Arnold Schwarzenegger had weapons training, martial arts training, and horse riding lessons from specialists. He trained with an 11-pound broadsword two hours a day for three months, and learned how to handle one; each broadsword cost $10,000 and had to look weathered. He also learned climbing techniques, and how to fall and roll and jump from 15-feet in the air. John Milius made sure all of these were videotaped, and according to Schwarzenegger, they were just as intense as training for bodybuilding competitions. Franco Columbu was his trainer and was rewarded with a small part in the film.
James Earl Jones was a last minute addition to the cast because of his commitments on Broadway. He and Arnold Schwarzenegger became friends on-set; Schwarzenegger helped Jones stay in shape and Jones coached Schwarzenegger on acting; so did Max von Sydow.
In an interview, John Milius said that the dogs they used in the film were very unfriendly and dangerous. He even went as far to say "When you had the dogs chasing Arnold Schwarzenegger and he's running, he's actually running for his life because he knew those dogs were very dangerous and they even attacked their trainer".
Although Conan and Valeria are shown together frequently throughout the movie, he only speaks five words to her in the entire film - and they're all in the first thirty seconds after they meet: "You're not a guard", and "No".
A Conan expert was brought in to tutor Arnold Schwarzenegger on how to live like the character, e.g. sleeping outdoors, living off the land, etc. Schwarzenegger thanked him by getting him cast as an enemy warrior hacked to bits by Conan. He was delighted that Schwarzenegger had been cast as Conan, as were the fans.
Conan's response to the Mongol General is an abbreviation of a real quote attributed to Genghis Khan: "The greatest pleasure is to vanquish your enemies and chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth and see those dear to them bathed in tears, to ride their horses and clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters." Subotai (or Subedei Baghadur) was the name of Great Khan's general. The fact that Conan is not only chased but to some extent orphaned by dogs also recalls Genghis Khan's well-documented fear of that particular animal. Finally, the writers' preoccupation with steel seems oddly coincidental, given that Genghis Khan's birth name, Temujin, is frequently translated as "finest steel."
Arnold Schwarzenegger suffered a back injury (among other various assorted injuries) while filming when the dogs who were chasing him jumped him from behind and he fell down the rock he was climbing to escape them.
When Oliver Stone wrote the script, he made Arnold Schwarzenegger read comics and fantasy novels to see how he handled period dialogue. Stone set the story in the future after the downfall of civilization; it was to be a four hour saga and had a whole host of creatures. It would have cost the studio $70 million (approximately $173 million in 2016, adjusted for inflation) to pull that off so they refused. John Milius wound up rewriting much of Stone's script, which cut the budget by more than half, which also called for a change in location. He wanted the fantasy accurate in every detail.
The fake blood used in the film came in the form of a concentrate, which had to be mixed with water prior to use. Due to the cold weather, it was mixed with vodka (as an anti-freeze) instead. In the scenes in which the actors were supposed to spit the blood, they would swallow it instead, then go back to the special effects man for more.
Arnold Schwarzenegger had retired from professional bodybuilding after winning the 1975 Mr. Olympia contest. He got back into such good shape while training for his role in "Conan the Barbarian" that he decided to enter the 1980 Mr. Olympia contest. He won the contest although there was a great deal of controversy about whether he deserved the victory.
The snake cult of Thulsa Doom is modeled after the Flagellants-a cult that arose in Germany at the time of the Plague of the Black Death in the mid 14th. Century. They are wearing similar white robes and some are whipping themselves.
Although the "Hyborian Age" of Conan was approximately 10,000 BC, creator Robert E. Howard used Medieval themes and influences in the Conan stories to avoid any complicated historical research. Oliver Stone's script placed the story in a post-apocalyptic future rather than the distant past. This was abandoned and the original timeline was restored.
While the scene of Conan's father making his sword is visually very impressive, in reality, casting a steel, or even iron, sword would be a metallurgical disaster, creating something that would break the first time it was put to use.
Director John Milius says in the documentary Frazetta: Painting with Fire (2003) that more than a few scenes were dedicated to legendary artist Frank Frazetta and based on his artwork, including the scene in the orgy chamber, Thulsa Doom turning into a snake, a girl chained to a pillar and a climactic fight scene.
200 workers built the sets in a large warehouse outside Madrid. The production crew were made up of people from Italy, England, the US and Spain. 1500 extras were employed and the score was performed by a 90-piece orchestra and a 24-member choir, singing mock Latin.
There is an enduring urban legend about the so-called "Conan toy line". The story is that the Mattel Toy Company started to make some Conan action figures, but after viewing the film, the executives realized that they couldn't afford to be associated with a film with such graphic sex and violence. They gave their doll blonde hair, called him "He-man", and thus created He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983). However, since the first He-Man figures were released in 1981, the legend appears to be false. In 1984, however, now-defunct toy company Remco released an officially licensed series of Conan action figures. Ironically enough, once the He-Man action figures became immensely popular, numerous knockoffs were produced, including a repainted He-Man figure that had brown hair, making it look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. The knockoff was sold mainly through mom-and-pop dollar stores and came in generic packaging labeled "The Barbarian".
The Friedrich Nietzsche quotation that opens the movie, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger", is a loose translation of "Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker", which more properly translates as "That which does not kill me, makes me stronger." It's from "Twilight of the Idols", Maxims and Arrows, 8.
Although Valeria is Conan's love interest in the film, in the Conan canon, the pirate queen Belit is considered to be the love of his life. Valeria even borrows alot of Belit's characteristics in the film. Many who are familiar with the Conan pulp novels wondered why Valeria was in the film instead of Belit. In the films commentary, director John Milius said that he had always wanted to film a Valkyrie-like character and Valeria more closely fit the description than Belit.
Universal were worried the film's violence was too excessive for viewers. Sid Sheinberg, the president of Universal saw a rough cut and thought it too violent for a holiday release so it was pushed back. On Golden Pond (1981) was Universal's Christmas release instead. The censors asked John Milius to tone the violence down which he did, but in the end it still wasn't enough for them. Arnold Schwarzenegger was annoyed about that but now thinks it brought more people to see it; it was his first real taste of large scale studio marketing and he also helped promote the film in six different countries.
Due to production delays, Arnold Schwarzenegger took smaller supporting roles in the interim to give him more experience in front of the camera. During filming, he was away from Maria Shriver for five months, so she tried visiting the set as much as she could.
The film was the first time Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sven-Ole Thorsen appeared in a film together. Thorsen has since appeared in other 14 films starring Schwarzenegger, either as an actor or as a stuntman.
According to producer Raffaella De Laurentiis, pre-production for the movie initially began in Yugoslavia, but due to the political instability in the area, it was ultimately decided to move the rest of the movie's production to Spain.
Despite the film being named for Conan, the film character's personal history seems to be based on Kull the Conqueror. Robert E. Howard, the creator of both characters, gave a more detailed origin to Kull. Conan was a young adventurer who apparently left his homeland voluntarily. He was never a slave or gladiator in any story by Howard. While Kull was exiled from his homeland, and spend time as first a slave and then a gladiator before usurping a throne. The character Thulsa Doom is both named after and partly based on an enemy of Kull and not of Conan. The Serpent cult features prominently in tales of both characters.
The stuntman who was dropped down the well by Valeria in the Tower Of Set fell into a big pile of empty cardboard boxes to avoid injury. His leg still broke from the fall. This is mentioned in the DVD/Blu-Ray commentary.
Thulsa Doom in the film briefly shape-shifts into a snake. This is probably inspired by the Serpent Men, a shape-shifting, humanoid-snake race in the works of Robert E. Howard and their adaptations. They figure prominently in both the Kull the Conqueror and Conan stories.
James Earl Jones reportedly was offered the role of Thulsa Doom at a time when he was considering applying for another film: Grendel Grendel Grendel (1981). He wanted the part of Grendel. When he lost interest in that production, he read the Conan script and agreed to take the part of the villain.
Mako was chosen for the role of the Wizard of the Mounds (and the narrator) because of his considerable acting experience. He had been acting in film roles since 1959. He had been nominated for an Academy Award for his supporting role in The Sand Pebbles (1966).
The Conan stories were rediscovered and reprinted in the 1950s. Their popularity has waxed and waned over time, but most remain in print. Conan fandom is divided among "purists" who only appreciate the original stories and unfinished drafts by Robert E. Howard and those who also appreciate the stories edited, completed, or written by other writers.
Besides the literary series of Conan stories, the film was influenced by the Marvel Comics popular adaptations and expansion of it: "Conan the Barbarian" (1970-1993) and "Savage Sword of Conan" (1974-1995) which featured the works of writers and artists such as Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith.
Conan's mother was played by Nadiuska. She is a German actress (of Polish and Russian descent) who made a notable film career in Spain. Her only previous role in an English-language film was the exploitation film Guyana: Cult of the Damned (1979).
The Tree of Woe where Conan was crucified was not an actual tree. The film crew created the "tree" out of layers of plaster and Styrofoam applied onto a skeleton of wood and steel. It was mounted on a turntable, allowing it to be rotated to ensure the angle of the shadows remained consistent throughout three days of filming. Schwarzenegger sat on a bicycle seat mounted in the tree while fake nails were affixed to his wrists and feet.
Robert E. Howard conceived of Cimmeria, Conan's homeland, prior to creating the character himself. In February, 1932, Howard wrote the poem Cimmeria, about a "land of Darkness and deep Night", a gloomy place with dark woods, dusky silent streams and a leaden cloudy sky.
Crom, Conan's deity, is not an original creation of Robert E. Howard. His notes included referenced to an entire pantheon of Cimmerian deities, all based on deities and other figures from Celtic mythologies. He is named after Crom Cruach, a god of Ireland whose worship supposedly included human sacrifice.
Besides the historical Cimmerians and the theories about the descendants, Robert E. Howard likely drew inspiration for Conan and Cimmeria from a description of mythological Cimmerians in the Odyssey by Homer. According to a 19th century translation: "...the deep waters of the river Okeanos, where lie the dêmos and city of the Cimmerians who live enshrouded in mist and darkness which the rays of the sun never pierce neither at his rising nor as he goes down again out of the heavens, but the poor wretches live in one long melancholy night." Which fits with Howard's gloomy depiction of Cimmeria.
Gerry Lopez who played Subotai was a champion surfer but had little acting experience. His only notable previous film role was playing himself in the film Big Wednesday (1978), also directed by John Milius.
Sandahl Bergman was a professional dancer whose few previous film roles were in dance-related films. She was recommended for the role by director Bob Fosse who have worked with her in All That Jazz (1979).
Conan's father's sword ("Master's sword") and the blade he finds in a tomb ("Atlantean sword") were co-created by prop maker Tim Huchthausen and swordsmith Jody Samson. Their blades were hand ground from carbon steel and heat treated and left unsharpened. The hilts and pommels were sculpted and cast through the lost-wax process; inscriptions were added to the blades via electrical discharge machining. Samson and Huchthausen made four Master's and four Atlantean swords.
Robert E. Howard's Conan tales are thought influenced by pre-existing philosophies and literary schools: Romanticism, Neo-romanticism, Aestheticism, and the Decadent movement. They influenced such story elements as a disdain for reason, tradition, and any form of tyranny, a love of beauty, color, and pageantry in the descriptions of anything from battlefields to decadent cities, themes of wanderlust, black magic, accursed jewels, and snake figures, and also Conan's personal philosophy: "Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content... I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content."
Valeria as depicted in the film has been described as an Amazon character, a female warrior whose battle prowess matches that of Conan, serves as his equal in behavior and status, and is bound to him by loyalty and love.
The first series character by Robert E. Howard was Kull the Conqueror, created in 1929. Howard wrote 12 short stories about Kull and one poem. However, he only managed to sell three of them to his publisher. Conan was conceived as a replacement character. The Kull story "By This Axe I Rule!" was re-worked into "The Phoenix on the Sword", the first appearance of Conan.
While Conan and other barbarian characters were not the only creations of Robert E. Howard, he seemed to prefer them over more "civilized" characters. The writer propagated the view that human civilization is unnatural, inherently corrupt, and fragile. One of the Conan tales summarizes his views on the subject: "Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph."
Conan is a Cimmerian. In the essay "The Hyborian Age", which fleshed out Conan's world and established its history, Robert E. Howard established his Cimmerians as descendants of the Atlanteans and ancestors of the Gaels. He specified that the Gaels descended from "pure-blooded Cimmerian clans" and were themselves ancestors of the Irish people and the Highland Scots. This was partly based on Howard's own fascination with the historical Celts.
The Hyborian Age includes many kingdoms and tribes conceived as ancestral to historical ones. As explained by Robert E. Howard: 1) Pure-blooded Aesir were ancestors of the Achaeans, Britons, and Gauls, 2) An Aesir off-shoot which conquered the kingdom of Nemedia formed the ancestors of the Nemedians of Irish legend, 3) Pure-blooded Vanir were the ancestors of the Danes, 4) a mixed race formed from the interbreeding of the Aesir, Cimmerians, and Vanir were the ancestors of the Goths and through them of the other Scandinavian and Germanic tribes, including the Anglo-Saxons, 5) Pure-blooded Cimmerians were the ancestors of the Gaels and through them of the Irish and the Highland Scots, 6) a mixed race formed from the interbreeding of Cimmerians and Nordics were the ancestors of the Cymric tribes (the Welsh people), of the Cimbri (in Roman history), of the Gimmerai (in Assyrian history), of the historical Cimmerians (in Greek history), and the Gomer (in Hebrew history), 7) a mixed race formed from the interbreeding of the Cimmerians and the Hyrkanians were the ancestors of the Scythians, 8) a mixed race formed from the interbreeding of the Hyrkanians and the Shemites were the ancestors of the Sumerians, 9) The Shemites, both pure-blooded and those interbreeding with Hyborians and Nordics, were the ancestors of the historic Semitic people (Arabs, Israelites, and others), 10) A mixed race formed from the interbreeding of the Shemites and Kushites were the ancestors of the Canaanites and the Elamites, 11) A mixed race formed from the interbreeding of the Hyrcanians, Picts, and Stygians were the ancestors of the Etruscans and though them of the Romans, and 12) Pure-blooded Hyrcanians were the ancestors of the Huns, Mongols, Tatars, and Turks.
The Cimmerians of the Hyborian Age, Conan's tribe, are named after a historic tribe of that name. They first appear in the historical record c. 714 BC. In that year they assisted Sargon II, King of Assyria (reigned 722 - 705 BC) in his victory against the kingdom of Urartu. In 705 BC, they fought against Sargon himself and killed him in battle. In 696-695 BC, they are recorded as migrating to Anatolia, invading and conquering Phrygia and destroying the capital Gordium. In 679 BC, they invaded Cilicia and Tabal but were defeated by Esarhaddon, King of Assyria (reigned 681-669 BC). In c. 654 BC, they invaded Lydia, killed its king Gyges and damaged the capital Sardis. In the 640s BC, they invaded Lydia again and sacked Sardis. They also raided the Greek cities of Ionia. They were eventually defeated by Alyattes, King of Lydia (reigned 619-560 BC), and they disappear from the historical record. It is thought possible that they migrated to Cappadocia. Several later tribes have been suggested as their descendants due to name similarities, though no evidence seems to confirm it.
Robert E. Howard envisioned the Cimmerians (and Conan) as proto-Celts. The name Conan is also Celtic and appears in both history and legend. The Celt Conan Meriadoc supposedly founded Brittany in the late 4th or early 5th century. His tale appeared frequently in Medieval Sources and several later Dukes of Brittany bore his name.
Conan the Cimmerian is actually the second character by Robert E. Howard to use that name. Already in 1931, Howard used the name "Conan" for a Gael reaver in an unrelated story. The earlier Conan also swore by the name of Crom.
There was only one Conan novel written by Robert E. Howard: "The Hour of the Dragon". All other Conan tales were either short stories or poems. Several pastiche writers chose to write novels instead of short stories. By 1982, Conan had appeared in several novels.
While Conan was a womanizing character with many lovers, his creator Robert E. Howard actually had little experience with romance. His only known girlfriend was fellow writer Novalyne Price Ellis. Their relationship was the basis of the film "The Whole Wide World" (1996).
While Robert E. Howard remains the best known Conan writer, he only wrote Conan stories from 1932 to 1936. He then committed suicide, leaving behind several unfinished story drafts. Several of these were completed by other authors and all Conan material following the 1930s has been written by other writers. Among the better known ones are L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter.
Race and racial traits of both barbarian and civilized tribes and kingdoms played a prominent part in the original Conan tales. They formed the basis of characterization as well. While often considered racist in attitude, Robert E. Howard at times included sympathetic black and Jewish characters in his work. Both were at the time considered undesirable minority groups in the United States.
Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan, was proud of his Irish heritage and deeply fascinated with the Celts. As a result Conan and several other protagonists by his pen were proto-Celts, Celts, or Irish themselves. This tends to be contrasted with the anti-Irish sentiment still prevalent in the 1930s.
Despite a long career in short stories, novels, and comic books, the circumstances of Conan's last years and death have yet to be recorded. The only major attempt at a finale to the series remains the novel "Conan of the Isles" (1968) by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. In the novel, Conan is in his 60s and abdicates the throne of Aquilonia to go on one final quest. He sails to the Western Ocean and has an adventure in Antillia, a chain of islands in the western part of the Western ocean (Hyborian Atlantic Ocean). He survives the tale and sails further west, into uncharted territories. Robert E. Howard wrote in his 1930s notes about Conan's life that Conan would have further adventures following the end of his reign, to Khitai (Hyborian China), Hyrkania and areas to less known areas beyond them. He also noted that Conan also visited "a nameless continent in the western hemisphere, and roamed among the islands adjacent to it.", indicating that Conan visited the Americas during the Hyborian Age. However, he died before writing any tale recording these adventures. Events in Aquilonia following Conan's abdication, set during the reign of Conan II (Conan's son, formerly known as Prince Conn), are recorded in the frame story of the novel "Conan at the Demon's Gate" (1994) by Roland J. Green. However there is no new information about Conan himself. The thought of Conan as his death approaches are recorded in the narrative poem "Death-Song of Conan the Cimmerian" (1972) by Lin Carter, but the poem offers no indication of the time and location of the event.
The painting of symbols on Conan's body and the swarm of ghosts during the barbarian's resurrection did not derive from Conan tales. They were inspired by the Japanese horror film Kwaidan (1964), a collection of ghost tales. The scenes are primarily based on the film's depiction of "Hoichi the Earless", a traditional tale abound a blind musician who is asked to entertain ghosts.
The principal photography was supposed to take place in Yugoslavia. but the Yugoslavian film industry proved ill-equipped for large-scale film production. There were also concerns over the stability of the country following the death of President Josip Broz Tito (1892-1980). The producers elected to move the project to Spain, which was cheaper and where resources were more easily available. However, the relocation from Yugoslavia to Spain delayed filming for several months. Ironically, there was a coup in Spain while they were there.
The scene in which Valeria and Subotai fought off ghosts to save Conan and the final battle with Doom's forces were filmed in the salt marshes of Almerimar. To improve the scenes, certain alterations were performed in the local landscape, such as the construction of Stonehenge-like ruins. This attracted the protests of environmentalists.
The talwar sword used by Valeria, a curved sword or sabre, was not a typical choice for American films. It is a sword design from the Indian subcontinent and primarily associated with the Mughal Empire. The design is thought to have influenced the Pattern 1796 light cavalry sabre used by the British during the Napoleonic Wars.
The scene with the vultures at the Tree of Woe made use of both real birds and a fake one. The real ones were placed in the branches of the tree, while the one Conan bites was mechanical. The dummy bird's feathers and wings were from a dead vulture, and its control mechanisms were routed inside the false tree.
Thulsa Doom's onscreen transformation into a giant snake was one of the most elaborate special effects in the film. It involved "fake body parts, live and dummy snakes, miniatures, and other camera tricks combined into a flowing sequence with lap dissolve. After James Earl Jones was filmed in position, he was replaced by a hollow framework with a rubber mask that was pushed from behind by a snake head-shaped puppet to give the illusion of Doom's facial bones changing. The head was then replaced with a 6 feet (1.8 m) mechanical snake; as it moved outwards, a crew member pressed a foot pedal to collapse the framework. For the final part of the sequence, a real snake was filmed on a miniature set."
There were few optical effects used on the film, as John Milius felt that overly depending on depictions of the supernatural would ruin the film. Among the effects used were adding glint and sparkle to The Eye of the Serpent and Valeria's Valkyrie armor, and the depiction of ghosts. Most optical effects were created by Visual Concepts Engineering (VCE), while the ghost scene was a co-operation between the VCE and Industrial Light and Magic.
The usual practice of the film industry is to hire a composer following the completion of filming of the main scenes. Basil Poledouris was instead hired for Conan before the filming started. He was able to compose the film's music based on the initial storyboards and to modify it throughout filming, before recording the score near the end of production.
Basil Poledouris made extensive use of Musync, a music and tempo editing hardware and software system which modified the tempo of his compositions and synchronized them with the action in the film. Conan was the first film to use the system.
John Milius and Basil Poledouris worked together during the production to determine the themes and "emotional tones" for each scene. Milius' original concept for the film and its music reportedly involved an opera with little or no dialog. Poledouris composed enough musical pieces to cover most of the film.
John Milius initially wanted to have Thulsa Doom's introductory scene use either parts of the cantata "Carmina Burana" (1937) by Carl Orff (1895-1982), or music patterned after it. He changed his mind when he learned that "Carmina Burana" had already been used for the music score of Excalibur (1981).
Basil Poledouris' music theme for Thulsa Doom included energetic choral passages, sung in the Latin language. The lyrics were composed in English and where then roughly translated. The Latin words where chosen primarily for the way they sounded, and do not always make sense. The melody of the theme was based on "Dies Irae" (Day of Wrath), a Latin hymn of the 13th century whose authorship is disputed. The hymn is known both for being part of the Requiem Mass of the Roman Catholic Church and being frequently quoted by composers.
Certain scenes of the film have been noted for using a pattern, introducing a literal or symbolic concept of death, followed by a journey into the underworld, and then a rebirth. This is a common element in many myths and fictional tales. While this and the crucifixion scene have reminded some scholars of Christian imagery, John Milius himself pointed that the film is full of pagan ideas.
The film connections with opera are not limited to dialogue and and costumes. The opening sequence involves a sword forging scene, the hero witnesses his parents' deaths, grows up as a slave, and slays a giant serpent-dragon. These are all in common with the story of the protagonist in the opera Siegfried (1876) by Richard Wagner, the third part of "Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung)". The opera was in turn based on the character Sigurd/Siegfried in Norse mythology, the slayer of Fafnir the dragon.
The brief use of the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) in the film has led certain scholars and reviewers to claim that the tale borrows from his concept of the "Übermensch" (Superman, Superhuman), introduced in "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" (1883-1891).
The film's depiction of violence polarized fans and critics in the 1980s. Some felt that the film was too violent and included too many deaths. Others felt that some of the violent scenes were exciting but not all were well-executed. Finally others, including those familiar with the original Conan stories, claimed that the film overly toned down the violence and gore, making the depiction cartoon-like.
Gilbert Taylor was the film's original cinematographer and was replaced after the dailies of the first interior footage that they shot looked too dark. Taylor had been working with very low light levels and being sure his exposures were all right, asked to send the negative to a UK lab to get developed. But when the dailies still came severely underexposed, they found out that there was a problem with the stop markings on the lenses, which weren't accurate and didn't reflect the actual transmission of light through the lens to the film stock. Since the first assistant cameraman of the show was Peter Taylor, Gilbert's son, the production fired him as they felt he should have checked the lenses prior to the shoot. When his son was fired, Taylor left the picture and was replaced by TV cameraman Duke Callaghan, who had shot Jeremiah Johnson (1972), scripted by John Milius. The final cut of the picture only feature a few scenes which were shot by Taylor, such as the opening scenes with the village being attacked, Conan trying to escape from the wolves (a scene which has been timed day-for-day for the Blu-ray, but looked like day-for-night in previous transfers) and the scene with Conan and the witch. When Callaghan took over the film, the crew performed precise lens test to hand mark the actual and real transmission stop on each lens, and thus the underexposure risk due to faulty markings was gone.
Robert E. Howard feared ageing and old age, which possibly influenced his decision to die young. Conan supposedly lived to his own old age, but most Conan stories have him young and virile. Few Conan stories feature him in his middle age and fewer in his 60s.
The characterization of the civilized kingdoms of the Hyborian Age was influenced by creator Robert E. Howard's own views on progress and civilization. They are wealthy and developed, but frequently lawless and mostly corrupt. His personal view of history includes "a repeating pattern of civilizations reaching their peak, becoming decadent, decaying and then being conquered by another people." The setting of his work tends to be in either the period of decline of an entire civilization or in the ruins it left behind following its demise.
The defining style of the original Conan stories was a combination of a "hardboiled, dark and realistic" tone with more fantastic elements. According to a description of the effect on the genre of fantasy: "Howard did for fantasy fiction what Dashiell Hammett did for crime fiction."
Another of Robert E. Howard's personal beliefs that influenced the Conan stories was his placing of supreme value on individuality and individual liberty above the restrains of laws and customs. According to one of his writings on the subject: "I'd rather be a naked savage, shivering, starving, freezing, hunted by wild beasts and enemies, but free to go and come, with the range of the earth to roam, than the fattest, richest, most bedecked slave in a golden palace with the crustal fountains, silken divans, and ivory-bosomed dancing girls of Haroun al Raschid."
Conan as a character is considered influenced by existentialism, despite his creation before the heyday of this philosophy. He "defines his own purpose and shapes his own destiny. Conan does not have a noble destiny; in contrast to much fantasy fiction, he is not of noble birth, he is not fulfilling any prophecy, he is not the "chosen one" of any gods or powers that be. When Conan ultimately becomes King of Aquilonia, he is not preordained to do so by fate nor is he the legitimate heir; he seizes an opportunity to make himself king. Conan is the consummate self-determining man."
Insight into the thought processes of Robert E. Howard is provided by his correspondence with fellow writer H.P. Lovecraft. He is also considered influenced by Lovecraft and his writings, including the Cthulhu Mythos. According to an early reviewer of Howard, "Howard used a good deal of the Lovecraft cosmogony and demonology" and Conan "had recourse to magic and the aid of Lovecraft's Elder Gods."
Another influence on Robert E. Howard were the writings and theories of Helena Blavatsky and William Scott-Elliot on "lost civilizations, ancient wisdom, races, magic and sunken continents and the lands of Lemuria, Atlantis and Hyperborea" which are present in either the Kull or the Conan stories.
Stygia and its culture in the Hyborian Age are a fantasy counterpart to Ancient Egypt, with deities and names based on ancient Egypt. The chief deity Set himself is based on two deities of Egyptian mythology. The name is based on the god Set/Seth, chiefly associated with the desert, storms, disorder, violence and foreigners. He had an animal form but not associated with any particular animal, though late depictions portray him with a donkey head. The giant serpent form of Hyborian Set is instead based on Apep/Apophis, a serpent god representing Chaos and "personification of all that was evil". Though Seth and Apep were originally depicted as enemies in Egyptian legend they were later identified with each other, probably influencing their conflation by Howard. The Ancient Greeks identified the evil Seth with Typhon, an enemy of their gods. Similar counterparts of Set/Seth and archenemies of the gods appear in several ancient mythologies and there are theories that they legends could have common origins.
Aquilonia in the Conan tales is depicted as the most powerful of the Hyborian kingdoms, kingdoms created by the Hyborian tribes. It is also among the most powerful kingdoms in the entire series, alongside the eastern empires of Turan and Vendhya. According to Howard's essay on the Hyborian Age, the Aquilonians following the death of Conan would create their own expansionist empire. They would eventually be conquered themselves by the barbarian empire of the Picts.
Aquilonia seems to be based on both the Roman Empire and the Carolingian Empire, both among the superpowers of their respective time. It seems to be named after the ancient city of Aquilonia, among the main cities of the Samnites in Italy. Its modern counterpart is the city of Agnone. There have been other cities of the same name in modern Italy, Croatia, and France. Aquilo is another name for the ancient deity Boreas, a personification of the north wing. Some writers have suggested that Howard also chose the name for its similarity to Aquitaine, a territory in France which figured prominently in Medieval history.
While named after Thulsa Doom, the film character has many similarities with an actual Conan enemy: Thoth-Amon, a Stygian sorcerer and priest of Set. He first appeared alongside Conan in his first appearance. They never met in person in the Robert E. Howard stories, but Thoth-Amon's plots ended up involving Conan.
The role of Thulsa Doom as a cult leader in the film seems influenced by real-life cult leaders who had a presence in the news. The most prominent of them were probably Charles Manson (1934-) of the Manson Family and Jim Jones (1931-1978) of the Peoples Temple. The perceived negative role of cults in society gave rise to an anti-cult movement that was prominent in the 1980s.
Thulsa Doom has no proper origin story in any of his incarnations in the media. Despite his association with the realms of Atlantis and Valusia in the Kull the Conqueror tales, he briefly claims to have experienced his first death before Atlantis first rose from the sea.
Those supporting a connection between the Conan franchise and the Masters of the Universe point to the similarities between Thulsa Doom and Skeletor. Thulsa Doom as described by creator Robert E. Howard has a skull-face and his depictions in art tend to have his head as only a human skull. Skeletor, archenemy of He-Man was depicted in the 1980s as "a muscular blue humanoid with a purple hood over his yellowing bare-bone skull". Both characters were also powerful sorcerers.
Among the missing elements in the Conan origin presented in the film is teenaged Conan's first battle: the Battle of Venarium. According to the printed works on Conan, Venarium was an Aquilonian frontier fort built in Cimmerian territory. It was an attempt by civilized Aquilonia to colonize Cimmeria. The Cimmerian clans united to attack it, with a 15-year-old Conan among them. In summary: "Conan joined the howling, blood-mad horde that swept out of the northern hills, stormed over the stockade walls, and drove the Aquilonians back across their frontier."
While Conan did not suffer slavery in the original Conan tales, he did experience it in pastiche works. In the short story "Legions of the Dead" (1978) by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, a teenaged Conan joins the Aesir in conflict with the Hyperboreans. He is captured by the enemy and enslaved.
The film contains scenes where Conan is chased by wolves, discovers of a crypt, and within it a sword and a mummy. These are all taken from the short story "The Thing in the Crypt" (1967) by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. Missing is the key scene from the short story, the mummy rising and fighting Conan.
The city of Arenjun in Zamora, the "City of Thieves", and Conan's career as a professional thief are based on the short story "The Tower of the Elephant" (1933) by Robert E. Howard. This story features Conan's chronologically earliest adventure in a civilized kingdom. Arenjun has proved a popular setting for pastiche works and adaptations. The idea of Conan as a thief did not sell well in Howard's time, but has been revisited by many later writers. The other prominent city of Zamora, Shadizar, has also featured prominently in stories by other writers.
In the film and its novelization, the raiders who enslave a child Conan are Vanir. The Vanir are creations of Robert E. Howard, living in Vanaheim, one of the far north realms of the Hyborian Age. The tribe and their neighbors (and rivals) the Aesir of Asgard are fantasy counterparts of Dark-Age and Viking Age Scandinavia. Their names derive from surviving records of Norse mythology. The Aesir and Vanir were two related (and rival) groups of gods. The Aesir were the principle pantheon and included prominent deities such as Odin, Frigg, Thor, Baldr/Balder, and Tyr. Vanir were a lesser pantheon including such gods as Njord, Frey/Freyr, and Freyja. Asgard was the realm of the Aesir in Norse mythology, while Vanaheim/Vanaheimr was the realm of the Vanir. The earliest prominent attestation for both of them were the works of writer and historian Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), and there are theories that he coined the terms himself.
Hyrkania and Hyrkanian characters figure in the scenes depicting Conan's career as a pit fighter. In literature and comic books, Hyrkania appears as one of the eastern realms of the Hyborian Age. The most prominent Hyrkanian character is Red Sonja. The realm serves as a fantasy counterpart to both Mongolia and the ancient satrapy of Hyrcania, in the southern coast of the Caspian Sea. Hyrcania means "Wolf-land" in Old Persian. The area became proverbial for its fauna and references appear in several literary works by authors such as Virgil, Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare.
The phrase "Between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas" derives directly from the introduction of the Phoenix "The Phoenix on the Sword" (1932), the first Conan story. The story set the Hyborian Age, which it introduced, between the sinking of Atlantis and the emergence of the Aryans (Indo-Europeans). The term Sons of Aryas can be considered an allusion to the then-contemporary concept that the Aryans formed an "Aryan race". The term derives from an ancient Indo-Iranian term for "noble" and was popularized in Europe by 18th and 19th century linguists. It was popularized in the United States by the best-selling book "Race Life of the Aryan Peoples" (1907) by Joseph Widney (1841-1938). which featured the Aryans as an empire-building race. His concept included every Indo-European speaking Empire from the ancient Hittite Empire to the so-called American Empire. The term has largely fallen out of fashion with scholars due to its associations with scientific racism and Nazism.
The many roles of Conan in the film (slave, pit fighter, thief, mercenary) are consistent with his depiction in any media. Robert E. Howard portrayed the character as a wandering adventure whose profession, level of wealth, and other circumstances largely depended on a story's specific location and its overall placement in Conan's personal timeline. Stories variously featured him as a thief, an outlaw, a mercenary, a pirate, a tribal chieftain, a general, and a king. Other writers have followed this example and portrayed him in these and any other line of work, according to their preferences. This allows the franchise to include elements spanning several genres, from war stories and pirate tales to political fiction and crime fiction.
The description of Conan in literature and artistic renditions can vary widely. His blue eyes and black hair are frequently described by his creator and sequels and adaptations tend to maintain these elements. His hair is almost always described as long or forming a mane, but the "square-cut mane" described in the original tales has been inconsistently used. Howard once mentioned Conan having a hairy chest, but this is again inconsistently used. The clothing of the character in Howard's tales tended to change according to the setting, featured culture and weather conditions of a story. Later depictions tend to have Conan dressed in a loincloth or other minimal clothing, to fit the modern concept of a barbarian. A light chain shirt and a horned helmet are also popularly used for Conan depictions, particularly those set in his younger years. While Howard regularly described Conan as tall or even a giant, he never gave specifics about his height or weight in adult life. His only description of a 15-year-old Conan mentioned him as standing 6 feet tall (1.8 m) and weighing 180 pounds (82 kg), but with the indication that he was not fully grown. No human is ever described as stronger than Conan, though several are described as taller than him. He is described and depicted as muscular, but not so far as to limit his agility. His skin color is described as bronze, due to constant exposure to the sun. One of Howard's descriptions of a middle-aged King Conan mentions his scarred face, but facial or other scars are rarely used in his portrayals.
While Conan is chiefly remembered for his strength and fighting skills, the character was not created as dumb muscle. Stories where Conan is cast in a leadership position tend to depict him as a talented commander, tactician, and strategist. His creator also depicted him as having reading and writing skills and a talent for learning languages during his many travels. According to one of his stories: "In his roaming about the world the giant adventurer had picked up a wide smattering of knowledge, particularly including the speaking and reading of many alien tongues. Many a sheltered scholar would have been astonished at the Cimmerian's linguistic abilities."
An important plot point in several of his stories is the contrast between Conan as a barbarian and rogue with the more civilized or sophisticated people of the tales. He tends to appear significantly more honest or honorable than them. For example in "Rogues in the House" (1934), Conan is contrasted with two corrupt politicians. One of them admits, "This Cimmerian is the most honest man of the three of us, because he steals and murders openly." In "Shadows in the Moonlight" (1934), Conan is surprised to learn that a female slave was sold by her own father as punishment for disobeying him. He admits that the Cimmerians are barbarians but "We do not sell our children".
Subotai is not based on any Conan character. He is named after and loosely based on a historical figure: Subutai (c. 1175-1248), a general of the Mongol Empire. He was a close companion and primary military strategist of Genghis Khan.
Despite his use and perceived overuse of the damsel in distress trope in the Conan stories, Robert E. Howard held feminist views. He was interested in the achievements and capabilities of women. This seems to have influenced his creation of a number of strong female characters, such as Conan's love interests Belit and Valeria.
The Conan series is considered a pioneering one of the "sword and sorcery" genre. Although the genre properly started in the 1930s, it was only named in 1961. The term was coined by writer Fritz Leiber.
The morality of Conan in any media tends to vary widely. Depending on the story, his motivation includes self-preservation, personal gain, revenge, and protectiveness towards specific people or entire groups. He regularly performs heroic deeds but his causes are not always noble or selfless. He can be seen as antihero who simply tends to face opponents more villainous in nature than himself.
While all of the Hyborian Age's countries and kingdoms are named after historical and mythological realms and people, Robert E. Howard's rendition of Hyperborea ("beyond the North Wind") is influenced by the Hyperborean cycle of Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961).
The snake cult's orgy includes the depiction of a "half-naked slave girl chained to a pillar, with a snarling leopard at her feet". Though not appearing in any Conan story, the scene is lifted from a Frank Frazetta painting about the Hyborian Age.
The film made use of human dummies and fake body parts to inflate crowd numbers, depict dead bodies, and mutilated body parts. The two prominent decapitation scenes of the film also used fake heads. In the scene where Thulsa Doom decapitates Conan's mother, the actress was protected by the sword by a Plexiglas shield. An artificial head was dropped into the camera's view and another, more elaborate one was used for the close-up shots. In the scene where Conan decapitates Thulsa Doom, Arnold Schwarzenegger hacked at a dummy and pulled a concealed chain to detach its head.
The casting of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan, has made certain scholars and reviewers point that this turns Conan from a Celtic into a Germanic character. Some have called him "Aryan". Some viewed the film as a tale of the victory of a Germanic/Aryan hero over a black/African villain, giving the film a racial theme.
Some critics of both Conan and other sword and sorcery films believe that they are influenced to various degrees with fascist ideology. Others have pointed to perceived influences from the films of director Leni Riefenstahl, who is strongly associated with Nazi Germany.
The first draft of a script for a Conan film was written by Edward Summer and comic book writer Roy Thomas in 1976. It involved Conan being employed by a "dodgy priest to kill an evil wizard", and would be partly based on the short story "Rogues in the House" (1934). The script was abandoned early. Thomas was chosen for helping with the script because he had written hundreds of Conan stories for Marvel Comics.
Oliver Stone's script about a Conan tale set in a post-apocalyptic future involved Conan leading an army in a massive battle against a horde of 10,000 mutants. It would incorporate elements from Conan's battles in the short stories "Black Colossus" (1933) and "A Witch Shall be Born" (1934).
The script by Oliver Stone included the raid on the Cimmerian village. It was one of the few elements of that script which John Milius chose to keep, expand, and to provide follow up to. He followed the scene with with the barbarian's enslavement at the Wheel of Pain and training as a gladiator.
The brief scene with an older Conan sitting on the throne of Aquilonia was filmed in 1980, prior to most of the other filming. This footage was initially intended to be a trailer but John Milius decided to use it as the opening sequence of the film. Following concerns from the producers, the scene was moved to the end of the film.
The scene with Conan on the throne of Aquilonia was filmed in the Shepperton Studios facility in Shepperton, Surrey, England. The facility has formed the primary filming locations of various famous films such as The Omen (1976), The Boys from Brazil (1978), Alien (1979), and The Elephant Man (1980).
The interior sets for the Tower of Serpents and Thulsa Doom's temple were located in a large warehouse, 20 miles (32 km) outside Madrid. Additional sets for the Tower of Serpents were constructed in an abandoned hangar of the Torrejón Air Base, a Spanish Air Force base in the vicinity of Madrid.
Conan's encounter with the witch and Subotai was shot among the Ciudad Encantada rock formations in the province of Cuenca. Due to their distinctive shapes, the rock formations have been used in the filming of various films such as spaghetti western "The Mercenary"/"A Professional Gun" (1968) and the dinosaur-themed film "The Valley of Gwangi" (1969). Cuenca is part of the historic La Mancha region, famously the setting of the two-volume novel "The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha" (1605, 1615) by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616).
Most outdoor scenes were shot in the province of Almería, which offered a semi-arid climate, diverse terrain (deserts, beaches, mountains), and Roman and Moorish structures that could be adapted for many settings.
Scenes of a bazaar were filmed at Alcazaba of Almería, a fortified complex in Almeria. It was constructed by the Caliphate of Córdoba during the Middle Ages. The Alcazaba has also been used in the filming of such films as Never Say Never Again (1983) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).
While several large sets were built for the film, their number had to be limited due to budget constrains. John Milius did not want to rely on optical effects and matte paintings (painted landscapes) to film the remaining scenes. The crew instead adopted miniature effect techniques (playing on perspective) to achieve the illusion of size and grandeur for several scenes. Scale models of structures were constructed by special effects and visual effects artist Emilio Ruiz del Río and positioned in front of the cameras so that they appeared as full-sized structures on film.
Film designer Ron Cobb had to decide about how the Hyborian Age buildings and structures should look like, having no precedent on what to work on. He though that they should try "to invent [their] own fantasy history", and yet maintain a "realistic, historical look". He decided to avoid Greco-Roman imagery to avoid association with the Italian "sword-and-sandal"/"Peplum film genre" of the late 1950s and 1960s which had fallen out of fashion. He instead took inspiration from Dark Age Europe, the Vikings, and the Mongols.
The designs of the Tree of Woe and the costumes have been seen as being influenced by epic opera settings and costumes, in particular the popular "Der Ring des Nibelungen" (The Ring of the Nibelung, 1876) by Richard Wagner (1813-1883). These operas were in turn loose adaptations of the Norse sagas and the epic poem "Nibelungenlied" (The Song of the Nibelungs, 13th century) which depict Dark Age Europe.
Several action scenes in Conan were filmed with a "mini-jib", a remote-controlled electronic camera mounted on a motorized lightweight crane. The device was created by special effects supervisor Nick Allder. It was first used in the filming of fantasy film Dragonslayer (1981).
While expensive to create, the primary swords created for the film proved heavy, unbalanced, and unsuitable for actual combat. They were mostly used in close-up shots. For the fight scenes, they used lighter versions made of aluminum, fiberglass, and steel. The other weapons used in the film were not as elaborate; Valeria's talwar was ground out from an aluminum sheet.
In an attempt to minimise injuries, certain fight scenes and depictions of killing blows made use of trick swords. They were made out of fibreglass, had retractable blades and some of them sprayed blood from their tips. Accidents still happened in scenes involving them, however. In one scene an extra used a trick sword to slice open Sandahl Bergman's finger.
The use of live animals in the film was controversial. The American Humane Association, the overseeing organization for humane treatment of animals on the sets of Hollywood films, noted that there were incidents such as a dog being kicked, a camel striked, and horses tripped. So animals were in fact harmed.
The scene involving a fight and decapitation of a giant snake in the Tower of Serpents made use of three mechanical snakes. They were 36 feet (11 m) long, the snakes' body had a diameter of 2.5 feet (0.76 m), and their heads were 2.5 feet (0.76 m) long and 2 feet (0.61 m) wide.
The first version of the ghosts from the ghost scene was rejected by the producers for its perceived similarity to a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Visual Concepts Engineering (VCE) created another version using cel animation and related techniques. This one was accepted.
While individualism has been a theme of the Conan franchise since the 1930s, its inclusion in the film has been considered as a product of the 1980s. The theme of individualism is strongly associated with the speeches and policies of President Ronald Reagan. Other associations with Reaganism have been claimed. For example, film writer Dr. Dave Saunders views the film as one where Conan stands for the American hero and Thulsa Doom stands for the evil oppressors, the Soviet Union. Academics Douglas Kellner and Michael Ryan view the film as one Conan stands for the American individual and Thulsa Doom stands for an overly domineering federal government.
Executives insisted for certain violent scenes to be removed prior to the film's release. Among them were close-up shots on the decapitated head of Conan's mother, Subotai's slaying of a monster at the top of the Tower of Serpents, and Conan chopping off a pickpocket's arm in a bazaar.
A few critics of the 1980s expected that any film based on pulp stories, comic books, or both to be inherently light-hearted or corny. They were both surprised and dismayed by the use of Nietzschean themes and ideology.
Conan was the most commercially successful created by Robert E. Howard. Several series characters by Howard never appeared in more than two published stories during his lifetime. Conan appeared in 18 published stories by the time Howard died.
Robert E. Howard created a formula for the average Conan story. The formula had Conan "rescuing a damsel in distress from a monster in some ruins." While these stories are not considered among the better or more ambitious ones in the Conan series, they were the easiest to write and easiest to sell during the Great Depression. The film creators chose to largely ignore them as sources.
Some of the last Conan tales by Robert E. Howard involved conflicts with the savage Picts in the Western borders of the Hyborian kingdoms. These stories were inspired by the American Indian Wars and had strong Western genre elements. By this point in his life, Howard had found a new fascination with the tales of elderly American Civil War veterans, Texas Rangers, and pioneers.
Reviewer Hoffman Reynolds Hays pointed out the similarities between Conan and Superman, both creations of the 1930s. Both characters were "wish-projections" of their creators, both were omnipotent heroes that faced and conquered evil.
Writer Michael Moorcock believes that Conan was influenced by previous characters. He suggested two literary ancestors of Conan: Natty Bumppo by James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) and Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950).
Writer L. Sprague de Camp converted several Robert E. Howard about other protagonists and other settings to Conan tales set in the Hyborian Age. For example, the story "Hawks over Egypt" which was originally set during the last year of the reign of Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, Fatimid caliph (reigned 996-1021) was reworked to "Hawks over Shem." The process of rewritings involved changing names, eliminating gunpowder, and dragging in a supernatural element."
The copyright status of the original Conan stories and the character himself is disputed in the 21st century. The copyright of the stories was apparently not renewed when originally needed (in the late 1950s and early 1960s) and those stories published in the 1930s may now be in the public domain. Meanwhile, the rights to the Howard estate and the associated characters passed through a variety of owners. More recently they have been acquired by Paradox Entertainment. Paradox was then itself acquired by Cabinet Entertainment which is trying to ascertain its rights over all properties associated with Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane and the other characters created by Howard.
The original script by Oliver Stone included the scene where Conan was crucified and this was one of the few elements retained from it. The scene derives from one of the original Conan short stories: "A Witch Shall be Born" (1934). Summarized: "the mighty Cimmerian, hanging on a cross, nails driven through his hands and feet, tearing out the throat of a vulture which comes to peck out his eyes." The scene is considered one of the most memorable ones in the entire series. The main villain of the story, Queen Taramis/Salome, was not used for the film but was apparently the inspiration for the villain of the same name in Conan the Destroyer (1984).
The scene of the film with with Conan and his fellow thieves scaling a tower, battling a giant snake, and stealing a jewel seems to be derived by another of the original Conan stories: "The Tower of the Elephant" (1933) set in Zamora. It is among the most famous of the Conan stories. However, none of the characters of the story beside Conan were used in the film.
The kingdom of Zamora is not original to the film. It is one of the countries of the Hyborian Age created by Robert E. Howard and serves as the setting of several stories. Howard likely named it after the city of Zamora in Spain. The culture of Zamora as depicted in the stories has elements from the historical Romani (Gypsy) culture.
Thulsa Doom's cult seems to worship the serpent god Set. Set worship features prominently in the Conan stories since his first appearance in 1982 and in many of the adaptations. He is the main deity of the Stygians, who offer him human sacrifices: "chained captives had knelt by the hundreds during festivals to have their heads hacked off by the priest-king in honor of Set".
The film twice mentions that Conan will eventually become king of Aquilonia. Conan's first appearance in 1932 actually has Conan on the throne and a few stories by both Robert E. Howard and others have depicted Conan as a middle-aged king. This element has yet to make it into film and television adaptations.
Thulsa Doom precedes Conan as a literary character. He first appeared in the short story "The Cat and the Skull" (written 1928, published 1967). His face there is described "like a bare white skull, in whose eye sockets flamed livid fire." He is seemingly invulnerable. His first published appearance, under the alias Kathulos, was in the story "Skull-Face" (1929). There he is depicted as an Atlantean necromancer still alive in modern times. He is planning world conquest from 1920s London.
Despite his relatively brief use by creator Robert E. Howard in adaptations and comic books, Thulsa Doom is featured as the archenemy of Kull. Since the character is depicted as immortal in the comic books, he appeared as still alive in Conan's time. Conan lives thousands of years following the death of Kull.
'Robert E. Howard' (qVv) based much of his original characterization of Thulsa Doom/Kathulos on the popular literary villain Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer. Like Fu Manchu, his base of operations is London, and he heads a vast conspiracy of Asians, Africans, and Semites against the Western civilization. He is served by an Asian woman who falls in love with the hero of the story, much as Fu Manchu's female associates served as love interests to his enemies.
The original Conan stories by Robert E. Howard featured few recurring characters and no long-term foes. The exception was Toth-Amon who was a threat to Conan, but never met him in person. As a result, Conan never had an archenemy. This changed when pastiche writers and comic book writers decided to cast Toth-Amon. The film instead chooses to promote Thulsa Doom in this role.
Thulsa Doom demonstrates his absolute control over his followers by having one of them voluntarily jump off a high ledge to her death. This was likely based on a story about Hassan-i Sabbah (c. 1050-1124), master of the Hashshashin (Assassins). He reportedly had one of his followers leap to his death to demonstrate his power to visiting dignitaries. The cult of Thulsa Doom posing a threat to the powerful rulers of the Hyborian Kingdoms and killing may also be loosely based on the actions which coined the Assassins' reputation in the Middle Ages.
In the Conan stories by Marvel Comics, Thulsa Doom does not need a full body to survive. After his body was destroyed, his skull remained. It was sentient, could still communicate with others and manipulate them to his own goals.
The literary and comic book incarnations of Thulsa Doom bear strong resemblance to the fantasy concept of the lich: skull-faced, skeletal, and undead necromancers. The term was popularized by the Dungeons & Dragons franchise and has since appeared in several media. Gary Gygax (1938-2008), co-creator of the original Dungeons & Dragons game, pointed that he based his description of the lich on an undead and immortal character from the short story "The Sword of the Sorcerer" (1969) by Gardner Fox (1911-1986). The character is named Afgorkon, has a skull-face and a skeletal form, is a powerful sorcerer, is said to be at least 50,000-years-old, and faces a barbarian hero with similarities to the Howard characters. The term lich for the undead long precedes the modern concept, however, it has been traced back to the short story "The Death of Halpin Frayser" (1891) by Ambrose Bierce (1842-c. 1914).
The Italian "sword-and-sandal"/"Peplum film genre" bears some similarity with the sword-and-sorcery, mixing history and fantasy elements. It featured film series about heroic strongmen such as Maciste, Hercules, Ursus, Samson, and Goliath. The films were very popular from 1958 to 1965, but then went out to fashion. The release of Conan in 1982 and the apparent popularity of sword and sorcery directly led to an Italian revival of the Peplum genre in the 1980s. Films such as Ator, the Fighting Eagle (1982) were directly influenced by Conan.
The Riddle of Steel prevalent in the film seems to be resolved by the answer that strength lies not in steel swords. While the weapons are initially hinted to have powers of their own, they are later revealed to be mostly useless and dependent on the strength of their wielders. Thulsa Doom , who sought the answer to the Riddle, comes to the conclusion that the power of flesh is stronger than steel.
While Valeria is considered a strong female character, not everyone agrees. Critics of the film see her as either "a traditional male warrior buddy in a sexy female body", eye candy, and overly sexualized. They point to the film's promotional artwork as presenting Conan as the dominant, sword-wielding hero, and Valeria as a squatting woman in a leather body-suit. Some have even claimed that the film is part of a backlash against feminism in the 1980s and a celebration of masculinity.
Arnold Schwarzenegger said in the behind the scenes features that during the crucifixion scene, they used a live vulture to peck at his wounds. Then for the close up they used a real dead vulture they found for him to actually bite into its throat. After they cut, they immediately had Arnold rinse his mouth out to avoid disease.
The script called for Conan to throw a torch into the palace's central window/balcony. Arnold Schwarzenegger missed on the first attempt, but no retake was possible as the set proceeded to burn to the ground, as intended.
The scene of the crucifixion on the dead tree was shot in Almeria, Spain. When Conan is nursed back to health, we can see mysterious magical figures drawn all over his face. One of them is the "indalo" (a red symbol resembling a man with his arms over his head), a traditional symbol of the province of Almería used since ancient times by the local inhabitants to expel witches and lightning. Now it has become a symbol and tourist trademark icon for the province and its tourism industry.