Beatrice Cenci (1969)
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring Adrienne Larussa, Tomas Milian, Georges Wilson, Mavie, Antonio Casagrande, Ignazio Spalla, Max Steffen Zacharias, Raymond Pellegrin, Massimo Sarchielli, Mirko Ellis
Zombie. House by the Cemetery. City of the Living Dead. The Beyond. Beatrice Cenci??? I know that most all horror fans would have recognized those first four titles. They were made by Italy’s Godfather of Gore, Lucio Fulci. But what is Beatrice Cenci? Or more importantly, who WAS Beatrice Cenci?
Beatrice Cenci, the person, was the daughter of aristocrat Francesco Cenci. He was not only a very violent man with a bad temper, but also treated his own family extremely poorly. In fact, he supposedly even had raped his own daughter, Beatrice. That was the last straw, and with the rest of her family, plotted to kill their evil father. The problem was that because of his money and power Catholic Church heard about this questionable death and started to investigate. Many people were tortured to discover what really happened. In the end, Beatrice, her brother, her step-mother, and Beatrice’s faithful servant/lover were all executed. The youngest brother who was involved, had to witness the executions before spending the rest of his life in prison. The church took over the family’s wealth and property, which was a common thing to do back then. The townspeople knew how evil Francesco Cenci was, and they thought this was wrong for the family to be punished for putting an end to this terrible man.
Beatrice Cenci, the movie, pretty much follows the historical data. The film is told with a series of flashbacks, with each one giving us more details as to what had happened. Though there are a lot of these sequences, it doesn’t confuse the viewer to what’s going on. This shows how masterful of a filmmaker that Lucio Fulci was. The depth of each character is shown more and more as the story progresses, especially with the use of these flashbacks. At first, it seems that Beatrice was just using her servant to get him to do the evil deed. But when you find out just what her father had done to her, can you really blame her, or any of them, for plotting his demise?
The other strong point in this film is how it shows the Catholic Church as a bunch of money-grabbing scoundrels. They were more concerned about acquiring the property and money from their congregation than saving the souls of them. Even when they discover about her father’s attack on Beatrice, the church won’t budge on her punishment.
There are quite a few scenes of torture here, which are done with a very serious tone and not for simple gratuitous violence. It shows the reality of what these poor people were put through, just to force out a confession. And all the time, the priests were convinced they were “saving their souls”.
I’d say one of the main reasons this film works so well is the cast. Adrienne Larussa is strikingly beautiful. But it’s not just her beauty that makes her worth watching. The emotional performance she gives is amazing. The look on her face when her broken and tortured lover is brought before her is both moving and memorable. Tomas Milian, a staple of Italian films, plays Beatrice’s servant/lover, who goes through hell for his love. Georges Wilson, who plays the devious Cenci patriarch, does such a wonderful job getting the viewer to truly despise and hate this man.
Most of today’s fans mainly know Fulci for his gore films from the late 70’s to early 80’s. They might even be familiar with some of his earlier work, like Don’t Torture a Duckling. But not too many people had the chance to see Beatrice Cenci, since it was never really given a release here in the states. Even years ago in the bootleg market, finding a decent copy was tough to do. Which is a damn shame since it really shows just how good of a filmmaker Fulci was.
If you are a serious fan of Lucio Fulci then you really need to not only see this film, but to add it to your collection. That way, when someone says that Fulci was just a gore director, you can whip this one out on them and show them just how wrong they are.