Director: Paolo Cavara
Blue Underground

Due to the worldwide success of Dario Argento’s THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, Italian-made giallo films attempted to cash in by having animals referenced in their elongated titles, and 1971’s THE BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA is a primary example of this. Despite having major theatrical distribution in the U.S. through MGM (where it was paired with another Italian-made mystery, THE WEEKEND MURDERS), BLACK BELLY was never released here on home video, despite the honor of having three former and future “Bond Girls” present: Barbara Bouchet (CASINO ROYALE), Claudine Auger (THUNDERBALL) and Barbara Bach (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME). Previously available on DVD overseas through several foreign labels, Blue Underground saves this Italian/French co-production from stateside obscurity with this excellent-looking presentation.

Beautiful blonde Maria (Barbara Bouchet) is accused of having an affair by her jealous separated husband, as he holds an incriminating photo of her nude with another man. On the same night that the husband leaves her home in a fit of anger, she is killed by a trench-coated assailant wearing latex gloves. His method of murder: injecting women with wasp poison laced needles, causing the victims to be paralyzed and forcing them to witness their own death. Soon Inspector Tellini (Giancarlo Giannini) is on the case, encountering various blackmail schemes, tarantula cases lined with cocaine instead of sand, and attractive females associated with a beauty salon run by Laura (Claudine Auger) being bumped off the same grisly way Maria was. Realizing more and more that he was not cut out for police work, Tellini is about to face the worst possible scenario, as his beautiful wife (Stefania Sandrelli) may become the killer’s next victim.

THE BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA (Original Italian title: “Tarantola dal ventre nero”) seems to bridge the gap between the more restrained giallos of the previous decade with the more graphic and sexually explicit ones that would soon follow. Director Cavara, who had previously helmed sleazy docu trash such as MONDO CANE, handles the violent proceedings with style, and the photography – with all the luscious lovelies to leer at – has a sort of voyeuristic quality to it (Bouchet spends most of her brief screen time in the nude). Plotwise, it tends to be fairly ordinary and even though it’s pretty much a “murder by the numbers” affair with a predictable culprit (his motives are conveniently summed up as a psycho-sexual behavioral pattern stemmed from a rotten marriage), the film remains prime giallo, bearing all the right ingredients and a good cast to bring it on home. The inventive killings, with the unsettling concept of victims being poisoned long enough to watch and experience their bellies knifed open, are orchestrated with remarkable visual flair and live up to similar works from Bava and Argento. Giannini’s smart performance as the detective repulsed by murder to point of it nauseating him enough to retire, holds the film together exceptionally, and the screeching, sometimes twisted score by none other than Ennio Morricone accents the murders, the menace and the cheat scare devices to great effect.

Transferred from the original camera negative, THE BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA is presented fully uncut in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. After some slight film dirt that disappears after the opening credits, the transfer looks marvelous with a great amount of picture detail and clarity, and strong colors. Both English and Italian audio tracks are included in mono, both have clean-sounding dialog and evenly balanced music. Since most of the actors are speaking their lines in English, the post-synched English track is the preferable one, but if you want to watch it in Italian, optional English subtitles are included.

Extras include a 15-minute video interview with Lorenzo Danon, son of the film’s late producer and screenwriter, Marcello Danon (the interview was previously available on the Region 2 release by RHV, without English subtitles). The younger Danon talks about his father’s production company, other films he produced such as DAYS OF FURY and LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, and since he was on the set, he also discusses the making of BLACK BELLY. Describing the film as having definite commercial intents, he tells a fun anecdote about Bouchet’s ease with being nude in front of the camera, and that Giannini was very professional despite being somewhat difficult to work with. Also include is the original American MGM theatrical trailer (which hypes the films as being “a gothic tale of terror and death”) and a TV spot which showcases its double billing with THE WEEKEND MURDERS and shows clips from that film as well. (George R. Reis)