viewer out of the film.
However, I’m going to recommend this movie; but only to hardcore giallo fans. If you’re a newcomer to the genre, there are better places for you to start. Check out Bava’s BLOOD AND BLACK LACE or Argento’s DEEP RED before coming to films like BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA.
Because I’m afraid that it would leave you paralyzed with boredom much like the victims in the film.