Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

There have been three movies (so far) in the Highlander sequence, plus a tv series (see The Highlander).

1. Highlander UK/US movie (1986). EMI/Highlander. Pr Peter S Davis, William N Panzer. Exec pr E C Monell. Dir Russell Mulcahy. Spfx Martin Gutteridge. Mufx Bob Keen. Vfx Optical Film Effects Ltd. Screenplay Peter Bellwood, Larry Ferguson, Gregory Widen. Novelization Highlander * (1986) by Garry Douglas (Garry Kilworth). Starring Clancy Brown (The Kurgan), Sean Connery (Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez), Beatie Edney (Heather), Sheila Gish (Rachel Ellenstein), Roxanne Hart (Brenda J Wyatt), Christopher Lambert (Connor MacLeod), Alan North (Lt Frank Moran), Hugh Quarshie (Sunda Kastagir). 111 mins. Colour.

For much of H two stories – one set in the 16th-century Scottish Highlands and the other in 1985 New York – are interleaved. In 1536 Connor MacLeod was killed by a mysterious outsider during a clan battle against the Frasers, yet rose within the night; assumed a Witch, he was driven off. Far away in the Highlands he married Heather. Into their almost eremitic life stormed a 2437-year-old Egyptian, Ramírez, who explained he and McLeod were both immortal (see Immortality) unless decapitated, and told him there were others like themselves: strongest of all was The Kurgan, a sadistic "perfect warrior" from the Steppes; centuries in the future instinct would bring the surviving immortals together for the Gathering, a Last Battle that only one could win. The Kurgan arrived in MacLeod's temporary absence, killed Ramírez and raped Heather.

1985 is the time of the Gathering. Attacked by another immortal beneath Madison Square Gardens, MacLeod beheads him. Wyatt, a police forensic metallurgist, discovers his sword – inherited from Ramírez – to be an historical paradox; she investigates, finds the truth, and becomes MacLeod's lover. The Kurgan kills the third-last immortal, Kastagir, and seizes Wyatt. In a pyrotechnic flurry of swords, MacLeod kills The Kurgan, saves Wyatt and – surrounded by swirling id-monsters – attains the ability to be at one with all living things.

H, weirdly crosshatching Contemporary Fantasy, High Fantasy, Urban Fantasy and martial-arts movies, is widely castigated as incoherent, illogical and unresolved – all true, but unimportant in the context of this cult movie's undoubted power and glamour; its frenetic glitz complements and enhances the sense of Magic. [JG]

2. Highlander II: The Quickening US movie (1990). Ziad El-Khoury & Jean Luc Defait/Lamb Bear. Pr Peter S Davis, William N Panzer. Exec pr Guy Collins, Mario Sotila. Dir Russell Mulcahy. Spfx John Richardson. Vfx Sam Nicholson. Screenplay Peter Bellwood. Starring Sean Connery (Ramírez), Michael Ironside (Katana), Christopher Lambert (MacLeod), John C McGinley (David Blake), Virginia Madsen (Louise Marcus). 100 mins. Colour.

A mess that tries but fails to provide a coherent Technofantasy rationale for 1, the immortals being now, apparently, aliens (see SFE link below).

3. Highlander III: The Sorcerer US movie (1994). Entertainment International/Transfilm/Lumiere/Fallingcloud/Peter S Davis & William Panzer. Pr Claude Léger. Exec pr Guy Collins, Charles L Smiley. Co-pr Eric Altmayer, Jean Cazes, James Daly. Dir Andy Morahan. Screenplay Paul Ohl. Starring Christopher Lambert (Connor MacLeod), Deborah Unger (Alex Johnson/Sarah), Mario Van Peebles (Kane). 96 mins. Colour.

HIII wisely forgets about 2 and sequels 1. 400 years ago MacLeod left Europe for a time to train in Japan with a fellow-immortal, a Japanese sorcerer and martial-arts expert. In his wake came the most Evil of all the immortals, the sadistic Kane, who beheaded the sorcerer and thereby inherited his powers of Illusion, notably becoming a proficient Shapeshifter; yet the sorcerer's last action was to collapse his cavernous lair, trapping Kane. Now, in 1994, commercial excavations open up the cave, releasing Kane to hunt down MacLeod – who only thought he had become "The One" when killing The Kurgan (in 1), and who now lives with his adopted son John in Marrakesh. Alerted to Kane's re-emergence, he goes to New York. Archaeologist Johnson, who was present at the Japanese site, just happens to be the Double (aside from hair-colour) of Sarah, a woman MacLeod loved at the time of the French Revolution. Kane makes oddly futile attempts to behead MacLeod – his powers of Magic are such that it is hard to see how he could fail – and MacLeod and Johnson become lovers in Scotland (to the authentic strains of Canadian Loreena McKennitt singing the Irish song "Bonny Portmore"). At last Kane uses his imitative shapeshifting powers to seize John; MacLeod wins the ensuing swordfight and this time truly achieves transcendence as "The One"; he and Johnson go to live with John back in that remote Scottish glen.

In terms of plot, HIII is a nonsense, but the plotting chaos becomes almost a strength: interestingly interwoven are countless traditional motifs, of which Kane's shapeshifting (e.g., to become a crow, or MacLeod's Doppelgänger) is just one – a significant other is the association of MacLeod with the figure of the Wandering Jew. [JG]


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.