Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Crucifixions of 1982

In western culture, the image of a crucifixion carries a lot of weight. It's gotta be a bad way to go, especially for a guy like me, who, last time I checked, couldn't even do one pull-up. I came across a random image today that reminded me of two of my favorite childhood movies (neither of which are appropriate for children, but I was raised by permissive liberals) that featured crucifixion scenes. And while theologically, Jesus sort of had to die for that whole plan to make sense, other heroes were under no such obligations, and handled being crucified in a far more proactive way. 

First, let's look at the the 1982 John Milius movie Conan the Barbarian. I'm one of the few folks I know who actually considers this a good movie. As far as I'm concerned, it's a borderline art film, wisely stocked with athletes instead of actors, who would have just screwed it up (of course, James Earl Jones and Max Von Sydow are brought in, much as Alec Guiness in Star Wars, to give it a little credibility). Our eponymous hero, after bungling his first attempt to infiltrate Thulsa Doom's Mountain of Power, is crucified on the "Tree of Woe." Like all good movie bad guys, they leave Conan alone on the tree, assuming he'll die (instead of posting a watch or something like that just to make sure...this is what I call the "Tie Up James Bond and Tell Him Your Evil Plan Then Leave Him Alone to Escape" mistake). While on the cross, Conan behaves in a very un-Christlike fashion. That is, as far as we know, Jesus was not attacked by vultures while he was on the cross. He didn't manage to bite one to death while crucified, either. But Conan did. Then again, Conan and Jesus had fairly different priorities. Conan hangs there for an unspecified amount of time, but we see the sun rise and set a few times. When he's almost dead, he sees his good buddy Subotai, the archer, who comes running over the dunes as the music (ripped off from Holst by Basil Polidouris) swells and Conan lapses into relieved, semi-maniacal laughter. Even so, Conan is still in danger of death and he must be taken to Akiro, the Wizard of the Mounds. He saves Conan's life in a bizarre ceremony, as Conan's girlfriend Valeria essentially makes a deal with the gods to trade her life for his. All in all, Conan handled his crucifixion fairly well, losing, in the end, only his girlfriend. Ultimately, this is not much of a loss for him, as a quick perusal of Conan book covers proves Conan is rarely without a girlfriend - and with few exceptions, they're cringing, naked, chained-up girlfriends. (In a related note, this also causes me to believe that artists Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo both have bondage fetishes that they expect Conan fans to share, because such scenes are actually featured very rarely in the original Robert E. Howard books.)

For our next crucifixion, we move to a much, much worse movie. That being said, it might be a bit more "fun" than Conan the Barbarian. I speak of another 1982 film, The Sword and the Sorcerer. Starring Lee Horsley (TV's "Matt Houston," who later became a writer of western novels) as a mercenary with the World's Most Ridiculous Sword (a sword that obliged a generation of Dungeon Masters to tell players, "no, your sword can't shoot blades like the one in that shitty movie"), the action centers around Talon, a former prince whose family was killed by the bad guy, Cromwell, at the beginning of the movie. He comes back home to help overthrow Cromwell, who has imprisoned the next-in-line to the throne. Talon agrees to help the fellow's sister, Alana, but only if she sleeps with him after the job is done (what a hero). Anyway, after a bunch of silliness featuring sexualized torture, gratuitous violence and nudity, and a plot that seems to consist mostly of aimless mercenaries chasing and being chased by soldiers down an endless sequence of dungeon corridors, Talon is captured and is - you guessed it - crucified as entertainment at Cromwell's feast. Not one to take such treatment lightly, Talon manages the feat of actually pulling his nailed hands off the cross and leaping into battle, causing the bad guys to leave their feast quite forgotten as they fumblingly charge into the fray. Nails still firmly plugged through his palms, Talon nevertheless manages to retrieve his sword, shoot some sword-blades, kill the bad guys, sleep with the girl, and cede his rightful place as king to Alana's brother (which leads me to believe Talon and Alana were related in the first place, though perhaps not as closely related as Cercei and Jaime - a nice little "ew" factor to end the film on). Like Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China, Talon can't stay with the girl once he's got her, leaves shortly after deflowering her, and goes off to fight in sequels that never came - the bones, muscles, and tendons of his hands perfectly intact after an extremely brief interval of healing.

There are other crucifixions from other films in other years. In 1989, John-Claude Van Damme is crucified in the gilded turd Cyborg, and of course, the hundreds of crucifixions in 1960's Spartacus go without saying. But the ones from Conan the Barbarian and The Sword and the Sorcerer are the ones that leap to my mind. What's your favorite non-Jesus crucifixion? 

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