Interestingly, REH describes Atla as having "red lips"; not very lizardlike! It is her movements that are described as "almost serpentine". As well as attributes Deuce has noted, she has "black locks" which are "tangled and unkempt", "sharp and pointed" teeth "like fangs". Not very attractive, but there's nothing to indicate a hag-like appearance.
Words such as "lithe" and "supple", on the other hand, do indicate attractiveness. "Supple" in particular is a word which REH applied almost as shorthand to describe sexually attractive women. Added to which (and I'm assuming that Bran went further than just kissing her, although the mores of the time would not permit REH to describe this), although he has to "force his head down to meet her lifted lips", surely Atla must have had something going on for him to be able to complete the twisted act?
Looking at all this, if I were casting the movie, I would go for a shapely body with a disgusting face. It would be fun to find some well known actress who would be willing to be made up for this. You'd then be able to convey the whole attraction / repulsion thing that REH's words subtly suggest.
Right at the end of the story, Bran's feeling of revulsion at seeing one of the Worms is triggered by seeing its "mottled" body. I think the emphasis put on this word, which Bran has already used to describe Atla before their mating, is intended to convey his sexual disgust at what he has done, as he now realises that the Worms have degenerated so far they are no longer human; "You're ancestors were men ... but gods, ye have become in ghastly fact what my people called ye in scorn! Worms of the earth..." It is at this point that "all human attributes dropped from (Atla) like a cloak in the night" and the very last image is of her "hellish laughter" as Bran rides off in horror and disgust.
I think the true terror at the heart of this tale is that of inter-species sex; the depth to which Bran's determination to destroy the Romans has driven him. Is the message that hatred can destroy our humanity? WotE is a dark, dark tale dealing with a taboo subject. The figure of Atla is at the heart of it. In my opinion, to turn her into nothing more than an ugly old witch ignores some of the more subtle hints that REH gives us to warn that subhuman evil has its attractive side. So, I'm with Daniel on this one.
But then again maybe I'm just another pervy saurophile. There are these websites, you know ...
Hey Mikey! Great post. I somehow missed it the first time 'round.
I'd speculate that most of our forum members (who were so inclined) who visited an "exotic dance venue" would want said dancers to be "supple", perhaps "almost serpentine" in their balletic demonstrations. Since I first read the yarn it's always been a simple question: How could Bran "fulfill his obligation" if he didn't somehow find Atla attractive? Howard depicted BMM as straight-forward, barbaric. I can't see him given to perverse, exotic, almost "bestial" thrills (though I guess it's possible). It seems to smack a lot of "Romanness". I can see BMM ignoring "subtle" and "disquieting" hints long enough to get the job done. I also assume that Atla had her "glamour" set on "stun" (she knew BMM was approaching). The "Atla" depicted by Gianni and Conrad is a "woman" only someone who subscribes to (the hypothetical website, AFAIK) "GMILF" ("Grandmas I'd...") would be able to sleep with. Fred Blosser, in his "Bran Mak Morn: Destroyer" essay, speculates that Conrad was using "visual shorthand". I said the same thing earlier. BTW, I've been a BIG fan of Tim's work for 25+yrs. Tim, in an interview, said he'd never read "WotE" before taking the job. Hardly any REH of any kind, actually. In the i-view, Conrad kept calling her "the witch-woman", never Atla. Howard used the same term, but I think Tim used "witch" iconography as a visual touchstone. Put a pointed hat on Conrad's (or Gianni's) rendition, show it to a kid around Halloween, and that kid is gonna say,"That's a witch!"
Mikey, I think you're right about the "fear of miscegenation" issue (though I think that there are other, greater horrors to be found in the yarn). I'm not sure if Howard had read The Shadow Over Innsmouth before he wrote "Worms". There's plenty of "Dagon" stuff strewn about the story. The two tales share some of the same themes. In "Innsmouth", the overriding theme is definitely that of "ancestral taint" (miscegenation). Howard really liked The Rats in the Walls. I wonder if that was a bit of an influence too? Of course, there is the Arthur Machen influence ancestral to both tales.
My two lunas.