Based on a true story, Beatrice Cenci is clearly the most shocking film directed by Lucio Fulci. The movie is set in the 16th century Italy where the dreaded catholic church holds the ultimate power. Beatrice's father, Francesco, is a violent nobleman who terrorizes his family and even rapes his own daughter. To get rid of his father, Beatrice (played by the very beautiful Adrienne La Russa) plans a murder that is staged as an accident. The killing is done with help from the family's servant Olympio (Tomas Milian) and other insiders, but unfortunately the staged accident is not convincing enough. The authorities soon realize Francisco's death was a murder, and the remaining Cenci family and their helpers have to go through a medieval torture hell, as the merciless interrogators try to force them to speak out.
Beatrice Cenci is not at all the goriest Fulci movie, but the torture scenes are realistic and disgusting. The fact that the catholic church and the authorities have actually used horrendous, inhuman torture methods to make supposed witches or criminals to "confess their sins", is surely the most disturbing aspect of this movie. Not everyone may be familiar with this, but during the so called Dark Ages in Europe, the catholic church tortured and killed loads of innocent people. For instance, just being red haired was easily enough to make a woman accused of sorcery, and then the innocent woman was cruelly tortured and finally publically burned to death.
Nowadays, of course, the Pope and the catholic priests try to hide their older crimes against humanity, just like they are trying to hide the child abuse that is still frighteningly common in the catholic church. So I really respect Lucio Fulci for making this very honest, outspoken movie. The man had lots of guts. Among other things, in the end Beatrice Cenci fearlessly exposes the amazing greed of the catholic church.
The acting is top-notch in Beatrice Cenci, and all the settings have been very professionally crafted. The cinematography is superb. The soundtrack is sparse, but very good. When watching this movie, you truly get the nasty feeling that you have been cast back in the medieval times. Most people look dirty and the overall atmosphere feels quite primitive and superstitious.
The structure of Beatrice Cenci is unusual. The story does not progress chronologically from the start to the finish, but in episodes that are in the reverse chronological order. That is, we get to see the consequences before their causes. That occasionally makes the film's plot a bit hard to follow, and sometimes the viewer is left confused about why certain things are happening. Nevertheless, the unusual time structure did not prove too distracting.
I think most of Fulci's films cannot be considered as too serious, in that they would carry important messages or deeper meanings beneath their surface. Instead, they are usually very good entertainment. Beatrice Cenci is totally different in this respect. Fulci's portrayal of the 16th century Rome is so painfully realistic and accurate that it easily makes the viewer feel sick. The mood is always downbeat and very depressing.
Overall, this film is just excellent, even masterful work. Without doubt, it is one of Fulci's best movies. But despite its greatness, because Beatrice Cenci is so shocking and depressing, it is not a film I would like to see again any time soon.