Lucio Fulci's opening is a brilliant conception: Florinda Bolkan excavates a baby skeleton from the side of a suspended highway, modernity lifted up by concrete pillars with their bases in primitive dirt. The first sequence of Lacombe Lucien is readily anticipated, though the infested hamlet suggested by the poetically meaningless title is Clouzot's Le Corbeau, a tiny rural Italian village revealed as an anthill of moral disintegration and chaos. Dolls are dipped into bubbling sludge in talismanic close-up, then pricked with needles; local boys soon begin turning up strangled, buried, face down in the river. Bored Barbara Bouchet, a bourgeois brat who had given one of the doomed prepubescents a full-frontal eyeful, teams with a reporter (Tomas Milian) to snoop around, and the rot quickly comes to the fore -- perverse matters involving a padre (Marc Porel), Irene Papas swathed in black, decapitated dolls, sickening vigilantism. The town's battered old walls house primeval superstition, crumby roads and staircases carved out of boulders lead to the resident magus, who quotes saints only to call them liars; not a thing is missed by Fulci, whose range of erudition is expressed in the police interrogation of the village idiot (Vito Passeri), the drunken vagabond of Au Hasard Balthazar who's taught Fellini's approach to acting ("You can count, can't you?"). The signature Fulci bit is also the devastating culmination of the film's autopsy of corrupt patriarchy, a bravura episode of pitiless, protracted violence against Bolkan's lupine "witch," chains, pipes, torn flesh scored outrageously to radio channel-surfing and capped with a sendup of Il Bidone. An oversized crucifix hangs in the woods, although Fulci remains utterly distrustful of church piety, small-town virtue and even childhood innocence -- what Bouchet and Milian ultimately unearth isn't the solution to a mystery, but the awareness of Fulci's horror erupting as vividly and messily from bucolic vistas as from decomposing zombies. With Georges Wilson, Antonello Campodifiori, and Ugo D'Alessio.
--- Fernando F. Croce