We never learn what is in the straw Ocron and her posse pass from nostril to nostril,
but the slow languid heavy way everyone moves gives us several interesting options.
A bit like Clu Galager and Lee Marvin in The Killers (if Ronald Reagan was a metalheaded naked woman snake handler) they're cool enough you kind of want to be hanging out with them, even if three would probably be a crowd. A groovy homoerotic subtext thrives on close reading, depending on how much you want to feel around for it in the white-out fog. Hunky Mace knows some rivers are best left uncrossed ("your world is better than mine," he bemoans at one point, "but this is where I come from.") You can imagine the same scene in the third half of Brokeback Mountain with Heath Ledger as Mace, i.e. too repressed to suck venom out of Ilias's leg wound, the way, say, latter barbarian lavender soulmates like Xena and Gabrielle would do in nearly every episode (admittedly a decade later). Mace probably wouldn't even give him mouth-to-mouth if it was needed. He'd ask a bear to do it.
Still he's not afraid to pick his beau friend some healing lavender flowers when he's sick. Look at him there (below) - gazing pensively around in the early morning mist while Ilias pines away in engorged agonies back on the riverside. As you see below, the mist adds an impressionistic, almost Matisse-esque lyricism to the image.
In today's more enlightened times, the closeted-even-to-itself sublimation of the Mace-Ilias bond seems quaintly timid, while the choice of making the most powerful woman in the film a naked, faceless monster is problematic. Good thing that the sort of critic who would dig deep enough to be offended by either reading will probably never take this fogbound journey into the unknown. Long hard to see (figuratively as well as literally), it's been remastered and made available online and in Blu-ray only because Fulci has such a fervent following. But even Fulci disowned it, walking away right after shooting. Hardocre Fulci apologists would rather champion something like The New York Ripper, wherein Fulci finally justifies his misogynistic accusers. It was his first in years without his go-to screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti, who was pretty pissed to be left off the team. The legend has it Fulci was losing his health and his damned mind and this was the proof.
But what a run he'd had! Surely some of the classic Fulci magic had to spill over, even if no one saw it yet in that opaque fog. And there are plenty of touches that make it unmistakably Fulci: the idea that he almost never films from the expected angle or distance. The camera is seldom at eye level; usually it's kept low so the boys loom as giants with the magic hour sun behind their heads, or it swoops high up on a crane, as if some friendly giant beaming down at their foggy folly. The gore is always satisfying in its crunchiness. Callbacks to classic Fulci films abound: the way Ilias goes "yayayayayayaya" when batting away at the cave bats references Fulci's House by the Cemetery; the 'Eibon' symbol on Mace's forehead references Fulci's The Beyond; the gross close-ups of Ilias's venom and pus-engorged dart wound reference City of the Living Dead; the eerie center-screen-eyeless-head shot close-ups of the zombies resembles, you guessed it, Zombie. All in all, a Fulci capstone to a brilliant seven film / four year run.
It's not perfect. I do wish we got to see Siani's pretty face, and I wish we got an occasional break from the fog. But any old film can be in focus, and we can see Siani in Ator, the Fighting Eagle and Throne of Fire. Two movies that are like the PG-13 daytime and Conquest is the R-rated night.