Beatrice Cenci: Limited Edition (DE - DVD)
Gabe Powers takes a look at Lucio Fulci's more sombre and political side
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This is the tale of one young lady’s murderous vengeance as wreaked against her abusive father. Like every good Christian, Beatrice Cenci (Adrienne Larussa) first tries speaking out about her family’s frequent abuse. When the Roman authorities ignore her cries for help, and after her father locks her away for her reports, she decides to take matters into her own hands, constructing an elaborate plot involving her besotted servant Olimpio (Thomas Milan).
After a decade of working in relative obscurity, director Lucio Fulci took his first steps into the realms of controversy and ultra-violence with his brutal period drama Beatrice Cenci (aka: The Conspiracy of Torture, Der Nackte und der Kardinal, and Perversion Story—which is not to be confused with Fulci’s One on Top of the Other, which was released the same year). The film was based on an actual historical murder case, and is a rather stanch and pointed attack on certain facets of the Roman Catholic Church, though not nearly as pointed as his later attack in Don’t Torture a Duckling. More importantly, Beatrice Cenci is a pro-feminist morality tale, and a total downer at that. Fulci’s name would later become synonymous with misogyny thanks to masochistic gore films like The New York Ripper, but at this relatively early point in career he was more interested in subtlety.
The film itself then lingered in obscurity for decades, and never saw an official American video release. Even in Fulci’s native Italy it went unseen on DVD. For years hard-core fans had to trade off Z-grade VHS boots taken from a Japanese Laserdisc release. Due to the fact that the film has been referred to as one of the director’s personal favourites and its difficult to find nature, this German release marks the first chance many fans have to see the film at all on disc, with the English dialogue track and the option of English subtitles during Italian playback. For these reasons this release is a must buy for fans, but the film’s actually quality may lead to interest from non-fans as well.
Beatrice Cenci is easily one of the director’s most restrained features, as dictated by its historical content. Scenes of torture and violence serve a narrative purpose, and are played out for reasons of dramatic tension rather than pure shock. Barring that, however, there are signs of Fulci’s latent need to shock and disgust his audience with these acts of violence, and the film is obviously a stepping stone towards the director’s later and bawdier gorefests. Though fans of the dripping guts and running claret will probably be disappointed by the film’s relative lack of graphic bloodshed, they should be impressed with the tactile and disturbing nature of the violence they get, and should recognize the film as a developmental step in the director’s career. Unlike the eye gouges and flesh chewing of Zombie, or the intestinal track vomiting and drill press lobotomies of City of the Living Dead, the violence of Beatrice Cenci actually hurts to watch, physically and emotionally.
Besides the maturity and class of the visuals, and the melodramatically appeasing of its performances (can Thomas Milan do wrong?), the feature’s most impressive aspect is its non-linear storytelling. Back and forth narratives without obvious markers for flashbacks weren’t entirely unheard of in 1969 ( Citizen Kane and Lolita had popularly done it several years previous), but they weren’t as easily accepted in the era, and definitely weren’t the norm for the director. The structure does lead to some confusion, but serves the story well from the standpoint of dramatic tension. We know from the beginning of the film that Beatrice, her servant and lover, and her family are responsible for the death of her father, but we don’t know the degree of their guilt or why they did it. In fact, we assume we know the depths of his guilt and depravity rather early on, but as the story unravels we realize things are even worse than they first seem.
Really, as a fan, I say it’s just a thrill to finally see the damn movie, but having it look good is a definite plus. This anamorphically enhanced transfer has its share of bumps and bruises, but the overall look is pretty even and clear. The first and most obvious problem is the occasional harshness of the transfer’s contrast levels. Blacks are rich and deep, but often envelope what appears to be a little more than their share of image. The colour pallet is purposefully dull, mostly consisting of browns and golds, and seem to be accurately portrayed here. Detail levels fluctuated throughout, from sharp to soft, but artefacts are minimal, and grain is pretty fine.
The 1.78:1 aspect ratio seems to be slightly cropped, mostly on the right side. Sometimes script is cut off on the right, and shots that one assumes were supposed to be centred (Fulci loves his eyeball close-ups) are shifted slightly to the left. My assumption is that the OAR is actually something like 1.85:1.
The English, German, and Italian tracks are all presented in simple mono sound, but surprisingly enough are entirely different tracks. Not only have the voices been dubbed, but the music and sound effects are different on each track. It appears that most of the actors were speaking English on set, so for lip-sync the English track is probably the most advisable. However, the Italian and German tracks are livelier when it comes to music and sound effects. All three tracks are more or less equal in digital clarity, there’s not a whole lot of definition, and higher volume levels (along with esss sssoundsss) distort a bit.
It’s important to note that this ‘Limited Edition’ release is only called that because there are only 999 copies with this particular cover. The alternate and not limited covered editions are exactly the same. There isn’t a whole lot in the way of extras, but it doesn’t hurt to bad because they’d probably be in German only anyway. We get a collection of the basics—a German trailer, a photo gallery with some nice original poster art, and a series of trailers for other New Entertainment releases.
In a recent article on Rottentomatoes.com, writer/director Eli Roth compiled a small list of his favourite obscure horror films, and included this title. Though I was quite impressed with his list overall (especially the inclusion of Who Can Kill a Child), Roth’s hyperbolic text isn’t really to be believed. He says that Beatrice Cenci would’ve earned a Best Picture Academy Award if released today, which is quite far from true. However, the film is an impressive addition to a misunderstood maestro’s cannon, and one that transcends the lines of horror film fanaticism.
You can find Beatrice Cenci Limited and Standard editions along with other Fulci favs at Xploitedcinema.com. Check them out and support my sponsor.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 18th September 2007
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono Italian, English and German
Subtitles: English, German
Extras: Trailers, Photo Gallery, German Credits
Easter Egg: No
Director: Lucio Fulci
Cast: Adrienne La Russa, Tomás Milián, Antonio Casagrande
Length: 99 minutes
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