The untold truth of Highlander

When it comes to modern media franchises, the tendency is to base your movies off of something that's been well-proven in another medium: comics, toys, books, etc. But, that wasn't always the case. The Highlander franchise, on the other hand, is a series of stories based around one compelling, original idea — a fight between the world's Immortals, who have secretly walked among us since the dawn of time.

The original movie revolves around the Immortal Conner MacLeod. The film is his life story, switching perspectives from his youth on the fields of medieval Scotland to 1980s New York City, where the last Immortals are being drawn by destiny to fight each other to the death. As we work our way up to the long-gestating remake set to be helmed by John Wick co-director Chad Stahelski, we're curious which lore they might mine for the new-look Highlander. So, let's examine the weirder corners of the Highlander universe.

The series was full of weird cameos

If you have any familiarity with the Highlander series, you might know it better from the long-running TV show, rather than the movie that spawned it. Starring Adrian Paul as Duncan MacLeod, the series ran for six seasons throughout the mid-90s, a precursor to other relatively cheesy fantasy series of the time like Xena: Warrior Princess or Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. The series exists mostly as a cultural artifact, living on through YouTube clips of the wild celebrity cameos from the likes of rock star Joan Jett, porn star Traci Lords, and Rowdy Roddy Piper, among others. They never fail to throw you for a bit of a loop, and are one of the main reasons to get into the series today. Because it's one thing to see a guest star recite lines on Law & Order — but it's a completely different thing to see, say, Scottish singer-songwriter Sheena Easton swinging a sword around, trying to chop heads.

There was more than one live-action TV show

There was another Highlander show, and no, we're not talking about the cartoon. Barely remembered now, 1998 saw the release of a short-lived spinoff to the series, following a female Immortal called The Raven. The show, which starred Highlander recurring actress Elizabeth Gracen, followed the ageless thief Amanda and her ex-cop buddy as they fought Immortals, solved crimes, and sought redemption for past sins. Due to a number of factors, from general franchise fatigue (the show launched at the conclusion of the original series, which by then had been on the air for most of the decade) to the show not feeling enough like the source material, The Raven never really caught on. One reviewer critiqued it as lacking the Highlander feel, coming off as "a cop show with Immortals," when it probably should've been the other way around. Despite these criticisms, and rumors of production difficulties of a truly unique order (Gracen had a tryst with former president Bill Clinton years earlier, which came to light at the time of the series and caused quite a bit of drama), The Raven ran for a full season of 22 episodes before being canceled, ending the Highlander franchise's live-action presence on TV after a seven-year run.

The unreleased Queen songs

The value of Queen in making the original Highlander special enough to justify so many sequels can simply not be overstated. It's impossible to imagine the movie without the band's music putting the epic sweep over the top (you could always watch the Queen-less Highlander III as an example). However, despite how heavily Queen's music features in the movie (and TV show), there was never an official soundtrack to the film. Instead, many songs from the movie ended up on Queen's 12th studio album, 1986's A Kind of Magic. While the big numbers are all there, such as "Princes of the Universe" and "Who Wants to Live Forever" a beautifully affecting song that is to this movie what "I Believe I Can Fly" is to Space Jam — there are Queen songs in the movie that have yet to make it onto any album. The most notable omission among these being the band's cover of "Theme from New York, New York" that plays in the lead-up to the climactic final battle.

Christopher Lambert's peculiar accent

One of the most enigmatic and charming things about the original Highlander is Christopher Lambert's legendarily weird accent, which is constantly mutating and impossible to pin down. The movie even lampshades this, intentionally or not, when a police officer notices MacLeod's inflection and pointedly asks him where he comes from, netting the cheeky reply, "Lots of different places." This was less of an intentional acting choice than a happy accident. Reportedly, the accent came as a result of Lambert's limited grasp of English at the time of filming. Though born in New York, he was raised and started his acting career in France, performing in French. At the time of Highlander's filming, his only prior English-speaking role had been as an inarticulate Tarzan.

The series began in Sean Connery's bathroom

From the dawn of time we came, moving silently down through the centuries… These are the lines that started the franchise. Spoken sonorously by Sean Connery, who played the Immortal Ramirez, this brief monologue tells you everything you need to know. The concept is so instantly evocative, turning on the faucets of your imagination, teasing you with possibility before Queen kicks off the opening credits. It's such a great way to start a movie, and all you need to start a franchise is right there in those opening words, booming with potency. Turns out, Sean Connery recorded the iconic intro to the series in a Spanish bathroom. That's why it echoes so much.

So the next time you hear that powerful intro, visualize Sean Connery holding the script in one hand, the phone in the other, standing half-naked in his Spanish vacation home, trying not to bump the shower curtain or the john. That's all-time great acting, people.

The Highlander fought (practically) blind

How truly bewildered must Christopher Lambert have occasionally gotten during the filming of these movies? In addition to being very creaky with the language during the first movie, Christopher Lambert couldn't see much of what he was doing either. The actor suffers from myopia, a disorder that blurs his vision, and filmed all of his work while very near-sighted, meaning he could barely see during the swordfights. It's one thing to do a two-hander dialogue scene with your eyes closed; it's a severely different, way-more-dangerous thing to conduct hand-to-hand combat. In addition to nearly taking a tooth out of co-star Michael Ironside's head during filming of the first sequel, Lambert got his own finger split open because he couldn't see a swing coming, and in a way, it's kind of remarkable it took a whole movie and a half to happen. They couldn't just let the Immortal wear glasses?

There's a decent version of the awful second movie

Oh, Highlander II: The Quickening. What is there to say about this movie that hasn't already been spat at it by Roger Ebert? A movie so bad it has to be seen to be believed, the follow-up received generally terrible reviews. A truly puzzling, bizarre sequel, The Quickening's main mission seems to be to take this silly concept and make it as dumb as humanly possible. No longer coming "from the dawn of time" as ageless enigmas, Highlander II "reveals" the earthbound Immortals to be ex-pat aliens from the planet Zeist, and sets the action on an Earth artificially darkened by a man-made solar shield in the year 2024. So the obvious fact that a sequel should be impossible due to there being only one Immortal left standing at the end of the first Highlander is the least of this odious movie's myriad problems. Going forward, the sequel was essentially ignored by future installments but there was another, later cut that aimed to improve the sequel's quality. Marketed as the "Renegade Version," the newer cut is substantially different from the legendarily goofy theatrical version. To start, it makes the movie better simply by excising a lot of the weirder elements that made the theatrical release so awful, most notably the whole alien thing. It's not a good movie, but it's not one of the worst ones of all time, either.

The Highlander anime, and other tie-ins from the fringe

Like most big media properties, there is a far fringe to the Highlander series where the canon starts to get weird. Such as the Highlander anime movie, which is actually among the better-reviewed Highlander movies. Called The Search for Vengeance, the film is the brainchild of Japanese anime luminary Yoshiaki Kawajiri and written by Highlander: The Series alum David Abramowitz, which gives it a level of quality and fan credibility that many of the live action sequels can't even claim. It's among the only fringe media in the Highlander universe that might be worth your time. Like most Saturday morning cartoons, Highlander: The Animated Series is best left forgotten, as is the clunky game based on the cartoon released for Atari's subpar Jaguar system. It's old-school in the worst way. Another game, developed more than a decade later for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, was canceled in development, leaving behind only a remarkably unpromising trailer. The moral of the story: let's not dismiss the remake, okay? How could it be any weirder, worse, or off-base than what's come before? "There can be only one" is long done, so bring on a new movie. Let this franchise live forever.