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Sunday 8 September 2019

Burl reviews Highlander! (1986)

Hi, it’s Burl from down through the ages with another movie review for you! This time I’m talking Highlander, the original goofshow from 1986, which I remember watching, and enjoying, quite a few times on the rather drably packaged Thorn/EMI VHS tape they released after its initial underwhelming theatrical release! I guess I’m one of the people who helped this non-hit become a cult picture that was followed up by even goofier sequels and, I believe, a TV series!
Now, even if you didn’t know this was a movie directed by somebody who’d started out by making dozens of 1980s rock videos and a killer pig movie, you wouldn’t be surprised when someone told you that was the case! And when “rock video movies” became a thing in the 1980s - the term was used mostly, but not exclusively, as a pejorative - Highlander was held up as an exemplar of all the ways such a trend could go wrong! There were visual pleasures galore to be sure, the reviewers said, but, ha ha, wait a minute, the narrative’s a mess!
And they were right to say that! It was shot pleasingly by one of my favourite DPs, Gerry Fisher (who shot both Malpertuis and Wolfen, ha ha!), and there is no dolly move or crazy camera crane contraption that director Russell Mulcahy is not willing to try, and no chunk of dialogue or  story he’ll hesitate to chop out! So there’s a sort of unfinished feel to this picture, with the parts never making a whole, and feeling as though they'd been dropped in as placeholders and never finessed!
What’s it about, you ask? About a hundred and fifteen minutes, ha ha! Also, it chronicles the life of a young Scottish highlander, Connor MacLeod, killed in battle in the sixteenth century by an enormous warrior called The Krogan! But it turns out that both The Highlander and The Kroeger are immortals, which Connor learns from a fancy-pants Spanish-Egyptian oldie who shows up to teach him stuff; and they all are part of a whole group of immortals who battle each other and lop melons, which causes The Quickening, until, in present-day New York, they will have The Gathering, and the last man standing (they’re all men) will receive The Prize! Ha ha!
Now, if you were making this movie, who would you want to play this long-lived Scotsman? Why, you’d pick the actor with the thickest French accent possible, Christopher Lambert from The Hunted! And who would you choose to play his Spanish-Egyptian mentor? Certainly you’d choose the most iconic Scottish actor ever, Sean Connery, whom we know and love from The Hunt for Red October, You Only Live Twice, and so many others! Ha ha, but then suddenly your casting judgment would kick in, and, in contradiction to all your previous impulses, you’d hire the perfect actor, Clancy Brown, to play The Kalgon! Ha ha, he’s not as laid-back here as he was in Buckaroo Banzai, that’s for sure!
Goofy things happen all through this movie, enough so that you think it must all be some kind of gag! Connor fights a businessman immortal in the parking garage beneath Madison Square Garden, and the guy does backflips all over the place before finally Connor flashes his sword and the businessman's casaba hits the pavement! When, in the modern age, The Kolgate decides to go under cover, his idea of keeping a low profile involves sticking safety pins in his neck and orating loudly in a church! And The Prize, when finally it is bequeathed, turns out to be a bunch of cheap-looking animated skulls flying around! Ha ha, but I figure the movie must be a put-on, because why else hire Alan North, Leslie Nielsen’s captain in Police Squad, to play an allegedly normal police detective?
It has to be said: this is not a good picture! There’s some nice stuff in it though: entertaining spectacle, clever transitions, pleasingly hambone performances, decapitations on the reg; and the concept, though nonsense, is compelling! But on the other hand, it’s full of mediocre Queen songs, the makeup is bad, and it's all sillier than the Battle of the Network Stars! Ha ha, I give Highlander one and a half exploding windows, which is just a fraction of what the picture gives itself!


  1. Yes, it's a stoopid movie where nothing is worked out to any degree of accomplishment (or sense), but it does have a wacky charm. And do you know, the scene where Connor's wife is dying and she asks him why he stayed with her all those years, and he tells her it was simply because he loved her, is a really sweet moment that hardly any other 80s action flick would have thought to include. And this from Cannon, too.

    1. I'll agree about the death scene, though the old age makeup kind of distracted me! I really did enjoy the movie for years in some uncomplicated way, but now - and maybe it's unfair - the fight scenes seem kind of clumsy and the editing kind of strange! It's not the flashback thing; that's a-ok! But some scenes seem randomly dropped in, and others to be missing! But it feels to me like an assembly more than it does a fine cut!

      And though this very much seems like a Cannon project (it's pretty Masters of the Universe, ha ha!), I don't think it is!

    2. *checks IMDB* Hey, you're right, they just handled some of the distribution. Thorn EMI, apparently (another blast from the past!).