Here’s how you kick off a great movie! A naked Barbara Bouchet is given a sensual massage set to a sultry Ennio Morricone score. Everyone’s favourite Euro-blonde bombshell plays Mrs. Zani whose cuckolded husband (Silvano Tranquilli) is none too happy receiving adulterous photographs from a mysterious blackmailer. Moments later, Mrs. Zani is murdered in her house by a (sing along, all you giallo fans) madman in a black hat and trenchcoat. However, in a kinky twist the killer forgoes the usual black leather mitts for surgical gloves.
Intrepid Inspector Tellini (Giancarlo Giannini) is assigned to the case and his suspicions fall not unreasonably on Mr. Zani. He also discovers the killer uses an acupuncture needle to paralyse his victims. Meanwhile, Zani hires a portly private eye to trace his wife’s former lover (Giancarlo Prete). However, the killings continue including a fashion boutique owner (Annabella Incontrera, for once not playing a chic lesbian!) with a sideline in cocaine trafficking. A willowy young woman (Claudine Auger) arrives at the aftermath of every murder. Tellini struggles to fathom what is going on and is especially unnerved when the killer strikes close to home.
Aside from Barbara’s regrettably early exit, The Black Belly of the Tarantula is a giallo firing on all cylinders. This was a departure for former mondo filmmaker Paolo Cavara and he certainly rises to the occasion. Marcello Gatti’s scope photography is superb and heightens several striking suspense sequences: a murder in roomful of creepy costume mannequins paying tribute to Mario Bava; a breakneck chase across the labyrinthine rooftops of a semi-futuristic structure; and the edge-of-your-seat finale, all crackle like a pan full of popcorn. Cavara does not skimp on the sleaze, style or sadism that are the guilty pleasures of the giallo genre, but pays equal attention to the psychological toll being taken on our hero. Some giallo fans complain about the lingering domestic scenes between Tellini and his caring wife Anna (Stefania Sandrelli), but their inclusion adds a layer of emotional content absent from other hardcore horror efforts. In one particularly creepy scene, the killer spies on Tellini and Anna making love, then sends his 8mm film footage for the inspector’s colleagues to leer at and laugh. At one point the pressure gets too much and Tellini threatens to quit, till he is coaxed back by the gentle reassurances of his sagely spouse. Stefania Sandrelli went on to become one of the finest actresses in Europe, working with the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci and Bigas Luna.
Celebrated method actor Giancarlo Giannini is quietly charismatic and a more vulnerable police investigator than was the norm in these movies. Giannini went on to an up-and-down international career with notable roles in the likes of Mimic (1997), Hannibal (2001) and Casino Royale (2006). This latter screen credit is part of a veritable spider’s web of threads tying this film to the James Bond series. Claudine Auger, one of the best Bond girls of all time in Thunderball (1965), has a strong and atypical role as the suspicious proprietor of a health spa for women, and watch out for future Bond girl Barbara Bach among the needle-wielding killer’s comely victims. Screenwriter Lucile Laks, one of the few female giallo scriptwriters, justifies the typically florid title with a sequence showing a tarantula subdued by a large wasp and impregnated with its larvae, which will feast on its flesh as it lives on in agony. A convoluted metaphor perhaps for Tellini’s fracture psyche by the movie’s end.