Since this week saw the arrival of the lovers holiday known as Valentine’s Day, it felt appropriate to steer our 80’s past movie time in a more romantic direction (albeit a dark one!) – welcome to Forgotten Friday Flick! Today we’re heading into more somber territory for a black comedy filled with plenty of laughs, romance and guys with guns. Taking all high school movie conventions and turning them upside down and inside out, it’s a teen tale of lunch polls, cow tipping and a little murder before recess. Geeks, punks, brains and jocks look out for the ever popular…Heathers!
Veronica Sawyer is a high school girl on her way up. She’s a bright student, is well liked amongst her fellow classmates and has recently been inducted into the most powerful and feared clique in the school. Run by the three headstrong Heathers – the bitchy Heather Chandler, the bookish Heather Duke and the meek Heather McNamara – the new status amongst the rich and beautiful at first seems cool to Veronica. But seeing the effects of their cruelty begins to take a toll on her and she starts to question her choice in friends. Plus when she meets local trench coat smoking rebel Jason “J.D.” Dean, the two decide to hatch a plan to get back at the Heathers with some deadly results.
The above is a very vague and narrow description of the genius of Heathers, but for all newbies it’s all they’re getting. So rich in humor, underlying meaning and quirky and quotable lines (“our love is God – let’s go get a slushie!”) is Daniel Waters push-the-envelope script that it’s a piece of writing that all but defies not to go beyond a basic description. (And I wouldn’t want to spoil it anyway!) Matched with an almost surreal style by an early Michael Lehmann (pre-Hudson Hawk people!), it’s a film that goes for bold broke and as such redefines not only high school films but also the teen experience in general. (Where else can you catch a film that discusses the pros and cons of suicide, Bach and the way that life can “suck” all in one go!) And Lehmann isn’t afraid to get serious (the bits involving the beat down character of Martha Dunnstock are heartbreaking!) or spew satire (all the deliciously over-the-top scenes with Glenn Shadix’s Father Ripper steal the show!) in the name of creating a film that pushes boundaries – and looks cool doing it.
But in the end, it’s the cast that is the final nail in the coffin of cool here beginning with a young Winona Ryder as the sassy Veronica who provides the right amount of glib and gumption to make the character a gal to root for. And as her rebel with a cause bad boy beau, Christian “greetings and salutations” Slater – appropriately channeling the spirit and attitude of a young Jack Nicholson – makes a terrific anti-hero who you both love and hate. (I wanted to BE him when I saw Heathers as a kid!) Plus the flick is then filled out with an absolutely flawless cast all around from the three Heathers of the title (an early Shannen Doherty, timid Lisanne Falk and uber-bitchy Kim “f@ck me gently with a chainsaw!” Walker!) to the wishy-washy parents of Veronica (the refined yet playful Jennifer Rhodes and Bill Cort!) and even the caustic demented father of Slater (Kirk “we beat the bitches” Scott!), so there’s not a single false performance within the heightened world of Heathers.
There’s been much talk over the years – especially from an eager Winona Ryder – about the possibility of a sequel and most fans ears perk up even at the mere suggestion. But looking back on the cinematic time capsule quality of Heathers I’m actually glad they never did it. The film captures and appropriately nurtures an original take on youth movies and being so different and daring (yes J.D., the extreme does seem to make an impression!) it wasn’t even a hit out of the theatrical gate. (Cult status came with its arrival on the home video market later!) To try to emulate and re-formulate what came so brilliantly out of nowhere seems like a futile exercise in trying to control the uncontrollable. Chaos may indeed be what killed the dinosaurs darling, but Heathers is one distinctive dino that will never die.