"It's like we all work together, and our job is being popular and shit."
On Netflix | 1988 | R | 1h 43m
Genre: Cult Classic, Satire, Dark Comedy
Why we watched: If you haven't yet had the pleasure—nay, the privilege—of watching this darkly comedic take on the feudal system known as high school, you are in for a treat! Heathers is a modern classic, and one of my favorite movies. My sister Caitlin introduced it to me in high school, and I've seen it dozen times since. Each screening brings me even greater joy than the previous! Because Caitlin's really the expert on this movie, I tapped her to be a guest author on this week's newsletter.
You might also like: Heathers was the antidote to the spate of uncritical coming-of-age films in the 1980s, from The Breakfast Club (John Hughes, 1985) to Ferris Bueller's Day Off (John Hughes, 1986; on Starz). If you're looking for another push-back against the mainstream, we suggest The Lost Boys (Joel Schumacher, 1987; on HBO).
Greetings and salutations. The year is 1988 and the most popular girl in school is dead, having crashed through a glass coffee table after her best friend poisoned her with a wake-up cup full of electric blue liquid drainer. But fear not, dear reader: "Heather Chandler is one bitch who deserved to die." A cult classic about cliques, croquet, and murder? How very!
In Sherwood, Ohio, a girl gang known as the Heathers runs Westerburg High School. Heather Chandler (Kim Walker) is the queen bee, donning her red scrunchie like a weapon. She's followed dutifully by Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty) and Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk), and less dutifully by Veronica (Winona Ryder). When Veronica meets rebel newcomer J.D. (Christian Slater), things shift for our protagonist, who is tiring of the Heathers bullying antics. The two share a burning look in the cafeteria, which naturally leads to strip croquet, which naturally leads to murder...
Veronica finds herself aiding and abetting J.D.—think James Dean meets Jack Nicholson in The Shining—whose life mission is to eradicate the pathetic, materialistic, self-absorbed teen generation from the planet by faking suicides on a macro level. Thinking she is playing harmless pranks rather than, you know, actually killing people, she goes along with J.D.’s exploits. "Dear Diary," Veronica writes, "My teenage angst has a body count."
Heathers was director Michael Lehmann’s first feature film. In a recent interview, he credited Dan Waters’s sardonic screenplay for much of the film's success. It was the satirical answer to John Hughes's picture of adolescence. We agree. In our humble opinion, Heathers offers up some of the most quotable dialogue in movie history. Par example,
Veronica: I just killed my best friend. J.D.: And your worst enemy. Veronica: Same difference.
Heathers was never just about one girl's love-hate relationship with her three best friends. It wasn't just about a toxic love affair between a teenage girl and a charismatic psychotic teenage boy. It was about how quickly adults buy in to dominant media narratives about adolescence, so much so that they misunderstand murder as suicide.
Watching this film today colors things a bit differently, of course. Heathers is an R-rated revenge comedy about vigilante teenagers who murder their peers. The movie could not have anticipated the overlapping gun violence and bullying epidemics, which began in the mid nineties and plague high schoolers for decades to come. (It goes without saying that there's no way a film like this could be made today. While a television reboot was in the works, it was cancelled after last year's Parkland shootings.) Still, Heathers did garner a certain amount of controversy in its own time. Winona Ryder's agent begged her not to do the film, and a number of theaters refused to host screenings. But the fact that its release came on the heels of the slasher cycle protected it somewhat from backlash. Compared to the body count and gore in the Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) and Friday the 13th (Sean S. Cunningham, 1980; on Hulu) franchises, Heathers is actually quite tame.
Heathers has so, so much to offer: Vintage Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, and Shannen Doherty! Bright pops of color! Giant slushies! Oh, and did we mention an excessive a healthy amount of camp? And the best title sequence of all time? Not to mention that this film gave rise to the teenage girl clique comedy, from Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995) to Jawbreaker (Derren Stein, 1999) to Mean Girls (Mark Watters, 2004). Heather Chandler begat Regina George who begat Blair Waldorf (Gossip Girl, 2007–2012). In short, the results of the Lunchtime Poll are in: Heathers deserves a place in the film history canon!
Liz and Caitlin