Beatrice Cenci (Lucio Fulci / Italy, 1969):
(The Conspiracy of Torture)

"Impia tortorum longas hic turba furors / Sanguinis innocui non satiate, aluit..." Lucio Fulciís Middle Ages are rather unexpectedly like Rosselliniís, riddled with tenebrous existentialism and period-movie artifice that flaunts its seams (vide Lady Beatrice with rope burns and mile-long eyelashes). Ecclesiastical venality is the theme, the horror is stated near the beginning ("We are not here to comfort you, but to save your soul") and pulled into the image of the gaping fissure in the praying chamber. The damsel (Adrienne Larussa) is violated by her avaricious father (Georges Wilson), she gets the smitten servant (Tomas Milian) to slay him; the Church steps in for the punishment, though "our Lordís justice" is nowhere to be seen. People donít believe in hell but they believe in pain, Fritz Lang once said, and Fulci serves up the entire dictionary of corporeal agonies that passed for spiritual cleansing in the Dark Ages and beyond: Sweat on battered walls, scarlet lacerations on a pale forehead, stretched sinew gone purplish on the rack. Itís an unforgettably fleshy work. The unusual structure -- a passion play within an investigation within a flashback -- is part of the terse line bridging Dreyer and Russellís The Devils, the rough, handheld camera keeps discovering El Greco angles (The Burial of Count Orgaz is cited more than once). Legend has it that the spectral Beatrice Cenci returns every year carrying her decapitated head, but Fulci knows that the living are much more terrifying than the dead, and in his telling the glow that hits the heroine at the close is not illumination, but the chilling sunlight of the gallows. With Mavie, Antonio Casagrande, Ignazio Spalla, Max Steffen Zacharias, and Raymond Pellegrin.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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