In March of 1986, Highlander exploded onto the screen, creating a sprawling franchise with some terrific high points and terrible lows. Okay, make that one high point and a shitload of lows. It was a decent action movie with swordfights, A Queen soundtrack and Sean Connery in a supporting role as a Spanish Swordsman with a Scottish accent. Good times.
The movie details the struggle between immortal warriors who can only die by being beheaded. They are trying to kill each other because there is some ill-defined "prize" for the last surviving one. As they say multiple times in the movie, "There can be only one." The bulk of the story takes place in then-modern (1985) New York City. The Immortal population has dwindled to a handful of individuals and of course by the end of the film it is down to just the titular Highlander, Duncan McLeod (played by a crosseyed Christopher Lambert) and the over muscled and enormous "Kurgan" (Played by a scenery-chewing Clancy Brown). Fate eventually draws them to a showdown atop a building dominated by an enormous neon sign. Of course good defeats evil yadda yadda yadda and credits roll. An entirely satisfying end to a perfectly good popcorn movie. Roll credits, cue Queen, the end.
Of course, it is never the end if a movie makes money, and that was just as true in the 1980s as it is today. And that's where things got weird. FIrst came Highlander 2. I would say that it wasn't bad as sequels go, but that would be a lie. It was TERRIBLE, even by sequel standards. It posits the immortals as aliens exiled to Earth and never quite manages to mesh with the original in any logical or meaningful way. The best thing one can do with it is to give it a miss.
But wait, there's more. In subsequent years we also were given two more forgettable sequels, a moderately entertaining TV series, a second, far less entertaining TV Series (Highlander the Raven) an anime, a comic book series, a shitty even by late 80s standards computer game, and a failed attempt at an MMORPG. A reboot has been in the works since 2008, but it seems to be languishing in some deep dark, dismal circle of development hell.
None of that makes the original movie any less fun. Sure Clancy Brown as "The Kurgan" muahahas his way through the film and leaves no piece of scenery unchewed, but that's part of his charm. And Christopher Lambert spends the movie gazing into the middle distance with his eyes ever so slightly crossed while speaking with an accent so indefinable that it is even commented on in the film. Apparently, he is EXTREMELY nearsighted and filmed the whole movie without his glasses. So that wasn't an affectation, that was him trying to see WTF was going on. And the accent was French, which is his first language. That makes him seem more human, IMO.
And though he isn't the star, Sean Connery deserves mention in any movie in which he appears. One of the most enduring images I have of the film is him riding up and telling McLeod that his name is "Ramirez" in his thick Scottish Accent. Sean Connery is like a Scottish honey badger; he doesn't give a fuck. I have this mental image of the director yelling "Sean, you're Spanish in this film. Try to sound Spanish" and him telling the director "Funny, thatsh what your mom shaid" and continuing to use his brogue.
Highlander is definitely some 80s cheese, but cheese has its place. If you haven't seen it in ages, or haven't seen it at all. Give it a look. You can ignore the rest of the franchise though, just remember "There Can Only Be One."
52 Bad Stories is on the road for the Holiday this week. But we should be back in time for a new story on Friday.
All of you have a happy Thanksgiving.
It's a sad day for comic book fans everywhere. Mr. Stan Leed has died.
I am a middle-aged man, but Stan Lee has been a fixture in my life as long as I can remember. From the day I was old enough to comprehend these things called "Comic Book" with their fantastic stories of superpowered heroes and evil villains, I have known the Marvel comics brand and many of the figures he created, Captain America, The Hulk, Spider Man, Doctor Strange and many more. In my teenage years and early 20s, when I was having dorky pedantic arguments with my friends over which heroes could totally take the other in a fight, he was still creating, still running the Marvel Univers. Then in my middle age, when comics had mostly been laid by the wayside for other pursuits, his creations began appearing on the big screen, and the cheeky bastard began appearing beside them.
I am not the sort of man who usually feels genuine sorrow at the death of a celebrity, but there are exceptions, and Stan Lee is one of those exceptions, Simply because he has been entertaining me from the time I was old enough to read, and now he will no longer be there to do so. A world without Stan Lee just seems...wrong somehow. The Marvel Universe will go on, both in comics and in the cinema, sure. But it just won't feel the same. Not to me, anyway. And not to a lot of people, I reckon.
Farewell Stan. You will be missed.
Aaaaaw, Halloween has come and gone, and now I have to wait another year for ghosts, ghouls, and goblins.
Oh, wait, no I don't. That's why I have this blog. So let us start with ghosts and talk about my favorite haunted house film, The Legend of Hell House.
So the first thing to keep in mind about The Legend of Hell House is that, despite the similar name and a few superficial similarities on the plot, it is NOT The Haunting of Hill House. Both are based on novels (The former by Richard Matheson and the latter by Shirley Jackson), and both involve a scientific investigation of a sprawling old house where terrible, terrible things have taken place. That's where the similarities end.
In the 1973 film, a scientist, his wife and a pair of psychics investigate the abandoned mansion of one "Emeric Belasco", a giant of a man who was alleged to have spent his days in the house in a continuous debauched, lecherous, drunken revel...until the day that everyone in the house was supposed to be found dead (except for Belasco himself, whose body was never found). The house soon thereafter gained a reputation as not just a haunted house but the "Mount Everest of Haunted Houses." The characters mentioned above decide that such a place would be the best place to prove the existence of life after death and terrible nasty things ensue.
I won't give away too many details of the plot, on the off chance that I am convincing anyone to watch it, and there are a couple of twists that potential viewers might appreciate that they remain unspoiled.
One thing I appreciate about the film is that it very neatly straddles a fine line between showing too much and showing too little. You never see a ghost per se; it probably would have looked incredibly cheesy in 1973 if the filmmakers had tried. But still things happen, and there is no doubt that the house is haunted and the characters are in grave danger. Too many haunted house movies (and books for that matter) fail in that regard.
Also, it does an excellent job of investing you in the characters. Each is unique, none is vanilla, and none seem to be there just as cannon fodder so someone can have a dramatic death to motivate the more important characters.
Lastly, there is just something about 1970s British horror that I can't put my finger on that is just so damned atmospheric. It has a real 'bad dream' vibe to it. Legend of Hell House is not a Hammer or Amicus film, but it would fit right in alongside any of them.
Criticisms? Yeah, I have a couple despite the films revered status in my mind. There is one badly done scene with a possessed cat. Only the "cat" is obviously stuffed. I think they didn't have the budget to get a real trained cat to do the scene, and they did the best they could with it. But it couldn't be any more cheesy if it actually involved coagulated milk products. And I find the ending just a little anti-climactic. It's almost like Richard Matheson didn't really know how to end it, so he just sort of, well, ended it.
But all in all, it is an incredible film and one that any horror buff worthy of the name should see.