From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
This is Lucio Fulci's semi-obscure, scathing bio-pic on the hypocrisy and brutal, medieval torture methods used by the Catholic Church in the 16th century to obtain information all in the name of God.
We focus on the Cenci family, specifically the uncouth, slovenly, abusive and tyrannical patriarch, Francesco (George Wilson). Because of his great disrespect for the all but separated Church and State, the Cardinal and Tribunal demand that Francesco relinquish 1/3 of his land and pay the commoners or be exiled. His beautiful daughter Beatrice (Adrienne Larussa) cannot take living with her father (neither can his wife or little brother for that matter) and wants to join a nunnery. Francesco finds out about this, promptly locks her in the dungeon of the castle, saying that is just as good, and beats her.
Beatrice takes up with a servant, Olimpio (Tomas Milian). Over the course of their "love affair," she talks Olimpio into helping rid the Cencis of Francesco. Because Olimpio is so much in love with Beatrice, he agrees. She tells him to enlist the help of a hermit/thief named Catalano (Pedro Sanchez), a hulking man living a cave.Francesco has a large banquet full of wine, food, and ugly old men tearing open the bodices of the not bad-looking women who do not seem to mind (probably because of all the alcohol that's being imbibed). Francesco wants Beatrice to join the festivities. When she comes down to the dining hall, he tells her that her two distant brothers are dead and that she should go change into something appropriate for this joyous event. Beatrice storms into her room and returns to the dinner in a black funeral gown. Francesco, furious, demands that she go back and change.
Beatrice returns to her bedroom. Francesco appears behind her in the doorway, then goes in and shuts the door behind him. Francesco is completely drunk, clothes disheveled, face drenched in sweat. He grabs the front of Beatrice's black dress and tears it away. Topless and vulnerable, she is trapped in a corner of the room, Francesco stands over her and the off-screen rape, the event that finally broke Beatrice's mind and tipped the scales in favor of orchestrating her father's death, occurs. Beatrice and the others wait until Francesco has passed out, drag him to his bed, and then proceed with a painful murder.
The film is told in flashbacks, beginning with the building of the gallows for Beatrice's beheading, and ending after her offscreen execution and a coda narration. BEATRICE CENCI is an interesting film in the oeuvre of Lucio Fulci. It seems to bridge the gap between the more brutal, sadistic and violent movies he would later gain acclaim for. The movie is violent, naturally: Francesco has a man ravaged by dogs, his throat ripped open, then stabbed to death in the background by one of Francesco's henchmen. The confession/torture scenes are strong stuff, especially when Olimpio's veins and tendons are visibly stretched on the rack. He is also burned twice with a hot iron. A man is chased by others on horseback and stabbed. Finally, there is a very dull metal spike (?) hammered into someone's eye killing them when it hits their brain (a precursor to Zombi 2 and Fulci's penchant for ocular trauma perhaps?). The point is while all this is horrible sounding, it is not gratuitous or without context (spike in the eye and dog attack notwithstanding) as one would expect, especially coming from a director such as Fulci. In other words, I do not think it is straight up exploitation, not in the Mark of the Devil sense.
While he had previously poked fun at the Catholic Church in OPERATION SAINT PETER'S (1967, a.k.a. OPERAZIONE SAN PIETRO), with BEATRICE CENCI Fulci’s gloves were off and his disdain shows all through the picture. Much like it would in his 1972 classic giallo Don't Torture A Duckling.
What really hits the viewer is how cold and single-minded Beatrice becomes. We do not really get to know what she is all about through the whole movie. Only that she wants to be rid of her father. She uses Olimpio as a means to an end and the look she gives him as he lies dying on the floor of the torture chamber as she ascends the stairs is quite chilling.
The sets and look of BEATRICE CENCI are beautiful, with gorgeous country sides and castles. There are a few of Fulci's typical controlled zooms, his great compositions, and more split diopter shots than I have seen in any of his other films. If you are a Fulci fan and have not seen this, check it out.
Reviewed by Justin Dickinson