Let me paint a picture of sci-fi and fantasy TV in the 90s for you…
You remember the blown out hellscape Clarice told you about in 11/22/63? That was about it. Sure there were a few shows, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess, and that’s about it. Maybe Sliders. It wasn’t like today where every network has its own sci-fi/fantasy show, or are desperately looking for one. If you wanted a George R.R. Martin show in 1990, your option was a version of Beauty and the Beast with Ron Perlman as a lion-man who lived in a sewer. In those days you had to choose between a buffet of low budget television, which if you were lucky had some compelling writing and characters…in a manner of speaking.
One of the best ones of these shows ran for six seasons and is rather beloved among its fans. That show is Highlander: The Series.
The show is actually pretty great. However, the movies it is based off of are, together, one of the worst movie series ever made. Financially unsuccessful, critically ignored, poorly acted, and shoddily directed– each subsequent installment did poorly enough that no one thought there would ever be a sequel, and yet they continued. Highlander 2: The Quickening is by far the worst of the series, but if you’re going to watch them for your bad movie enjoyment, I recommend watching the first one as well. So today on Bad Movies with Brad we’ll take a look at Highlander, a film I personally love, but as I’ve learned through so many bad movies, just because you love something doesn’t mean it’s good.
We begin at a pro wrestling match where a man in a terrible trench coat is having Scotland flashbacks while Queen music plays. He then goes down into the parking lot where he meets a man in a business suit. They have a sword fight. I am not high while I’m writing this. Trench-coat cuts Business-Suit’s head clean off and lighting shoots from the headless body into Trench-coat’s while all the cars explode.
Trench-coat stashes his samurai sword in the parking garage as the police come. In another Scotland flashback we learn that Trench coat’s name is Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert). Connor goes into battle where the Kurgan (Clancy Brown on speed) a dude in a skull hat wants him dead. Connor wanders aimlessly around the battlefield until the Kurgan finds him and kills him. He gets better.
The cops arrest MacLeod outside the parking lot because he looks really damn guilty. The flashbacks go back and forth for the next third of the movie or so. MacLeod learns he’s an immortal. MacLeod in the hideous trench coat is interrogated by the cops. MacLeod in the present meets Brenda, a crime scene investigator who seems to know nothing about crime scenes but a lot about swords. In the past he meets “Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez chief metallurgist to Charles V of Spain”, Immortal Egyptian, as played by Sean Connery.
In the past Ramirez trains MacLeod to be an immortal sword fighting warrior. He explains that Macleod, Ramirez and the Kurgan are all immortals who, along with countless others have to kill each other until there’s one immortal left, and that guy will be all-knowing and all-powerful. Meanwhile in the present, all the immortals are showing up in New York to fight in the final round of the immortal grudge match, this includes the Kurgan.
Back in medieval Scotland the Kurgan shows up, kills Ramirez and blows up MacLeod’s castle with sword-fighting.
In the present MacLeod has some very intense conversations with the Kurgan, who goes around killing more immortals, and driving little old ladys around at ninety miles per hour down New York streets. Eventually the Kurgan kidnaps Brenda who has for some reason gotten involved with MacLeod, forcing them to battle for the great Immortal Prize.
Who Wants to live Forever?
With Masters of the Universe we talked about how a great performance can elevate a movie beyond its normal badness. Highlander is a great example of the opposite.
The first is our plucky young hero, Connor MacLeod, played by French-American actor Christopher Lambert. Lambert, who is not in any way Scottish, worked with a vocal coach to give immortal MacLeod an accent that makes him sound like he’s from “lots of places” as he says in the film. This had more of the effect of making him sound like Igor in some of the later Frankenstein movies, and oddly enough sounds almost exactly like Lambert talks in real life. Christopher Lambert is a serial bad movie offender and whenever you see him in something, you know you’re in for a treat. If you think Christopher Walken comes up with some weird speech patterns, Lambert blows him out of the water. Some of his lines you start to wonder if they’re in English. He laughs at inappropriate times and generally plays MacLeod more like an alien than a Scotsman.
The other performance belongs to the stock mystical mentor character. When you have your Luke Skywalker going out on an adventure, he needs an Obi-Wan Kenobi to tell him what’s going down. Usually you try and cast someone with some acting clout who can bring some gravitas to the role, someone with some serious acting chops. They cast Sean Connery. Sean is wonderful when he’s playing spies, submarine commanders, and archaeologists, but certain parts, especially in fantasy roles are probably not for him.
Take Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez, casting Sean Connery to play a Spaniard was always going to be a bad idea, having him explain the entire plot only serves to keep you completely lost for the entire movie. As is his style, his accent to play the 2000 year old Egyptian turned Spaniard is, of course, Scottish. I was going to mainly comment of the sheer idiocy of having a man with a Scottish accent ask a man with an Igor accent what Haggis is, but while I was fact checking I found this little nugget on Wikipedia, “The opening voice-over by Connery has an echo effect because it was recorded in the bathroom of his Spanish villa (where he had been working with a voice coach in order to perfect the Spanish accent he used in the film).”
I’m sorry, what? What??? What Spanish Accent???? Does this sound like a Spanish accent to you?
All I can imagine is that they gave Sean Connery a lady vocal coach and he “learned his accent” the same way James Bond would. So please, enjoy Sean Connery using the word “Pendejo” in that accent. And yes, he does wear that outfit throughout the whole movie, though regrettably not the cape.
One big contender for the Bad Movie Hero award this time around was Clancy Brown’s turn as the Kurgan, who spends most of his time with his crazy dial turned all the way up to 11. Brown chews more scenery than he destroys in the film, and he blows up a castle with sword fighting. He goes back and forth from homicidal maniac, to creepy guy at the movies, waggling his tongue at nuns and little old ladies while cutting heads off left and right, he’s helps a lot I’ll admit, but he simply can’t overcome the awful directing. You see, this was one of the first films to be influenced by the techniques from music videos, and it shows. Just like Cool as Ice you really can’t film a movie like a music video, even if you do have good music. Speaking of which… there was only really one choice for our Bad Movie Hero.
Princes of the Universe
This is the 80s, so fantasy films don’t get big orchestral scores yet, they get soundtracks. And in ’86 somehow, someone managed to convince Queen that they should do the soundtrack to Highlander. Not only are their songs the best part of the film, they help add the emotional weight that the filmmakers so desperately wanted. Sadly there aren’t enough Queen songs to save the movie, but when it works, it really, really works. For instance, without Highlander we’d never have had “Who Wants to Live Forever?”
Furthermore, you get “Princes of the Universe” played over the credits, which helps you feel so rewarded for sitting through the movie. The song also served as the theme song for the TV series.
Highlander lost seven million dollars at the box office. Thanks to home video, the series managed to earn enough money that someone, somewhere thought Highlander deserved a sequel. To date there have been five (FIVE!) of these movies, and there are currently plans for a remake starring Tom Hardy. Though they’ve been planning it for seven years but who knows, this is after all, the movie series that cannot die. And who knows when it comes to Highlander and Bad Movies with Brad, there may not only be one.