Paolo Cavara's 1971 giallo The Black Belly of the Tarantula has been referred to by at least one outlet as "the best giallo ever made!" (I know this because it's the quote on the cover of the Blue Underground DVD.) I cannot agree with this assessment. I can say that it's very good, and notable for the ways in which it pushes the traditions of the genre into some new places.
Casino Royale). It's scored by Ennio Morricone, whose contributions are less sweeping and gorgeous than his usual western fare but no less memorable; while the theme is characteristically melodic, much of the rest of the score is a swirling cacophony of noise and what sounds like female moaning. It's anxiety inducing for sure, contributing to the movie's overt sexuality in a way that allows it not to go overboard with the sleaze. Strip Nude for Your Killer this ain't.
Giannini plays Inspector Tellini, a married detective investigating a series of unusual murders that may or may not tie in to larger drug trafficking and blackmail conspiracies. As the victims pile up, Tellini realizes that both he and his wife (Stefania Sandrelli) are in the killer's sights and may be the next victims.
The plot of The Black Belly of the Tarantula is really very simple -- or at least it should be. This is a basic murder mystery, same as most gialli, made more complicated by red herrings that aren't false suspects but rather false plot developments. There's stuff about drugs and stuff about blackmail and none of it really matters in the end; it's abandoned as easily as it's introduced. The extraneous details keep things more engaging as the movie unfolds -- we're expecting multiple mysteries to be solved instead of just the one (though an attempt is made to tie it together during the Psycho-style exposition scene that ends the movie) -- but thinking back on the movie I find myself wishing the main story had been streamlined more.
One thing for which The Black Belly of the Tarantula has become most famous is that it boasts three Bond girls in the cast: Barbara Bouchet (Moneypenny in the original '67 Casino Royale), Barbara Bach (The Spy Who Loved Me) and Claudine Auger (Thunderball). None really have characters to play that are any more fleshed out than the usual giallo girls, making their casting more a novelty of chance than anything else. Don't get me wrong -- it's a hell of a novelty given the actresses involved, but it's really just a fluke. Bouchet is the most memorable female in the film despite having what is probably the least amount of screen time, but that has more to do with how she's used than anything in her performance.
Well, maybe that's not true. There's more to the movie than just the murder scenes, even if I suspect they're the thing that anyone remembers when thinking or talking about the film. The killer's chosen method actually speaks to the film's larger themes of impotence; it's just that even obsessive film fans are rarely like "Oh, remember that movie and its larger themes?" But impotence weighs heavily on the film's mind. Like most of the giallo films I've watched in the last several weeks, The Black Belly of the Tarantula finds itself deeply concerned with masculinity -- more specifically, the place of men in a society in which women are growing increasingly empowered politically, economically and, yes, sexually. The killer's motivations are driven by impotence, unable to perform sexually and thereby wanting to punish those women who represent what he wants and cannot have. The paralyzing of the victims leaves them, in a sense, impotent.
Unlike the Hitchcock-inspired Argento, whose work is typically about tight control and deliberate movements, Cavara's camera is a lot more frantic. He shoots a lot of the movie handheld and relies heavily on use of the fast zoom to work us up. His cuts come a lot more quickly, sometimes at the detriment of establishing tension. There is a set piece -- one of the highlights of the film -- in which a victim runs away from the killer through a warehouse full of mannequins. Cavara is so frantic in how the scene is staged that he never manages to create any dread. It's still well done in a panicky way (especially when combined with Morricone's nervous score), but one can just imagine how terrifying the sequence might have been if it had taken its time. Cavara doesn't seem all that interested in creating tension or suspense. His movie is more about visceral shocks.