The Yellow Room: The Black Belly of the Tarantula

Sadistic murders, style over substance, black gloved killers, and a whole lot of J&B whiskey - the giallo lives... in the Yellow Room.

Growing up, I loved a good mystery, especially of the "whodunnit" variety. Anything from Scooby Doo, the 1940s Universal Studios Sherlock Holmes series starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, to the 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan series were always in my viewing rotation. I was also head over heels for horror, stemming from the Universal Monsters, The Munsters, and The Monster Squad. As I got older, the introduction of the slasher film made a big impact, as did distribution company Anchor Bay. I kept seeing these titles with odd names like Four Flies on Grey Velvet, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, or A Lizard in a Woman's Skin. They were all of Italian origin, and they were all categorized as a "giallo".

After some research, I found out that the word giallo means yellow, and after digging a bit deeper, I found what may very well be my favorite genre. The combination of murder-mystery detective fiction with the added elements of intense horror and Euro-sleaze was immediately appealing. Stylish camerawork, beautiful musical arrangements, scenes of shocking horror featuring excessive bloodletting, titles involving bugs/animals/numbers, and plot lines filled with Hitchcockian suspense and dizzying twists. As the kids would say, “This, is my shit.”

Black Belly of the Tarantula was one of those films I discovered in the heyday of Anchor Bay via DVD. The film’s director, Paolo Cavara, is famously known for directing the highly influential cult classic shockumentary Mondo Cane from 1962. The film stars the great Giancarlo Giannini (modern audiences will recognize him as Mathis from the Daniel Craig Bond films Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, as well as a role in Ridley Scott’s Hannibal) and a trio of actresses who also appeared in Bond films - Claudine Auger (Thunderball, 1965), Barbara Bach (The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977), and Barbara Bouchet (the bond spoof Casino Royale, 1967).

For genre newcomers, I’m sure you’ve noticed many giallo titles seem to involve numbers, colors, insects and animals, usually mixing at least two of those together and sometimes the connection of the title and the actual film is extremely minor, or of very little importance to the plot. Black Belly of the Tarantula is an exception to that. The title refers to the outrageously sadistic way the killer dispatches victims... An acupuncture needle is inflamed with a poison and inserted into a victim's neck, paralyzing their bodies but keeping them fully aware to witness their own murder as the killer dispatches of them, much in the same way tarantulas are killed by the wasp. That's hands down one of the most fucked murder methods in cinema (and in nature, which is actually shown in the film) that I can think of.

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The story opens with a dreamy Morricone score and a massage scene before quickly shifting into a domestic dispute between Maria and her husband, before shifting again to our gloved killer preparing his paralyzing weapon of doom before heading out on the town. Ominous visuals and lighting lead us to Maria’s house as a shadowy figure lurks about the grounds and a gloriously shot murder set-piece commences. From this point on, we are introduced to Inspector Tellini (Giannini) as his investigation into the murder of Mari leads to blackmail and a slew of other murders that follow in its wake. The Inspector's trail leads to a trio of familiar giallo locations: a fashion boutique, a science laboratory, and then a health spa, all which are linked to drug trafficking and lurid sexual activities.

Some highlights include a great chase around and on the roof of a modernist office, a room full of creepy mannequins, and some very intense murder sequences. Giancarlo Giannini's gives a fine performance as a cop struggling with self-doubts about his abilities in a case that becomes very personal and Ennio Morricone's contributes one of his best scores. Cavara's direction is quite flashy, and the highly stylized cinematography by Marcello Gatti (who worked on The Battle of Algiers and Polanski's What?) is a treat for the eyes!

These films are not just for horror fans. If you can appreciate a good mystery/thriller or even crime stories with the delightful addition of ramped up violence and sex, then look no further. Black Belly of the Tarantula is a memorable, sometimes overlooked entry in the genre, and also a great starting point for newcomers who are looking to branch out after watching more mainstream gialli, as well as those who are interested in killers taking out slews of sleazebag men and beautiful women. It’s only available on Region A DVD via the fine folks at Blue Underground - reasonably priced and readily available! It’s also streaming on Shudder - which has a decent selection of gialli to choose from for folks looking to get more into the genre!

Stay Ghastly, Stay Grinning!