Heathers (1989) — Murder, croquet, and teenage angst

“The extreme always seems to make an impression.”

Heather’s rating: Could someone buy these kids a Zippo, please?

Heather’s review: There’s really no other way to begin this than to tell you that three years ago I was part of a group of five Heathers. Most of us went to church together, prompting the need for us to be assigned monikers based on our state/country of origin. I was Kentucky Heather, there was a Tennessee Heather, Louisiana Heather and then Australia Heather.

I reveled in the incredulous reactions we’d receive whenever we were all together and introduced ourselves. I always found it amusing to have to pull out picture ID to prove we weren’t playing a prank (”Really? You think we’re that pathetic? Hahaha…okay then, you goober..”). Unfortunately there was always the inevitable question to follow: “So have you seen that movie Heathers?”

Well no, no I hadn’t. Why? Well, I mean… I guess for the same reasons that I haven’t watched a lot of movies: There are only so many hours in a day. Besides I don’t pick out my films purely because I have something in common with the title. If that were true then, given my DVD collection, my life would be a whole lot more awesome. But I digress. My negative answer always drew surprise, yet honestly I don’t think the people that asked me about Heathers had seen the movie either. When asked, no one could ever elaborate on the plot any farther than “Well it’s about some mean girls named Heather. And they’re in high school.” Gee, thanks. Sounds awesome. I’ll jump right on that.

When I finally got around to watching it about a week ago I expected another preachy “popularity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be” movie. I suppose that’s what I got, underneath the cold blooded murder, scarring, and filthy language (a CHAINSAW? Really? WTF?), the satiric portrayal of a town practically lusting over the teen suicide “fad” and mockery of our media’s sensationalism.

Veronica Sawyer, a genius-level intellect, finds herself in a popularity trap of her own making. In too deep, she finds distraction from the shallow Heather trio through her heated outpourings in her diary and the new guy in town, a mysterious and attractive rebel named J.D. Veronica and J.D. accidentally kill off the lead Heather and cover it up as a suicide. Jason seems to have a bit of repressed bloodlust, as this one instance sets him off on a killing spree, dragging Veronica along with him. Veronica is caught between her psychopathic love interest’s extracurriculars, Heather Duke’s power trip as she tries to step up as new clique leader , and the town’s cult-like fascination with the rash of teenage “suicides” sweeping through their local high school.

Dan Waters, the writer, created this story as a satire of the media’s obsession with teen suicide in the ’80s. According to Dan Waters (as per his commentary on the DVD’s special features) the media was having a frenzy with it. They grossly exaggerated matters and used its shock value as a ratings booster (as the media is wont to do). I wouldn’t recall, as I was more into watching Saturday morning cartoons than the nightly news when this came out. Even so I can relate, as we all can, to being utterly exasperated with the media grabbing one particular type of story, rallying behind it or shocking us with it until it’s run in the ground.

Luckily, I didn’t have any high expectations for this film as one of the all-time cult classics, so I ended up really enjoying it rather than being disappointed when it didn’t shine as brightly as the pedestal I’d placed it on. The “Heathers” plot was definitely an unexpected plot (albeit a slightly painful one to watch, given the school tragedies over the last decade or so) and it kept me interested. The dialogue was very offensive and at the same time off the wall and hilarious. Waters created a totally new set of slang, something I’ve only ever seen in Clueless. For those who care (not me) the outfits were certainly… intriguing. If it weren’t for the shoulder pads I’d have a hard time dating this movie by the clothes alone, they had that unique of a look.

All that said I’ll go where everyone else has by saying I hate the last couple of minutes. Other than that, and dialogue so filthy it would probably have Navy SEALS squirming, this is easily a movie I can see watching over and over again.

Justin’s rating: I’m… confused. I need my… doctor.

Justin’s review: In high school I worked at a video store in a local supermarket. My boss was a redheaded rhinoceros named Heather who admittedly hated all people. Well, Heather had a friend who worked in the floral department who was also named Heather. And their favorite movie, believe it or not, was this 1989 Christian Slater vehicle. Another freaky coincidence was at that brief period of my life, I was operating under the name of “JD,” Slater’s character’s name. Goosebumps yet?

Because I worked in mortal fear of these two spreading their hate and insanity into my very soul, I was never too keen on seeing this movie. But a couple months ago I mustered up the courage, and made my rent.

Heathers is a confused film told from a confused perspective in a confused environment. Veronica (Ryder) seeks to become friends of a high-class clique, starring three girls all named Heather. Since power, makeup, and “whatever” attitudes rarely bring world peace, Veronica ends up loathing the very people she’s attempting to emulate. Eventually she hooks up with new kid/rebel Jason Dean (Slater) and they kinda start killing everyone. Natural Born Killers-lite, if you will.

I suppose the point of this movie, as well as every teen flick ever made, is to say, “High school is the pits, we’re misunderstood, and everyone is your enemy.” Ah, adolescence. Can I go through it again? Please?

You would definitely stack this in with your Dark Comedy collection, since the bleaker elements (including murder and frat parties) are countered with a kind of zany mentality. Just the lesson we need to teach the youth of today! As a helpful outlet, I’m not quite sure this works. The ending is a bit of a cop-out, and I left my TV feeling dizzy and slightly bewildered. Did I catch the symbolism, I wondered? Was there a deeper meaning that I was meant to milk for its calcium nutrition? I’m pretty sure my life will go on just fine not knowing the answers to these questions.

Kyle’s rating: Winona = fun!

Kyle’s review: I like this movie, and I know exactly why. Not because this is a dark satire on high school that is pretty funny despite being horrifically overrated by all angst-fueled teens and most of my brainless friends (it’s not that great). It does succeed with its dark humor, but it almost defeats itself by trying too hard to shock you with violence and death, and the whole movie seems too eager and smug in its attempt to show us (symbolically, of course) how all of this physical violence and pain are just the manifestations of the mental anguish all high schoolers (especially, apparently, the makes of this film) feel. If that little analysis-laden sentence just confused you, get ready for some more confusion!

Heathers works by dealing with the well-known truth that high school is a bitch, so some girls have to become bitches to deal with it, and some guys have to become ultra-violent munitions experts to reach graduation and get a little payback of their own. But there is no hidden meaning or truth to be found here, because EVERYBODY knows school is hard stuff. I agree with Justin, the point of this film (besides being a way to kill some time watching it) escapes me, and the ending doesn’t seem to fit. (HINT: if you want the ending to be more satisfying, just turn off the movie towards the end AFTER you see the explosion but BEFORE the smoke clears, okay?).

No, I like Heathers and have it on tape because Winona Ryder is a babe and a half, and I really like her look in this movie. I could probably watch this with the sound off and The Rolling Stones playing from my stereo and like it better. So, yeah, the story is decent and you should probably watch this at least once just to know what all the hype is about, but don’t forget the most important lesson this film has to offer: Winona Ryder is one heck of a chick. Enjoy the Winona!

Drew’s rating: Winona in a wet t-shirt? Ryder: 1, Lohan: 0

Drew’s review: So I rented Mean Girls the other night. Not the type of movie I usually take a chance on, but my fellow mutants seemed to like it, and hey — Lindsay Lohan. Mmmmm. Overall, I’d say I agree with their assessments: not the greatest flick ever made, but as a whole, pretty entertaining. That is, until the finale, which just fell completely flat for me.

I sat there watching the credits roll and thought to myself, y’know, it’s one thing to make a watered-down Heathers… but you’ve gotta at least give it a twisted or ironic ending or something. Otherwise, what’s the point? You spend an hour and a half building up how insanely spiteful every high school girl in America is, how they’ll corrupt any nice girl who comes along, and then you cop out and go for the super-mega-happy-fun ending? Wayne and Garth might approve, but I don’t; give me the original, nihilism and all.

And as I was thinking all of this, another thought crossed my mind: Wait, don’t I HAVE Heathers? Yes, it’s sad but true. I would be embarrassed for anyone to find out just how many DVDs I’ve bought on a whim and now sit unopened on my shelf — I think I’m the anti-Rich. Regardless, a quick search confirmed my suspicion that I did, indeed, own the original, so I popped the sucker in and settled back to get my Winona on. I was actually really looking forward to seeing the entire thing from start to finish. On my previous viewing I had come in at what I thought at the time was the middle of the movie. Turns out it was only about 10 minutes in… if nothing else, you can’t say that they waste any time getting to the good stuff.

Anyway, the first thing that struck me was how atrociously hideous the outfits worn by the Heathers are. I mean, I have all the fashion sense of a blind hobo and I’m a huge child of the ’80s to boot, but even I can’t understand how any kid in school could’ve found that plaid, linebacker-esque monstrosity of Heather Chandler’s attractive. I’ll stick with the Jingle Bell Rock microskirts, thank you.

I also won’t spend too much time summing up the plot because, well, it’s been done twice so far and it really ain’t that complex: girl gets fed up at shallow friends, girl and her boyfriend start killing shallow friends, girl and her boyfriend have a falling out and try to kill each other. In other words, your standard teen sex romp. Ho-hum.

So, why is Heathers regarded as a classic in some circles? I honestly think it’s more for the entertainment value of the events depicted in the film, rather than any message it might be trying to convey. There’s no question there’s a moral buried in there, the same one Mean Girls would mine 15 years later — cliques suck, worshipping popular but mean people is stupid, and being a jerk will get you shot or pushed in front of a bus or something — but frankly, as Justin and Kyle both pointed out, that’s not exactly deep. The DVD insert quotes a critic who seemed to think the primary audience for Heathers was those who loathed John Hughes and “teensploitation” films, but I’m not sure I agree; if anything, Heathers has less insightful thoughts to convey about teen angst and social segregation than does, say, The Breakfast Club. No, it’s the macabre tone of the film that really appeals to us, and the scenes that make you laugh even as you’re uncomfortable with what’s going on.

With the prevalence of school violence in the last decade, no movie studio in the world would touch this one today, which is probably one of the reasons it’s ultimately more satisfying than Mean Girls. I give them credit for pushing the envelope, even if it doesn’t work in every respect. At the same time, though, it’s slightly less funny when we’ve seen similar events play out in real life, and it’s hard to get a bead on what the film really wants to say. A good portion seems devoted to showing how ultimately trivial all of the teen angst being mined by Hollywood at the time really is, and how attaching too much importance to meaningless things can cause events to spiral way, way out of your control… and then the end steps in and reminds us that, oh right, being nice to people is good too. After you’ve finished killing the ones you don’t like.

So, yeah. I can’t express my unequivocal love for Heathers because it never quite settles on what it wants to be. But with that said, a ton of great lines and an entertaining, you-could-never-pull-this-off-today storyline make it definitely worth seeing at least once. Just be careful which friends you watch it with.

One final thought: Kyle will fight me on this one, but I really think I’d have to go with Winona over Lindsay. Not that Lohan isn’t extremely attractive (and, knowing my luck, reading this right now), but there’s just something about that strip croquet…

Didja notice?

  • Lotho from Beetlejuice as the priest! Man, does that guy ever play normal parts?
  • Veronica Sawyer and her old friend Betty Finn are named after Archie characters Betty and Veronica, as well as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.
  • Despite J.D. making special note of it, the word “Eskimo” never appears in Moby Dick.
  • When Heather Chandler smashes through her glass coffee table, the book atop it is The Bell Jar.
  • It might just have been me, but did the town name sound like a spoof of Shermer, Illinois to anybody else?
  • Heather Chandler’s kitchen is the same one used for the later dream sequence of Heather Duke’s kitchen, just with different colors and lighting.
  • Veronica Sawyer: perfect girlfriend for the Punisher? Discuss.
  • Veronica’s fantastic dresser with the punctuation marks for handles?
  • Heather Chandler sounds like she goes in and out of a Southern accent, especially at the beginning of the Lunchtime Poll
  • I refuse to believe Christian Slater is not Jack Nicholson’s clone, possibly being primed as an organ donor
  • Was Shannen Doherty wearing geisha makeup or something? I mean it takes some work to be paler than Winona Ryder.
  • The Sharper Image poster in the frat house?

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