Paolo Cavara isn't one of the names that immediately comes to mind when you think of prominent Italian genre directors, but his contributions to a few different genres shouldn't be understated even if his output wasn't as voluminous as some of his peers. The man did pitch in on Mondo Cane which kick-started the whole mondo movie sub-genre (he would later tear the mondo movies a new one with the blackly satirical The Wild Eye), he dabbled in Spaghetti Westerns with Deaf Smith And Johnny Ears and he even worked on a couple of giallos, most notably Plot Of Fear and the better known Black Belly Of The Tarantula which makes its home video debut in North American courtesy of this DVD from Blue Underground.
In this thriller, obviously influenced by the early giallos of Dario Argento, we follow the story of Inspector Tellini (Giancarlo Giannini), who reluctantly sets out to figure out who is the culprit behind a rash of murders in which the killer paralyzes his victim with a needle, leaving them awake and conscious but completely motionless, before gutting them with a knife. The first victim (played by Barbara Bouchet of Casino Royale) was having an affair – is her abusive and distraught husband the man who ran a knife up her belly? Or is it someone else? Some basic detective work uncovers the fact that all three of the women went to the same health spa, and some more intense sleuthing proves that one of them had ties to a cocaine trafficking ring which used tarantula's to bring the white gold into the country. Whoever is behind the killings is a clever one, as he or she is always sure to wear heavy latex gloves and to never leave a fingerprint anywhere on anything at the crime scene.
As Tellini tries to figure out who is behind it all, he feels more and more that he's in the wrong line of work and despite some reassurance from his lovely wife, Anna (Stefania Sandrelli), which makes finding the enthusiasm for his job tricky. Eventually he goes straight to the source and talks to Laura (Claudine Auger of Thunderball), the woman who runs the spa, thinking that there might be some sort of blackmail scheme going on but he's going to have to act fast, as the killer is still running around free with murder on his mind…
Black Belly Of The Tarantula has just about everything you could hope for in a giallo. In addition to the presence of three lovely Bond Girls – the aforementioned Bouchet and Auger in addition to Barbara Bach of The Spy Who Loved Me - it's also got a rousing and truly off the wall score from Ennio Morricone and a few genuinely grisly murder set pieces. There's oodles of lovely naked European starlets and a gloved killer lurking in the shadows of the mod apartments and flashy spas where the movie unfolds. There's a chase scene, some giant spiders, plenty of red herrings and a really bizarre motive for all of it and it's all wrapped up in some gorgeous cinematography – in short, it's a textbook case encompassing everything that the genre seems to require.
The film is very well paced and never boring even when there aren't exploitative elements to ogle on screen, and it's all shot with such a careful eye for detail and style that it looks good even when nothing is happening. That being said, a whole lot does happen in the film and that makes it all the more enjoyable. Tellini seems to be tracking down a new suspect every five minutes or so and while it isn't at all difficult to figure out who the killer is, it is an awful lot of fun watching Tellini try. Parts of the film are completely predictable which is a serious strike against the movie but Cavara definitely gets enough right that it's not difficult in the least to look past that and enjoy this trashy little thriller for what it is, even if at times it seems to be borrowing fairly heavily from both Blood And Black Lace and Argento's animal trilogy.
Black Belly Of The Tarantula comes to Region 1 in a pretty killer progressive scan 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The colors look nice and bold throughout, the black levels stay strong and deep from start to finish, and the flesh tones look lifelike and natural. There is some mild edge enhancement present in a few scenes and some line shimmering in the usual places like on the front of a car grill or along the sides of a building but there aren't any mpeg compression artifacts worth noting nor is there much in the way of print damage aside from the odd speck or two (though the first five minutes do exhibit a bit more noticeable instances of print damage than the rest of the movie). Some mild grain is present, but that's to be expected. Overall, the film looks great on this DVD.
You've got your choice of watching the film in either a Dolby Digital Italian language mono mix or a Dolby Digital English language mix, with optional subtitles provided in English. If you opt for the English language track, the scenes that require text to be translated from Italian to English do have English subs automatically popping onto the screen so that you're still able to follow the film. Quality of either mix should please most fans. Anyone familiar with Euro-cult films of this era knows that sometimes the dubs are a little wonky and that the lips don't always match the performers but that's sometimes half the fun of these films. Dialogue is clean and clear, there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion and the levels are balanced properly.
The main supplement is a fifteen minute interview with Lorenzo Danon, the son of the film's producer, Marcello Danon (who also had a hand in writing the film). Those who own the Italian release of the film might find that this segment looks a little familiar as it's the same interview that was included on that disc, however, this time it has English subtitles. At any rate, Lorenzo gives us some background on how his father got into the film industry, some of the key players that he worked with, and some of the films that he was involved with. He describes how the ideas for Black Belly Of The Tarantula came to be and provides some fun anecdotes about the cast and crew involved in the production.
Other than the featurette, you'll also find the film's original U.S. theatrical trailer and a television spot, as well as animated menus, chapter selection, and an audio set up screen.
Black Belly Of The Tarantula is a solid giallo from start to finish with enough stylish sex and coupled with some genuine suspense to please most fans of the genre. Blue Underground's DVD presentation would have benefited from a few more extra features but it looks and sounds very good and still comes highly recommended, particularly for Euro-cult fans.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.