In a discussion re: taking pleasure in the suffering of your enemies, I noted that the last guy to do that ended up being king of Aquilonia, and so of course had to watch the movie again.
I’ve talked before about how fantasy cults are generally less interesting than RL ones–like, if you’re going to Be A Cult, at least have a weirdo mythos involving rock music or change your names to new ones based on nursery rhymes or something that shows you’re putting in effort, as opposed to being Basically Presbyterian, But Also Cthulhu. (Unless that’s what you’re going for–John Michael Greer’s Weird of Hali series does a good job of having the Lovecraftian gods’ churches feel in some cases like the vaguely Protestant ones I grew up with, complete with internal drama and unpleasant church ladies, but the Cthulhu worship is not meant to be either sinister or a reveal.) This is an exception, and it’s an exception because, as I found out when I was on TVTropes, the makers used the then-recent Jonestown unpleasantness as at least one inspiration. There’s also a bit of Mansonesque imagery in some of the pilgrims meditating and the central “my daughter has turned against me and might murder me in my sleep” thing–though that has echoes of Jonestown too, given Leo Ryan and so forth.
This is not how it works in the original stories, BTW. Set was Bad News, but in a more generally Satanic way: he was the god worshiped in Stygia, which was generally (and somewhat racistly, because no, these stories are not unproblematic) portrayed as No Good, but either it was a whole established theocracy that got alluded to at times but didn’t come up otherwise, individual priests went after people they had issues with via the old “here have a giant naga in a bowl” trick or whatnot, or sorcerers used Set as a source for spells/demons, again usually on their own or as part of a small group that was more about power than any belief. (Similarly, Lovecraft’s Great-Old-One worshippers fall into either “everything bad you’ve heard about ‘primitive’ religions is true, blah blah dancing naked and eating babies,” or the quasi-Satanic sorcerer model of, say, the Whateleys messing around with Yog Sothoth basically because nobody had invented cable yet.)
I can’t say if any of those models was scarier back in the 1930s–I know that ZOMGSATAN was expected to carry some weight in, say, “Rosemary’s Baby,” in the sixties, that it just didn’t for me, for instance–back when Weird Decadent Foreign Religions, And Also There Are Snakes might have been more of a pressure point for the target audience of Weird Tales. They’re not, really, for me reading now: Set and his dudes are threats, sure, in the in-story context, but they don’t really freak me out the way that, say, the fucked-up cabin-fever-on-a-cultural-scale people in “Red Nails” do. But…well, we haven’t exactly stopped having cults in the last thirty-six years (I still remember schoolyard jokes about both Waco and Heaven’s Gate), and while I don’t hide behind the sofa when Doom and the Doomettes come on, the imagery of all those robed people and the “find emptiness” rhetoric…yikes, yeah.
Less seriously: I haven’t been to many orgies, tragically, but the people at the Settite one seem to be having a lot less fun than I’d think. Granted, having People Soup as the refreshment might kind of kill the mood. (Yes, I did originally start that sentence with “On the other hand.” Yes, I am awful.) And why even go to the trouble of *having* a cannibal orgy for your cult if you’re not going to do anything but sit there and then turn into a snake, Doom?
Okay, random witch/demon/vampire/heavy metal album cover chick: if your plan is to kill the dude during sex anyhow, why bother giving him the information he was bargaining for? Doing so at orgasm also seems like a weird timing choice, like, if you can think clearly enough to give directions at that point, it seems like you’re not having that great a time. Or do your prophetic abilities only work when you’re getting boned?
The point of the Wheel of Pain never really gets explained in the film. A Wiki says that it’s a grain mill, which means that the dude who bought Conan when he was full-grown just kind of wrecked the local food supply. Or had the locals switched to a windmill and just never bothered to tell him?
I’m always kind of sad that black lotus is only mentioned incidentally, and only the one kind. The stories involved basically as many kinds of lotus as there are kinds of Kryptonite in the Silver Age stories: I don’t know if one of them splits people into red and blue versions of themselves, but I wouldn’t bet against it.