Psychotronic Ketchup: "It's not a Bava! It's a Bava!"

"It IS a fucking spider, you dumb-ass!!"

Such was my screed, laced with what the useless in society term "profanities", that I launched at my television whilst engaged in an early evening viewing of Blade in the Dark, an early 80's giallo from Lamberto Bava, the son of giallo master Mario Bava (Black Sunday, Blood and Black Lace, etc). Slow-motion droplets of spittle flew from my mouth as I uttered the statement, which flung onto my poor startled dog Isabelle and caused her to jump from her comfortable spot on my lap out of concern for her own safety. (I could presume that my saliva was the reason for her leap from the couch, but I know that it was the raising of my voice that provided the true jolt to her life-saving reflexes.) After smooth-talking my beloved pooch back onto my lap, I rewound the scene to relive the moment that caused the familial discomfort in the first place.

The main character of the film, Bruno, a composer working on a score for a horror film, and who is in working seclusion for said project at one of those readily available rented estates in the country, is surprised when a "hot" girl unexpectedly (it must be, or he couldn't be surprised) pops out of a hallway closet and screams for help. She tells him there is a spider, and begs for him to protect her. We don't see the offending creature at first; we only see the "hero" look down in its direction. "It's not a spider," he consoles her, though saying it as if she's the dullest wit within seventy miles of Milan, "it's a cockroach!" (She's not the dullest, he is...) Bava's camera cuts to a shot of the "cockroach", and it couldn't be clearer that it is indeed a spider if the thing grew to forty times it's size, wrapped its legs about your head and pumped its deadly venom into your eye sockets. And, oh! If you think maybe the shot isn't all that definitive enough to close the debate, perhaps we can give it the ol' "spider vs. cockroach" test: the filmed creature in question only has two -- count 'em -- TWO body segments; eight -- count 'em again -- EIGHT legs... and, oh yeah, it walks like a fucking spider, Bruno! You atrociously dubbed fuckwit!

And therein lies the problem: most of my anger over what it really just an average though fleetingly stylish attempt at the giallo genre is over bad dubbing/translation. I have no idea what the line in the original Italian version of the screenplay says (I'm sure the Video Watchdog guys could tell me since this is what they do, and I, well, don't...); all I know is that the scene pissed me off for the remainder of the movie, and served to make me blind to what small "charms" the movie did present: some well-staged (it would be a mistake to separate the terms giallo and misogyny) murder sequences, including a savage strangulation and knifing in the bathroom. Then, later on, Bruno makes another reference to the girl not knowing the difference between the two creatures, taking me out of the movie again due to my being pissed off at the horrid dubbing.

This spider thing can't be intentional. If it is -- if the whole scenario is meant to provide some comic relief over the bloody violence that permeates the rest of the film -- then it would also mean that it would be the only example in Blade in the Dark where the filmmakers seem to show any concern about connecting two different scenes in the film in any sort of half-meaningful way. Yeah, there is the whole deal about the identity of the killer that might seem provocative and daring if you've never seen the films of Hitchcock and De Palma (and several others), and even if such a reveal was still daring in 1983, it still would not have been shocking if you have seen the first seven minutes of the film, and if you did miss those first seven minutes, because they are in the film within the film, you see them again and again. And again. And, in this repeated sequence, if the torment that the two little boys
endlessly sing to the other small, already effeminate boy they are torturing -- "You're a female! You're a female!" -- doesn't tell you from second one where this film is heading, then you should be finding something better to do with your time, like completing kindergarten or something else that taxes your brain at a minimal level.

But, hey! Don't let me ruin the film for you; let the film itself do that. And let Lamberto Bava, who does show a certain comfort with the genre that surely comes from his being raised around it, ruin it for you, as well, with clumsy storytelling that concentrates more on being shocking than being sensible. And let the daft character of Bruno the Composer ruin it for you by being quite simply one of the least aware "professionals" in the history of film; the guy couldn't complete a thought let alone a film score, and its a wonder that he doesn't actually trip over one of the bodies lying about his rented estate, so dull-witted is he in discerning what is taking place around him. And that spider thing? Case closed on Bruno.

At least, in another giallo with a spidery cameo from a dozen years earlier, Black Belly of the Tarantula, the
gruesomeness is classed up a tad by the fact the main character is played by Giancarlo Giannini, a former Best Actor Oscar nominee for Seven Beauties in 1975 and most recently seen in Casino Royale. The end result is a film that is not much different or better than Blade in the Dark, except for Giannini's performance and the fact that the women in various states of nudity are a decidedly finer lot than the scabs scrounged up for Blade. This is not hard considering that a trio of ex-and-future Bond girls -- Claudine Auger, Barbara Bouchet and Barbara Bach -- inhabit these roles. The title is a reference to the place where a wasp, sometimes known as a tarantula hawk, deposits its eggs once it has sunk its paralyzing venom into its equally deadly victim's body after a traditionally epic battle. The killer in this film dispatches a series of models after stiffening them up with a dose of the wasp's venom; he kills them as they helplessly watch their own demises. Giannini is a frustrated cop who is about to swear off police work, until he becomes obsessed with, and eventually central to, this case. My chief thought during the stalkings and oglings and killings was one of wishing that someone like an Argento were leading us through the perservity, and not the hack director of Mondo Cane, Paolo Cavara. And then I thought, "Or Bava!"

Of course, I then saw
Blade in the Dark and realized that it is very important to be very precise when putting a call out for a Bava. I should have specified "Mario" to get the job done properly, because Lamberto has proven to be nothing but a poor imitation of the real thing. Just like with spiders and cockroaches, they are very distinctive creatures, and from the evidence at hand, even though Mario did have his share of stylistically rich duds, too, neither Bava can ever be mistaken for the other. Only one of them is a deadly provocateur... and one is a mere scavenger of the leavings.

La Casa con la Scala nel Buio [Blade in the Dark]
Dir: Lamberto Bava // Italian, 1983
Cinema 4 Rating: 4

La Tarantola dal Ventre Nero [Black Belly of the Tarantula]
Dir: Paolo Cavara // Italian, 1971
Cinema 4 Rating: 5


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