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Things You Forgot Happened In 1982's Conan The Barbarian

The first thought people have when they hear the word "barbarian" is far from heroic. The barbarian class has become synonymous with pillaging en masse, but this is not the case for a lone warrior named Conan — the thick slice of man meat with a tragic past. 1982's Conan the Barbarian is an epic tale of heroism that manages to cram a lifetime vendetta into a single two-hour story. The titular character was played by a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, fresh off Muscle Beach. The Austrian Oak had appeared in a handful of other roles by this point, but Conan pushed him into the next tier of Hollywood success. 

An enjoyable part of revisiting Conan is seeing how much Schwarzenegger grew as an actor — 1982 Arnold would not have been able to deliver on titles such as Kindergarten Cop (1990). Mr. Universe's time and place was a match made in Hollywood paradise. An endearing quality to the mythos of Conan is just how much the barbarian went through in his lifetime. The film uses its time efficiently while telling a decades-spanning tale. The R-rated adventure pulls no punches during its two-hour run time, with sorcery, gladiatorial combat, fornication, and enough snakes to send Indiana Jones into shock. There are so many wild moments that if you haven't viewed the original 1982 version of Conan the Barbarian recently, you might have forgotten how crazy things get.

Conan held his mom's hand while she got decapitated by James Earl Jones

The mythical barbarian's origins are laid out in the beginning at a leisurely pace. The first 15 minutes of the film feel like a locomotive leaving the station, slow and steady. It's a wonderful formula because the pace forces you to sit in a traumatic moment with Conan and feel what he feels — a mixture of bewilderment and helplessness. The creation of an arch-nemesis begins here, and that nemesis is Mufasa himself! Er, James Earl Jones, that is.

There is an inherent gentleness to Jones, and he utilizes it as a confusing weapon while playing the cult leader Thulsa Doom. After Doom's minions massacre an entire village of Conan's people (the Cimmerians), the only two people left are Conan and his mother. They stand with their backs to the woods as their invaders descend on them, Conan gripping his mother's hand while her other hand wields a sword in defense. Doom steps up to the two, and they stare into each other's eyes. 

The moment feels tender, and your fear melts away right alongside the matriarch. Conan's mother is comforted by Doom's gaze, as though the marauder is trying to telepathically communicate that he means her no harm. She lowers her sword, and Doom turns away slowly, only to spin back around and decapitate the woman! Little Conan stands gripping the hand of his falling, headless mother while the ruthless invaders look at him emotionlessly. The poor guy is then chained up and marched into the mountains.

Conan spins a giant wheel for over a decade for no apparent reason

Screenwriters obviously needed to create a believable reasoning behind Conan's hulking physique, and Schwarzenegger was clearly brought into the fold because of his muscular frame. Surprisingly, this is a slimmed-down version of Arnold. Director John Milius wanted Conan to have an athletic frame with more mobility. So while production woes ensued and the filming rights kept changing hands, Arnold underwent an 18-month training regimen to slim down from 240 pounds to the 210 pounds of muscle we see in the film. It's wild to think that the version of Conan we see is a slimmer Mr. Universe.

Conan's build is explained simply by years of slavery. After marching the young Cimmerian through the mountains, his captors arrive at a giant cog wheel with several other poor souls spinning it around. Panning out, it looks like a giant milling device. Or a giant drill they are driving into the earth? Either way, time stretches out, and we see the young barbarian grow into a mountain of muscle. Another pan out shows that the wheel is in the same place. No production output is shown. There isn't a big hole being produced. They leave him out there chained to this device for over a decade while he pushes it around and around for no apparent reason. If they were trying to build a superhero, they succeeded.

The first opponent Conan ever fought was a biter

After being pulled away from his cog wheel, no explanation is given to Conan as to what is going on. His captors unlink him from his giant wheel of servitude and march him to another realm of enslavement. Conan is tossed into a cage with another fighter in a bout of gladiatorial combat. This is Conan's first fight against anyone, and it's a doozy. The man opposite him possesses a row of jagged teeth that he flashes demonically at the start of the match. They're his primary weapon of choice, apparently, because he charges in and goes right in for a hearty bite of Conan flesh.

There isn't much else that Conan's opponent is capable of because he is easily overcome. Once the guy's teeth are unclamped, the barbarian, who has zero combat experience, wins with little effort. We get plenty of Arnold yelps and grunts followed by a montage of victories. The evolution of Conan's combat prowess continues while his hones his skills in the ring and women are thrown into his cell. By the time Conan is facing off against serpent lords and their beefy sidekicks, you forget his humble beginnings — when his opponent was just a fellow warrior hungry for a taste of victory.

Conan fornicates with a witch who he throws into a fire mid-coitus

Conan is eventually set free, and his wanderings bring him to a weird lady's doorstep. The woman (Cassandra Gava) steps out from inside her hut and offers Conan warmth by her fire. If that sounds like a euphemism to you, then you were likely not surprised by where things went. The strange woman offers up information for Conan as to the whereabouts of Thulsa Doom and his followers, but it comes with a price. The accepted currency in this hut is a little horizontal disco, and all sales are final.

It's a peculiar scene. The woman turns out to be a witch, and mid-coitus, she growls out the information. Immediately after, a harsh blue light falls across the room, and she turns into a crazy demon! For no apparent reason, she begins clawing at Conan, and in response, he throws her into a nearby fire. After being exposed to the flames, her cackling spirit zips off into the night.

The placement of this interaction makes you think this will somehow come back around at a later point in the film, be it some sort of lore or spell or a child or ... something. Nothing ever comes of it, though. It's like our hero experienced a steamy fever dream in order to stumble across a thieving archer, Subotai (Gerry Lopez), chained to a rock wall nearby. Thanks to the witch's advances, Conan meets his new trusty companion and learns about the objectification of the male form along the way.

Conan fought a giant snake!

Hogwarts would have had less trouble with serpents had Conan been guarding the gates. Conquering the basilisk is a trivial task for a man who can wield the might of Crom (the deity our hero worships). Followers of Thulsa Doom follow a different deity in the form of Set, the Great Serpent. The worshippers of Set are into snakes, to say the least. They even sacrifice members of their cult to the giant snakes they raise in their temples. The barbarian defeats one of these snakes with little effort while stealing a prized jewel from the followers of Thulsa Doom. The battle against the serpent rages in a pit below a ritualistic sacrifice. The cult followers must be in a trance because no one hears a peep while Conan hacks away at the creature's head.

The promise of an epic battle between Conan and the serpent-worshipping Thulsa Doom is hinted at later, and a separate confrontation shows the cult leader meditate himself into serpent form. Conan and the crew infiltrate Doom's headquarters and interrupt their orgy in order to rescue a princess. Right before the ensuing chaos, Doom magically morphs into a giant snake and slithers away. We just want to see Conan fight a sentient Doom snake! But alas, the creators are teasing us. Our desire for more mythos is satiated by other weapons of Thulsa's, though — and yes, it involves more snakes.

Conan passes out in a bowl of porridge

Success can blind some people to the necessities of self-care. Once your metaphorical boulder has been pushed to the top of the mountain, it's hard not to be content and proudly sit in your accomplishments, drinking mead until your brain turns to mush. Conan suffers from the human condition as much as anyone, and one of its symptoms is gluttony. After successfully raiding the Temple of Set, the crew revels in their newfound wealth, and they spend their time indulging in all manner of drunken merriment.

The montage is short-lived. Conan is a mighty barbarian warrior! He's not meant to sit in a tavern and be showered with pleasure and porridge. The man is at his best when riding through the mountains conquering cult leaders and avenging his ancestors. Anything but adventure reduces Conan to a pitiful blob, devoid of purpose. As our narrator Akiro says, "Success can test one's mettle as surely as the strongest adversary."

After indulging in all manner of pleasures, Conan is reduced to a husk of his glorious self. Eventually, he is staring into the void when his heavy new helm dramatically pulls his head down and faceplants him into a large bowl of gray, porridge-like soup. Oh how the mighty have fallen!

Conan was crucified on a tree in the middle of the desert

Vengeance is magnetic force. It spans deserts and mountains. Its pull is felt on a primal level by the traumatized child inside of Conan. After raiding the Temple of Set and stealing its prized jewel, information about the powers at play slowly come to light for Conan. The mighty warrior becomes a powder keg of emotion when he recognizes symbols in the temple from his childhood trauma. The fuse is lit by King Osric (Max von Sydow), who tracks Conan and his bandit brethren down after they ransacked the Temple of Set. The king is delighted with their defiance of Doom and tasks them with taking him down, showering them with rubies as payment.

Conan's friend and lover, Valeria (Sandahl Bergman), pleads with him to stay and take their treasures elsewhere to live a peaceful life. The scent of vengeance is in the air for the Cimmerian warrior, though. Conan takes off in the night and ventures into Doom's compound to confront him alone. It doesn't go too well. He is beaten down and then strapped to the Tree of Woe in the middle of the desert to die, simmering beneath the sun. When vultures descend upon him, he lures one in with a game of possum before biting at its neck and thrashing it to death while strapped to the tree. It's captivating to watch the barbarian's will to live.

Conan's companions fought off a swarm of evil spirits that tried to take his soul

We all have our close circle of friends who we trust — those people who'll give you ride to the airport and a shoulder to cry on when you get a rejection letter for your new M&M flavor submission. As valuable as these friendships are, chances are high that most of us don't have friends willing to spend a starless night fighting off evil spirits looking to carry our souls into the underworld. Those are the types of companions Conan has surrounded himself with, and it's admirable to watch.

After Conan's crucifixion, he's pretty much walking into the light. Valeria and Subotai take him back to Akiro, the Wizard of the Mounds, a burial site for warriors and kings. They convince him to cast spells in order to bring the Cimmerian warrior back to the land of the living. A splattering of spells are inked all over Conan's body, and incantations are chanted. Then night sets in, and the spirits descend upon them. We don't get too much explanation into the specifics of how the sorcerer's spells work, but it's entertaining to watch the actors swinging at the air while 1982 ethereals swirl around them.

Much of Conan's survival is thanks to Valeria and Subotai, which is understated as far as storytelling goes. Even this feat of bravery isn't fully felt until later down the road. Akiro warns that the spirits will "extract a heavy toll." The price isn't paid in full until later, and Thulsa Doom is the bill collector.

Thulsa Doom grabs snakes, wills them to go rigid, and then fires them as arrows

You read that correctly: Thulsa Doom is the originator of wielding rigor mortis as a weapon! The ancient method allows him to call forth his pet snakes, caress them into a rigid state, and fire them as arrows with deadly accuracy. It's a chunk of fantasy lore that could only have occurred in the '80s. The only thing that keeps this whole process from being outright comedic is the amazing acting chops of James Earl Jones. The venerable thespian delivers this scene with all the severity the script implies.

Thulsa Doom's snake-flinging ability is an element of Conan the Barbarian that helps the film dance between fantasy farce and epic adventure. Your instinct is to scoff at the absurdity of it all, but we've seen so much with Conan at this point. We're invested. After witnessing the sorcerer morph into a serpent, we are struck with a level of indifference at the outlandish display of archery. When the reptilian projectile pierces the armor of Valeria, you can't help but feel its impact. There's no coming back from a snake arrow injury.

Conan decapitates Thulsa Doom in front of his followers

The Doomster has proven to be a slippery adversary. We have watched him graduate from the savagery of village genocide to conquering the susceptabilities of the human mind — wielding his followers' blind obedience as a display of power. Thulsa Doom even sports the power of sorcery, which he puts on display with his reptilian metamorphosis. You would expect the final confrontation between Conan and Doom to be a clashing of sword and scale worthy of the epic journey's finale. The film's final destination is far from the combat we expect, but it serves as a poetic ending to a wild ride.

Thulsa Doom stands at his temple looking out over a sea of zealots, enraptured by his power and supposed immortality. The crowd chants his name in a melodic wave of devotion. This is perfect: the villain must have his demise put on full display. Conan walks up behind the cult leader. When Doom sees his nemesis, an avalanche of manipulation falls from his lips, and for a moment, our hero wavers ... but only for a moment! Conan's resolve is absolute! He hacks away at the would-be prophet's neck and then holds his lifeless head up for all his followers to see. A grisly ending to a barbaric journey — unless you count the sequel, which is a subjective analysis for another time.