Highlander (1986)

Posted in Reviews by - January 06, 2021
Highlander (1986)

A commercial and critical failure upon its initial release, this bombastic action fantasy achieved popularity in Europe before becoming a cult video hit, spawning many sequels, a TV series, books and video games. The film’s divisive elements are clear to see – a bizarre supernatural premise, hammy acting, over-the-top action – but its these very same elements which have also helped to guarantee its reputation. Director Russell Mulcahy borrows many of the same tricks he learned as one of the most popular music video directors of the 1980s – long tracking shots, dry ice, extreme close-ups and noir-ish back-lighting – which certainly gives the film a unique energy. Coupled with its rocking Queen soundtrack, the film’s contemporary sections essentially look like an extension of MTV. Gregory Widen’s story is just about the right level of bonkers for a distributor like Cannon Films (home of ninjas, Death Wish sequels and Chuck Norris), focusing on an immortal sect of ancient, sword-fighting warriors linked together by an energy force known as ‘the quickening’ who can only be killed when their heads are removed. French actor Christopher Lambert plays a 16th century Scottish clansman, called Connor MacLeod, who is slain and then reborn as the so-called ‘Highlander’ when he is struck by the supernatural sword of The Kurgan (Clancy Brown). Connor’s combat skills are given a boost by Sean Connery, who plays another immortal warrior from Egypt dressed as a Spanish conquistador who makes absolutely no attempt to hide his Scottish accent. Connor’s feud with The Kurgan reconvenes in present-day New York, where the Highlander has been working as an antiques expert before a series of decapitations suddenly draws the attention of the cops. The bifurcated story actually works quite well, and it is to Mulcahy’s credit that the two very contrasting landscapes – New York’s urban dystopia and the vivid, green expanse of the Scottish Highlands – sit so comfortably together. Subtlety may be in short supply, but the last thing you could accuse this film of being is dull.

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Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a keyboard in London, UK.

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