Black Belly of the Tarantula

Viagra could have prevented all this.
★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1971
Director: 
Paolo Cavara
Starring: 
Giancarlo Gianni, Claudine Auger, Barbara Bouchet, Barbara Bach
The Setup: 
Serial killer stalks women, cop investigates.
Discussion: 

We all need a giallo every now and then, and this one has a great title, so what the hell. I asked my very giallo-aware friend if he had seen it, and he said no, observing that it's a great title, and sometimes the titles of gialli are better than the films themselves. Which may be the case here, despite the box cover saying it is the greatest giallo of all time. I guess something along the lines of "Another mediocre entry!" or "Perfectly Undistinguished!" doesn't make very good box copy.

So we open in this spa where the requisite beautiful woman is getting a massage. Speaking of beautiful women, this movie features Barbara Bouchet, of Blood Feast and Don't Torture a Duckling, and a small role for Barbara Bach, of The Spy Who Loved Me and also Mrs. Ringo Starr. Anyway, the woman goes home to her dream house, the killer invades, and stabs her right in the back of the neck with a long acupuucture needle. She goes still, eyes open, and he rather leisurely cuts open her abdomen.

We then introduce Giancarlo Giannini as Inspector Tellini, and hear heavy breathing on the soundtrack as he looks through evidence pictures. Then on to victim number two, who closes up her clothing shop before realizing she's not alone. She chooses to run through a room crowded with mannequins, the better to provide us with some unnerving images, but eventually gets injected in the neck and paralyzed too. Then killed. By now we have seen that the killer wears these effectively creepy orangish plastic gloves.

So now more focus on Tellini. He has a suspect, and the suspect turns up in his car, asking Tellini to let him conduct his own investigation. Then we find out the killer is using this wasp poison to paralyze women, then kill them as they are powerless, but awake. The wasp normally kills tarantulas, by the way, the only real connection to the title. Then we see our tough-guy policeman snuggled in bed with his cat. Awwww... who's a puss-puss? In here we have introduced Tellini's wife, and soon they make love in broad daylight right by the open window. A quick cut shows us that someone is watching. Soon there's a lengthy rooftop chase, then Tellini almost gets run down in the street.

SPOILERS > > >
Now one person on the IMDb noted that this film is full of people who know who the killer is, or have evidence, but they're just too tired to tell Tellini now, can't they just talk in the morning? ...By which time, of course, the person is killed. The first of those happens here, when a woman knows all and is ready to spill it, just oh dear, she's REALLY tired. And we know that the killer is just outside her door. By now we've also had time to notice that Ennio Morricone's score for this film could be easily transferred to a softcore film, where it would work equally well. Then the killer breaks into police headquarters, takes evidence and leaves a film, which the whole police force watches. It shows Tellini and his wife having sex in bed.

So things are getting pretty rote, although the whole thing isn't bad, just inessential. We do find out that the spa where a lot of the victims come from has a cool outdoor pool encased in a giant plastic bubble! Then Tellini comes into the spa and interviews everyone there, including this gay assistant, who he dismisses immediately--that old poof couldn't be a killer!--and a blind guy he also dismisses out of hand. Then the spa owner knows who it is, and she's going to tell him--but can't it wait 'til tomorrow?

So Tellini goes home, goes to bed, then is wakened by the spa ownwer on the phone, saying come right away, she's got the evidence! I need hardly tell you that she gets the evidence, all right. Then Tellini finds a contact lens from the blind guy RIGHT next to her body [those things DO just pop right out sometimes!] and realizes--it was the blind guy! The moment where Tellini faces the fact that he's a fairly pathetic investigator who takes everyone at face value was left out of this edition.

So he calls home and no one answers, and he realizes the killer is with his wife. And, though this is by now a hoary cliche of serial killer movies, it is still pretty effective! He's about to give her the 'ol poison needle of doom when she just clean passes out on her own! The killer then dawdles just a bit more to helpfully allow Tellini time to get there just in time, and I'm sure you know how it goes. Except there's a good moment where Tellini throws down his gun and decides he wants to beat this dude up with his bare fists. Although you may be distrcted by the fact that, despite our hero's sweet puppy-dog good looks, he is rather a dumb bunny.

There's a little coda where we learn, surprise, that his wife is going to be FINE, and the killer confessed and spilled his entire life history, which we get in a Psycho-esgue explanation: He suffered from impotence, and his wife made fun of him for it, which led him to mentally fracture and take out his rage on all beautiful women. So you see, it all came down to issues related to erectile dysfunction [soooo Italian, no?]. Let us now ponder all the lives Viagra has saved.
< < < SPOILERS END

It wasn't bad, it's just so average. It does develop a good low-key style in which a scene is developing in a slow, dreamy way which is then punctuated by sudden violence or something shocking. And the story is perfectly servicable, although I confess I thought it didn't exploit the whole deal of the women being conscious as they're being killed. Not ONE of these victims has a mirror on the ceiling so she can watch? It just isn't exploited, and doesn't end up having much relation with the revelation of the killer's psychosis, so it's just sort of there because the killer needs to have some kink [though a more perceptive reader than I quickly pointed out that the impotent killer gains power by penetrating the women with the needle. I am justly ashamed to have missed something so obvious]. Anyway, all of this just seems to exist to fill in some template set by giallos, not because anyone felt that this was a story worth telling. So there you go: Generic Giallo.

Should you watch it: 

If you're a giallo completist or you have nothing better to do.