Review Date: March 16, 2006
Released by: Blue Underground
Release date: 3/28/2006
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
“The Best Giallo Ever Made!”
That is high praise. Tattooed to the front cover of the new Blue Underground release of The Black Belly of the Tarantula
, the Horrorview quote no doubt sets up lofty expectations. Better than The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
? What Have You Done to Solange
? The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail
? Forgive me if I’m a little skeptic. Reading a quote like that makes me think that either the quoted writer is one for hyperbole, or simply hasn’t seen that many gialli. What the hell, I’ll give the man the benefit of the doubt. With a score by Mr. Morricone, cinematography by Marcello Gatti (The Battle of Algiers
, Polanski’s What?
), a great title and a whole slew of Bond girls, it has every possibility of being a great giallo. So is Horrorview right; does the Tarantula
After an erotically-charged Morricone prelude and some copious shots of Barbara Bouchet’s breasts, we move into narrative. Maria Zani (Bouchet
) has been having an illicit affair, and upon hearing about it her husband confronts her. “You’re no nymphomaniac…” he yells, “a whore is more like it!” He’s seen pictures of her with another man, and wants them destroyed. Before Maria can compose herself, she is attacked by a man in shadow. The man’s weapon of choice is a phallic acupuncture needle dipped in the tail poison of a wasp. When struck, his victims will be paralyzed and forced to witness their own murders. Maria witnesses hers, and her husband his soon after, but that is only the beginning of the killer’s venomous rage.
With two deaths in the can, Inspector Tellini (Giancarlo Giannini
) is brought in to try and piece together the web spun by the killer. A man dedicated to his job over everything else, he often leaves his wife alone and unpleased. It becomes clear that his neglect for her might come full circle, since the killer has her in his sights. He may be able to leave Anna (Stefania Sandrelli
) at home, but he won’t be able to drop her when he has to file her death report. When Tellini discovers that he and his wife are targets, he must act faster than a Fulci pop zoom.
Horrorview lied. The Black Belly of the Tarantula
is not the greatest giallo ever made, nor is it even in the upper echelon of gialli. But good it certainly is, and were it not for a lackluster climax it would hold good company with many of the better gialli of the time. Of all the gialli I’ve seen, this probably rings in as the most conventional, and certainly the least twisty plot-wise. There be no red herrings here; when the killer first shows up it is immediately discernable that he’s the one, and his motive is quite conventionally psychosexual. I was hoping his last name would be in the credits, because it most certainly would have been Freud. After taking all the time to import this rare wasp poison and elaborately lace it on acupuncture sticks, you’d think the killer would have a better motive than the fact that the needle kind of looks like a penis. Usually a giallo really gets interesting in the final moments, but in Tarantula
it goes to cruise control.
Horrorview lied on the front cover, and as it turns out DVD Times did on the back too when they deemed the film gory. Another major fault in the film is the repetitive and dry method of murder the killer employs. Sure, the needle stabbing is a good gimmick, but once he has his victims paralyzed he kills them by quickly running a knife down his victims’ chests. This isn’t a New York Ripper
style nipple split or chest rip…just a poorly masked half-knife with a blood that runs obviously down the backside as it touches the victim’s skin. The most graphic death in the film was from stock footage of a wasp killing a tarantula. That says something.
Enough dwelling on the negative though, because for the most part this is a quality picture. The cast is a parade of international stars, and all are quite good. Giannini does best, and gives a performance that one-ups the usually stilted leading man from most gialli. He imbues with his performance the intensity of a man whose job is his life, much like Pacino would later do in Heat
. The closing moments of the film, which linger in guilt on a contemplative Giannini, again give significant emotional pull to a film that is usually entirely without it. As far as gialli goes, this is undoubtedly one of the best acted.
The cinematography is no slouch either, with some impressively framed murders that make the repetition a little easier to ingest. There are times when the cinematography gets too showy, where a take goes on for minutes as the camera searches a room or does its seventh focus pull, but for the most part it serves the narrative nicely. One thing you can almost always be assured with a gialli is quality cinematography, and Tarantula
delivers with a good, albeit not great, visual style.
Although once again a hyperbole, the back cover statement of “one of Ennio Morricone’s best scores ever” is pretty close to sound. While Morricone will always be praised for his sweeping themes that lace tempo with seductive moans, whistles and hums, he has a great talent for off kilter sound as well. His opening and closing themes are of course dynamite, but the weird stringing, echoing and distortion of his sound during the stalking scenes works better in this film than it has in any of his other gialli. In some of Argento’s stuff his experimentation would be either too extreme (Four Flies on Grey Velvet
) or too dull (Cat O’ Nine Tails
) but here he strikes a perfect chord of balance.
Ultimately, after the web has been spun and the credits done, this is a solid gialli unfairly hampered by expectation-skewing box art blurbs. The technical aspects of the film are mostly of high quality, but where the film falters is its contention of simply getting the job done and nothing else. In a genre characterized by the one-upmanship of their finales, how dull is it then to see Tarantula
set the bar so low for its climax. Each leg of the film: the music, the cinematography, the performances, all move with an arachnid grace, yet with one foul swoop the venom of a weak dénouement paralyzes the film dead in its tracks. Gore would have helped, too.
Yet another in Blue Underground’s line of great restorations, The Black Belly of the Tarantula
looks exquisite in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. No scratches, no dirt, no blemishes, this is a Belly
so clean you could eat off it. The colors are full of life too, especially evident during the poolside scenes that occur later in the film. The blue pool water gleams, while the red bathing suits register without any bleeding despite the saturation. The film was released before on DVD for both Alfa Digital and Vellavision in 1.33:1, but the matted 1.85:1 finally does justice to the film’s compositions, cropping off a lot of unneeded headroom. For fans of the film, this is without a doubt the superior of all the film’s releases.
I complained about the lack of an Italian-language track on Blue Underground’s The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion
, and thankfully here there are both English and Italian mono mixes included. Both tracks are clear and are without dropouts, although the English track is consistently a couple decibels louder than its Italian brethren. In terms of artistic choice, I’d pick the Italian track, since some of the line readings in the English register as an 11 on the over-the-top meter. Considering how intense Giancarlo Giannini’s performance is, the English track does not give his brooding justice.
This disc’s trademark giallo featurette is with Lorenzo Danon, son to the esteemed producer of Tarantula
(as well as Rififi
and La Cage aux Folles
) Marcello Danon. Lorenzo does a good job at summarizing his father’s career for the first half, mentioning his Oscar nomination for Folles
, and how Marcello was the only producer ballsy enough to even consider adapting the racy play. After an overview of his father’s career, Lorenzo then discusses The Black Belly of the Tarantula
specifically, and provides a few great anecdotes. One involves Barbara Bouchet, and how she was so comfortable with nudity that her last meeting with Lorenzo was entirely in the buff. Running fifteen minutes, this is a decent supplement to the feature. Those who bought the Italian RHV DVD of Tarantula
will remember this interview, only this time we get English subtitles. The one nitpick with this interview is the way it is transferred. Although it is shot in 16x9, it is windowboxed into a much smaller image. It is something that can be rectified by zooming, but is puzzling nonetheless.
More entertaining are the wonderfully kitschy trailer and TV spot. Perhaps all the hyperbole on the box art was inspired by these promotional items, since they feature a similarly overblown narrator who’d be right at home at a Boris Karloff convention. The ads are for the American release of the film, and have that sort of drive-in appeal to them. The TV spot is actually for a double feature, Tarantula
and The Weekend Murders
, and has what has to be (since we’re talking in hyperboles here) one of the best taglines ever: “A whodunit and a whatdidit!” Classic.
“The Greatest Giallo Ever Made” it ain’t, but The Black Belly of the Tarantula
is a competent gialli buoyed by strong performances and classic Morricone music. While the routine ending and repetitive murders dull the sting a little, giallo fans should no doubt appreciate the goings-on. The fans will no doubt also appreciate Blue Undergrounds stellar transfer, with impeccably clean video and welcomed English and Italian language options. The interview and kitschy trailers round off the disc, and make this an easy disc to recommend on all accounts. If you want textbook giallo, give Tarantula
’s web a spin.
Movie - B
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B+
Supplements - B-
- Running time - 1 hour 38 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Mono
- Italian Mono
- English subtitles
- "Interview with Lorenzo Danon"
- Theatrical trailer
- TV spot