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Giallo Madness: Black Belly of the Tarantula

Black Belly of the Tarantula

Giallo Madness is a recurring segment where Wicked Horror managing editor Tyler Doupe’ looks back on a noteworthy giallo from years past and makes a case for why it should be on your radar. The titles showcased in this feature will typically be lesser known but still equally deserving of your attention. For this installment, we are setting our sights on Paolo Cavara’s chiller Black Belly of the Tarantula. 

A killer is on the loose and he or she is paralyzing their victims prior to carrying out the act of murder.  The culprit renders the women totally unable to move but they are still completely conscious of their surroundings. Thus, they are forced to helplessly watch their own murder play out with no recourse and no hope of defending themselves.

The film is directed by Paolo Cavara. It remains the picture for which the late director is best known. It’s terribly unfortunate that Cavara died in 1982. It would have been nice to see him enjoy a career as lengthy and storied as some of his peers. The director showed great directorial prowess on this production–he fully leveraged the score and a variety of inventive camera angles to keep the viewer on their toes. And though he may not have as lengthy a resume as some of his contemporaries, he certainly provided us with a memorable effort and made a lasting impression with Black Belly of the Tarantula. 

As far as the film’s visual aesthetic, it lacks the rich and liberal use of color that Argento and Bava were known for but it’s far from bland. And Cavara still gives the viewer plenty to look at. What the production lacks in vibrant color, it more than makes up for with nudity. There is no shortage of bouncing breasts on display throughout the course of the film’s runtime.

While Cavara turns in a great effort at the helm, he had a choice screenplay to work with. Marcello Danon and Lucile Laks put together a chilling premise with a smart twist. The idea of a killer that is so sadistic that he or she gets off on watching their victims witness their own death unfold while succumbing to total paralysis is well-played and twisted. That layer of detail allowed for an insightful and unusual back story on the killer that is a lot more in depth than what was common for the output of the era.

Like any good giallo, Black Belly of the Tarantula is first and foremost, a murder mystery. Danon and Laks have done a great job with the whodunnit angle. Their script keeps the viewer guessing up until the end. There’s a great twist tied into the reveal that could easily go head-to-head with nearly any other giallo twist ending I can recall.

Black Belly of the Tarantula features intense, dramatic kill scenes. We get to know each of the victims prior to their onscreen demise and each death is inventive and unpredictable. Although you know the character is about to die, it’s rarely clear precisely at what moment or by exactly what means they will go. As their impending death draws closer and becomes more certain, things only grow more intense for the viewer.

The pacing lags a just a bit between the second and third acts. But it’s not nearly so cumbersome as to disengage the viewer. It’s merely a small hiccup in the works, But that is really my only criticism of this otherwise excellent picture.

Fans of Argento will find much to like here. The film is similar to the auteur director’s early work in both tone and storyline but different enough to give fans something that is not derivative and will keep them guessing.

If you’ve somehow missed this one, Black Belly of the Tarantula is a smart and entertaining giallo that must be seen. It was available to stream on Netflix for some time but was pulled down not long ago. The film is available on DVD from Blue Underground. The transfer is excellent and the audio quality is crisp. If you don’t already own this one, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy before it goes out of print.

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Written by Tyler Doupé
Tyler Doupe' is the managing editor at Wicked Horror. He has previously penned for Fangoria Mag, Rue Morgue Mag, FEARnet, Fandango, ConTV, Ranker, Shock Till You Drop, ChillerTV, ComingSoon, and more. He lives with his husband, his dog, and cat hat(s).
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