More proof if needed that the world’s gone mad: I’ve just noticed an expiry date on a roll of tape. It’s as good as any other reason to lament the seventies are finished: an era style may have forgotten, but food didn’t have an expiry date and mothers weren’t crucified when they allowed their toddlers to sip their wine or inhale some smoke. The latter was shown on a retro show the other day and I believe the viewers have caught up with the woman by now and have banished her from the country. Another grand plus of the seventies: it was the era of the giallo.
Meet Byleth, the Italian bastard child of a giallo and Bilitis. The erotic scenes are clearly shot to titilate the viewer and the lack of vaseline on the lens has a simple explanation: they didn’t have a budget. In Byleth a young man has the best day of his life when his sister returns home: you see, he had a fond relationship with his sister. No, fonder than what you’re thinking of… let’s just say they often slept together. Too bad for him she’s been keeping a little secret: she’s been married for a couple of months and she’s returned to introduce her husband.
And to make it more of a giallo: there’s also a mad killer on the loose, cutting women with a strange knife.
Byleth – or Byleth, il demone dell’incesto to use the film’s full title – was directed in 1972 by one Leopoldo Savona, whose filmography included mostly westerns (maybe you’ve heard of his Apocalypse Joe). The biggest name attached to the film is Mark Damon, whose filmography we don’t need to mention here (because we know you’re into cult movies and there’s no need to insult your intelligence). Damon plays Lionello, the troubled protagonist of the film. His sister (and possible love interest) Barbara is portrayed by Claudia Gravy, who appeared in a handful of exploitation movies. Speaking of exploitation movies, Marzia Damon (the unlucky chambermaid) has a filmography brimful of exploitation: this film is by far the most normal, other films include Decameron n°69, Holocaust 2: the memories, delirium and vendetta (nicknamed “I’ll spit on your swastika”) and Sexy Sinners. Aldo Bufi Landi, as Barbara’s husband, completes the main cast.
Byleth was released by X-Rated Kult DVD and it proudly boasts it has the dvd world premiere of this film. It’s true that this is quite a rare movie. Not in the least because its theme (the incestuous relationship) and giallo references make it sound sleazier than the film ultimately is. It should be avoided at any cost if you can’t stand slow-paced films. In fact, Byleth is so slow it makes Finnish arthouse films look like rollercoaster rides. However, one third of those overlong scenes consist of semi-naked to naked women in extasy, so the pervs amongst you may want to complain the movie is only 79 minutes long.
Which brings us to the language options of the film: you can choose between German audio with optional English subtitles or Italian audio with fixed English subtitles. If you choose the Italian audio, you’re in for a surprise: the first scene is in German. Rather than have you check seven times whether you’ve chosen the correct audio channel, I can tell you that you did choose correctly, but the Italian version is shorter than the German version (that’s a first) and the missing scenes are inserted into the Italian version. Because clearly the Italians thought 79 minutes was way too long for a movie. Collectors will of course choose the Italian version to see what was chopped.
Bad news from our subtitle department: the movie is presented as a 4:3 letterbox and the subtitles are at the bottom of the screen. So if you don’t understand German or Italian, you’ll be forced to switch your widescreen tv to 4:3 format if you want to know what’s going on.
Speaking of subtitles, they sometimes lack a finishing touch. The subtitlers may want to check up on their English grammar again: “Why you wrote me…?” and “he don’t” is not correct English and as far as sloppiness goes, there’s one scene where we’re informed the killer dragged the “boody” to the “parc”.
As per usual, X-Rated have released the film with two covers. You can choose between one using the German subtitle “the demon with the bloody fingers” or one going for the sleazier “horror sex in spooky castle”. The artwork is also different, but the one with the naked woman approached by the gloved hands was often used as the film’s poster. This is something you can check in one of the extras: a slideshow of artwork for the film. Other extras are a couple of trailers (including Africa Erotica and the quite awful Oh, Bangkok!) and a comparison of the film copies. The Italian VHS didn’t use a nightfilter whereas the DVD does. The result is a clear improvement: suddenly Italian nights don’t look like noons anymore.
I must say that the film improves after a while, but it’ll take you more than half an hour to get captivated by it. And, for me, the captivation didn’t last forever: Savona may be able to direct a couple of interesting scenes, but a handful of good scenes don’t make a good movie. Weirdly enough, this helps the film in a way: when the movie’s finished you are allowed to wonder if all you’ve seen really happened or whether you were partly in the sick mind of Lionello.
So maybe not an exceptional movie, but at least it’s decent and rare. Good luck – as with most X-Rated Kult releases – tracking it down.
P.S. At the time of writing Xploited Cinema still offered both versions of the DVD release.