This is Fulci's story on patricide, told almost completely in flashbacks, in a 19th century Roman family. Francesco Cenci is a wealthy tyrant who's not only hated by the people, but by his own family as well. He is hated so much that virtually his entire family is involved in plotting his murder. Francesco's beautiful young daughter, Beatrice, wanted to join a convent, so he just locks her in a room below his castle remarking their is no difference from a regular cloister cell. This only helped to fuel Beatrice's hatred which completely materializes one night when in a drunken haze it appears as if her father wanted to rape her. Fulci shot this scene excellently. Upset at what Beatrice is wearing, Francesco rips off her dress in complete rage. As she lay frightened on the floor, the sweat from her father's face drips onto her stomach, immediately after which Fulci cuts away. Regardless of whether the act was done, it is obvious to both the viewer and Beatrice, that the desire was there.
With the help of her lover and servant, Olympio, and a hired killer (who's out on his first kill), Francesco is killed and thrown from a broken balcony to appear as an accident. Further investigation uncovers the truth and Beatrice and others of her immediate family are beheaded in the town square, while other family members are imprisoned.
What I found to be the most interesting part of the film are the ideas discussed by the local government council while deciding Beatrice's case. If she had killed her father at the moment she was to be raped, it would have been judged self-defense and Beatrice would be free. Everyone knows what type of person Francesco was and all felt he got what he rightfully deserved. The council are left to decide between what they feel is right and what is laid down in the guidelines of the law. Fulci also ads a nice scene of the council members fooling around with some women and drinking. Everybody isn't as righteous as they pretend to be and Fulci wants to show that. At the films close, when Beatrice and the rest are executed, no one cheers. In fact, for years to come, flowers are laid on Beatrice's grave and the public regards her more as a hero who stood up for herself instead of a murderer. Other members of her family are also eventually released from prison and relieved of all charges.
This is really a good film and is unlike anything Fulci ever did again. Some parts rival the soon-to-be trend of witch hunt films since it is set relatively in the same period and the basic method of interrogation is through torture. One thing that hurts the film is that it is terribly confusing at first. There are continual mentions of several characters that you have no idea yet who they are and what real bearing they have on the story. But that can be forgiven (and forgotten) once the film moves to flashbacks, bringing you back to the beginning of the story. Out of all of Fulci's films, this always remained his favorite.