80s Movie Challenge Week 21: Highlander (1986)
In this time in #80sMC Claire weaves her kind of magic and takes us a hop, skip and jump away from the 1924 Olympics of last week’s film to modern-day Manhattan via Elizabethan-era Scotland, 18th-century Massachusetts and Nazi-occupied France.
It’s 1986’s sword-fighting epic, Highlander!
There can be only one… Forget the sequels (yes, please forget them all. Especially the second one.) This is the original and the best. Do you like men with long, flowing hair; hard to place accents and the ability to sword-fight at the top of remote Scottish crags which would give a mountain-goat vertigo? Do you also like bad guys dressed in leather and chain-mail, who make the Terminator seem positively chatty; a driving Queen soundtrack; and more broken glass than a convention of incompetent glaziers? Then Highlander is the movie for you!
Warning: here be spoilers!
I’ve seen this movie so many times I’ve lost count but re-watching it for this review brought home to me again why I love it so much. It just is gloriously, outrageously over the top, both in action, dialogue and in its complete refusal to explain its core, fantastical premise. I would love to have been at the original ‘pitch’ meeting for this movie, which I imagine went as follows…
“So there’s this race of immortal, childless beings, who are in competition for survival as by decapitating one another they can take each other’s power. The ultimate survivor will win the Prize, which will allow them to have children, grow old and die.”
The executives shift nervously in their chairs. “So they give up immortality, which is a really cool premise, by the way, for the sake of winning … mortality? We’ll come back to that. So, who are the main characters?”
“Ok, so one of these immortals, Connor McLeod, is a 16th century Scotsman but we want him to be played by a Frenchman who in modern times lives in New York, under the pseudonym Russell Nash. His accent will wander all over the globe. His mentor, Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez, born over 2,000 years earlier, is an Egyptian, despite the Spanish name, but we want him to be played by a Scotsman who sounds as if he never left home.
“Their nemesis will be the Kurgan. He will be a 10th century Russian, who uses the name Victor Krueger in the present day, but we want him to be played by an American actor who will sound as if he’s been gargling gravel. He will be a freakin’ badass, however, covered in scars, tattoos, dressed in skull helmets and black leather. He will have some of the coolest lines in the film and dominate every scene he’s in. Any questions?”
One of the Hollywood executives coughs nervously and asks “OK… that’s, ah, that’s quite a lot to take in. Why are these immortal beings even here in the first place?”
“Good question. We’re glad you asked us that. Why does the sun come up, or are the stars just pinholes in the curtain of night?”
The executives sit in stunned silence. One of them says: “OK, I see. Well, that all sounds very satisfactory. Will there be lots of hand-to-hand sword fighting?”
“Yes. There will be a ton of it. Sales of samurai swords are going to go through the roof! There will also be tons of broken glass whenever the immortals fight – the cleaners are going to be on overtime!”
“OK, no doubt, no doubt. Will there be any romance?”
“Yes – Connor will have a couple of love interests called Heather and Brenda. Sexy names, huh? He will outlive Heather, his first wife, due to the whole immortality thing, but we’re not going to show their geriatric sexy times. Instead, there will be a few shots of youthful buttocks and even, whisper it, a nipple, in the moonlight. All very tastefully done. The Kurgan isn’t really into consent, by the way, but it’s all off-camera so that should be fine. The Kurgan will also get to lick a priest’s hand, which could be sexy if you’re into priest-licking.”
“Fine, can’t see any problems there. Will there be lots of gratuitous shots of Scottish scenery?”
“Yes. Sean Connery has it built into his contract that ‘Visit Scotland’ can use the rushes for their next ad campaign, for free.”
“Cool, cool. Well, that all sounds fantastic. Here, take our money.”
And I for one, am very happy that they did. Long live Highlander – despite all the plot holes, dodgy fashion, dodgy hairstyles, even dodgier accents and occasionally wooden acting (sorry, Christopher Lambert, looking at you…) it’s a fun, vibrant, roller coaster of a film which you never want to get off. Clancy Brown is epic; Sean Connery is Sean Connery, and it’s a great ensemble cast. I was tempted to do my usual scene by scene plot recap, but I actually think you’ll have more fun just watching it for yourselves.
In recent years there have been talks of a remake but perish the thought.
There really can be only one!
Join us again next week for more 80s mischief when Paul will play truant and invite us to partake in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off! Oh, yeah!