5.25.2009

Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: The Black Belly of the Tarantula

Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)
Critter: Venom from a Tarantula Wasp (Hymenoptera: Pompilidae)
Size: Never seen in the film, but they can be up to 2 inches long
Modus Operandi: How these gals are milked for their venom is never said, but the venom is placed on an acupuncture needle. The needle is then placed into the victim’s neck at the base of the skull, paralyzing her while our killer slices away.
How the Menace Emerges: Well, telling you would ruin the mystery, wouldn’t it?
End Goal: Most likely, the real victims here are the wasps, who would much rather be stinging spiders for their little ones. Poor little gals.

This little giallo gem is a highlight of the genre. For you giallo purists, the black gloves have been replaced by surgical gloves, but there’s still plenty of the genre’s trademark blood and boobs. There are also plenty of hair-brained twists, red herrings and mysterious, hidden identity hand/voice scenes. Despite containing all of the giallo clich├ęs and tropes, The Black Belly of the Tarantula stands out as an outstandingly filmed example of the genre. Pop art and 60s mod kitsch are the dominant visual themes throughout, and off kilter edits and pans add to the film’s angular charm. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also scored by Ennio Morricone, with a soundtrack that’s creepy, cheesy, beautiful and just plain odd in equal measures.
Note that the tarantula belly mentioned in the title is not the source of this film’s inclusion in the Invertebrate Field Guide. The lady victims (including 3 Bond girls) are the tarantulas who get their bellies carved, although our photogenic, furry pals can be seen guarding little boxes of cocaine in one scene. Instead, it is our little unseen wasps who provide the murder with his ideal weapon and myself with a reason to review The Black Belly of the Tarantula here.

Nit-picking Science: Silly Professor, I don’t know how you got a film of a bee stinging a non-tarantula spider, but I’d like you to tell me why you are showing it while talking about the tarantula wasp stinging tarantulas. Not only that, the wasp doesn’t disembowel the spider in order to lay her eggs. She merely paralyzes the spider before laying an egg on the surface of the spider. It is the larvae who do the disemboweling from the inside. Inspector Tellini, I wouldn’t expect you to know that spiders are not insects, but you should slap the old Professor for lying to you.

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