A rash of murders involving young boys in a small Italian town leads police into an investigation that involves witchcraft, revenge, and family secrets in this horror classic by Italian director Lucio Fulci.
The son of a poor couple mysterously vanishes one night. It is soon discovered that young man has been kidnapped and the kidnappers are demanding that six million lira in cash be dropped off in an abandoned warehouse. Unfortunately, the couple can not afford to pay the ransom, so instead they decide to phone the police, despite warnings from the kidnapper not to involve the authorities. The police decide to help the father make the drop, but reporter Andrea Martelli seems to have a better idea about what the kidnapper's true motives. When the kidnapper shows up to collect the money, the police raid the warehouse and capture Giuseppe Barra, believing him to be the kidnapper. Barra swears he is innocent, but the boy's father confirms that the voice matches the one he heard over the phone. When the police discover the boy's body, Barra claims that the boy was already dead and that he merely buried him. The police immediately place him under arrest, but Martelli, as well as the Police Commissioner, doubt that Barra is the real perpetrator.
Martelli and Avallone
The next morning, an elderly woman discovers the body of another boy, and the police immediately begin to work under the assumption that the two deaths are related. Furthermore, because of the similar methods of the death, the police conclude that they are dealing with a homicidal maniac. Martelli decides to visit the local school and has a discussion with the headmaster, a priest named Alberto Avallone. While walking through the town, they run into Patrizia. Patrizia is a beautiful woman, whose father was one of the richest men in town. She had left the town but was forced to return when she was involved in a drug scandel.
The third victim
Later that night, another boy is murdered in the same manner as the first two children. The police question Patrizia, but she denies any involvement, even though she lured the boy out of his home with a phone call from a gas station. Later, a mysterious woman, Maciara, is revealed to have some connection with a set of voodoo dolls that she has been sticking with needles and burying and at the funeral, the young boy's mother cries out that she can feel the presence of the killer in the church. The police begin observing Maciara and reveal that she is believed to be a witch and that she lives with Francesco, whom the people believe practices black magic. The police call on Francesco, but he informs them that he hasn't seen Maciara in two weeks. Francesco tells the police that he had a vision that led him to the scene of the third crime, but that he never saw anybody while there. As the police are leaving, they observe Patrizia paying a visit to Francesco.
After receiving an anonymous tip, the police discover the cave where Maciara has been living. We learn that there was a rumor that Francesco and Maciara may have had a child a together, but that it was believed to have died shortly after birth. The police eventually apprehend Maciara, who almost immediately confesses to the crimes, claiming they had disturbed the skeleton over dead child. Unfortunately, Maciara believes she killed the children by cursing them and then goes into some type of seizure. The police decide to release her, although the townsfolk still believe her to be guilty and she is killed by one of the parents of the murdered children.
Meanwhile, at school, some of the boys tell Avallone that Mario has gone to a haunted house on his own. While walking down the road, Mario runs into Patrizia, who has a flat tire. he offers to help her and the scene cuts to Mario's dead body being discovered by the police. While at the scene, Martelli discovers Patrizia's lighter and decides to pay her a visit and eventually turns her over to the police. After noticing a picture in the newspaper, Martelli and Patrizia finally make a connection and realize that Avallone's sister witnessed the crime and that his mother is the actual killer. Believing that the mother is the killer and that she will try to kill her own daughter, Martelli and Patrizia take off to rescue the little girl. When they arrive, they realize that Avallone is the real killer and that he is attempting to save the children by killing them. Martelli arrives just in time rescue the little girl and Avallone is killed in the struggle.