Byleth

A victim of Byleth
A victim of Byleth
Byleth
Byleth

Director: Leopoldo Savona
Writers: Norbert Blake, Leopoldo Savona
Stars: Mark Damon, Claudia Gravy, Aldo Bufi Landi

(this is an old review from The Cheesplant magazine back in c1998… Byleth has since been released in Germany with English language audio)

As with Le due orfanelle, this is a rather dialogue-heavy affair with a period setting that I was only able to track down in its original Italian language version. As such, any errors in my plot synopsis are heartily apologised for, and if anyone fancies correcting me I will be more than happy to include such amendments in a future issue (along, hopefully, with more Savona efforts).

When her body is discovered a young Duke, Lionello (Mark Damon), is among the crowd watching. Not seeming too traumatized by events, he decides to pay a visit to his sister, Barbara (the wonderfully named Claudia Gravy). These two seem to have a relationship that is definitely too close to be good, considering their status as siblings. My, they even shout at each other just like old lovers! Fortunately, she is married to Giordano (Aldo Bufi Landi), an upstanding nobleman who she loves enough to prevent her from falling into the temptations of a physical relationship with her brother.

Driven to distraction by his unsatiated lust, Lionello indulges in a bit of peeping-tomfoolery, watching the local prostitute have a fumble in the haystack with a peasant boy. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to work and he becomes even more traumatized, much given to running around pointlessly and grimacing at the camera in a sweaty fashion. His sanity isn’t helped any when the aforementioned prostitute becomes the next victim of the killer.

Seeing that his wife is upset for some reason, Giordano concludes that she’s lonely and invites his cousin, Floriana (Silvana Pompili), to come to the castle and act as company. An attractive girl, she soon catches the attention of Lionello, who is just on the point of falling for her when he relapses – unable to suppress the feelings he has for his sister – into even more erratic behavior. When Floriana is also murdered, he becomes the main suspect.

Despite how it sounds, this isn’t really a giallo; more a psychological melodrama that incorporates elements of both the mystery and the pre-Exorcist demonic possession genre. From the former it takes it’s point of view camera shots, black gloved killer and occasionally insane cinematography. From the latter it gains its titular entity, Byleth, a demon that is said to seize control over its human host and force him or her to do its evil whim – in this case slice up busty females.

Byleth
Byleth

I suppose in many ways this film can be seen as an Italian equivalent of Peter Sykes’s Demons of the Mind, which was made in the same year. Both attempt to show the way in which the mental problems of a family are short-sightedly seen as stemming from an altogether more supernatural source, and both end in tragedy for (virtually) everyone. Unfortunately Byleth doesn’t manage to achieve the same level of warped poeticism that is generated by the British production – one of the true classics of its time.

Instead it stays heavily reined in as a rather typical ‘morbid drama’ until livening up notably in the last thirty minutes. The 70’s Italian gothics (see also Sergio Garrone’s La mano che nutre la morte and Aristide Massacessi’s Death Smiled at a Murderer) have an intriguingly different feel to their counterparts from the previous decade. Very slow paced, they tend to lack any tangible degree of tension – but are often endearingly odd. Almost as though they are awaiting the advent of heavy gore and heavier sex to spice things up a bit.

That said, its not a bad film, and boasts an enjoyably potty performance from eurotrash god Mark Damon, once again decked out in his trademark heavy eye shadow. Savona again creates a stately look in which the events can unfold and there’s a great, terrible soundtrack from Vasil Kojukaroff that manages to over-signpost even the most minor dramatic moment. Caterina Chiani, who I’m guessing plays the voluptuous prostitute, changed her name to Marzia Damon shortly after this film and appeared in Sergio Garrone’s Amanti del mostro (74) and Elo Pannaccio’s Il sesso della strega (73). It was apparently alleged that this was because of her love for Sr. Damon, although to this day she denies it. By no means a classic, but worth a look for aficionado’s of Italian Horror cinema.

About Matt Blake 890 Articles
The WildEye is a blog dedicated to the wild world of Italian cinema (and, ok, sometimes I digress into discussing films from other countries as well). Peplums, comedies, dramas, spaghetti westerns... they're all covered here.

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