Highlander (1986)

Russell Mulcahy directs Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery and Clancy Brown in this fantasy adventure where immortals sword fight across the centuries hoping to behead all their own kind to achieve a mystical prize.

Every comic book movie should have a Queen soundtrack! If it is a big unrealistic concept that requires a leap of faith and a few cold beers to embrace then Freddy, May and Taylor really are the chaser. Massive guitar solos, throbbing anthems and lyrics that are part sea shanty and part rallying cry to war… this is the music that closes the sale. Whether it is hypercolour intergalactic rebellion or lonely warriors duelling from medieval Scotland to broken windows New York, these thumping sounds persuade. Genre convincer that allow you to get lost in the storytelling sweep. It’s A Kind Of Magic!

The poster for Highlander haunted me as a child. It seemed to stay up at Shepherd’s Bush roundabout for my entire pre-pubescence and I saw it’s terrifying imagery every journey that we drove back from my Nan’s or Uncle Tony’s flats. A skull man sucking the soul from a spaced out warrior. My mind translated it as a horror version of He-Man. The eventually rented video cassette could never live up to the absolute fearfest my innocent mind conjured up every backseat ride through West London that the abandoned bus shelter advertising inspired.

The movie itself is a time lapsing shark. Moving constantly. Just not always forward. The 1985 sequences are Terminator inspired. Taking place in the sleazy dangerous New York of Frank Henenlotter gorefests and Equalizer episodes. Here a leather jacketed inhuman killing machine stalks a trenchcoated and sneakered soldier and the sexy innocent caught between them. “Buddy you got a dead cat in there?” Random vigilantes cruise the streets with passenger seats full of Uzis. Punk hookers fill the police stations, sidewalks and hotel hallways. Cameras impressively swoop like hawks inside wrestling matches and around exploding alleyways. Mulcahy paints a violent and vibrant bubblegum variation on “present day” reality. The rock video aesthetic disappears when we leap back in time. There’s no dry ice or electric blue light as a naive kilted Connor MacLoed discovers his strange existence, has a tragic romance, is trained by a master (and what a master!) and accepts his cursed fate to never die naturally. These green and muddy battle and passion sequence give the film heart and are appropriately more calmly, classically framed. They are as well conceived as any straight period film. Two wonderful bonus flashbacks to the courts of spoilt Regency France and WWII espionage only add to the scope gloriously. Mulcahy knows when to sizzle the retinas and when to relax and let the great production designers and art director pull off a prestige con.

The cast is almost perfect. Almost. Lambert is not a bad action star… he is better at selling the vulnerability and desperation of MacLoed than the timelessness and sword fighting ability. His lack of English does mean certain zingers and moments of snappy backchat fall flat. He is a pretty face with a hero’s physique who does his job. I would have cast Michael Biehn or Daniel Day Lewis… the fact that the character requires a crossover of those two very different stars possibly shows what a thankless task the casting director had?

Luckily the support is stellar. Relishing a comeback, Connery goes full throttle at the sensei / Obi Wan role he is tasked with. A strutting horny peacock who spouts all the exposition and gets his one glorious fight, the film is blockbuster perfection during his sequences. I’m not going to sass the accents of either lead – the nationalities make no sense, the sarcasm about him being a Spanish Egyptian and the other playing Scottish is as old as the film. This scrappy crowd pleaser has stood the test of time, let the dodgy flaws go.

Man of the Match would go to Connery in any other movie but Highlander has a black Ace up it’s sleeve. Clancy Brown plays The Kurgan. Clancy Brown inhabits The Kurgan. Clancy Brown is the motherfucking Kurgan. Up there with Han Gruber and Cyrus the Virus, this is one of the best antagonists ever committed to celluloid. When he swaggers into a scene the entire film reboots around him, your eyes widen to accommodate him. Danger personified, no pity, a flair for the theatrical. It is a balls to the walls fearless performance from the gravelly voiced, imposing character actor. You almost want him to win the prize, behead Lambert and ride off with lovely Roxanne Hart cackling. “HELLO PRETTY!”

Highlander is a wonderful six pack and pizza movie. A top Saturday night in. Full of action, cool, quotable lines and bad ass imagery. It all reaches a very definite and satisfying full stop. This was not built with sequels in mind. You can’t blame them for wanting to try and bend the lore in the hope of reanimating the rich mythology in sequels. Yet what followed was wobbly, less inspired, more compromised and ultimately diluted by too many cash-in tries to recapture the magic. Magic definitively put to bed by the epilogue of the original. Animated lightning demons swirl, we race in and out of Lambert’s eyeball, visible wires pull him to the rafters, windows explode, guitars swell! There can only be one!

9

Check out my wife Natalie’s Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

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