The first time I saw the movie Heathers was when I was a teenager, one night in the mid-90s. Comedy Central would show it pretty often. This was back in the days when all the channel had to put on were old movies and TV shows. BSP. Before South Park. I don’t think I fully got it that first time. And since it was on basic cable, I was getting a censored version. But something about it resonated. I loved it right away. Maybe I related because I was in high school at the time. Or maybe I was engaged because it starred my favorite actress from 90210. Or maybe it was the just pure craziness of it all. There is a myriad of reasons. This movie was funny, weird, interesting, surprising, and different from any other teen comedy I’d seen before. Probably because it was so dark. I think this is when I first started to have an appreciation for black comedy. Laughing at something extremely inappropriate is always better. Later on, I was able to catch the uncensored version of Heathers and my love for it grew even more. Fuck me gently with a chainsaw, indeed. Fast forward to 2019 and Heathers is celebrating its 30th Anniversary. I’ll breakdown why it’s still my favorite movie after all these years.
Writing & Directing
It all begins with the story. It’s hard to sum it up in one line. I wonder what screenwriter Daniel Waters said when people asked him what his screenplay was about. Here’s a one-liner: A group of bitchy popular high schoolers are decimated by one of their own friends and a sociopathic outsider. That was dramatic. And it doesn’t really do this movie justice. It’s about a lot of things. The pressures of high school, first love, clueless adults, suicide, murder, the media, small town life. And the way that life can SUCK! Waters really crafted a nuanced script about teenagers unlike anything else that was out there at the time. Then Michael Lehmann brought Waters’ vision to life through his direction. Guiding us through the light, moody, and dark moments. This is not a John Hughes movie. Nothing against Hughes at all. But in this movie a lot of these kids aren’t making it past their sixteenth birthdays.
It’s called Heathers, but Veronica (Winona Ryder) and J.D. (Christian Slater) take center stage. The Bonnie and Clyde of Sherwood, Ohio. Veronica’s life is going along fine as usual. Keggers with kids, forged notes, spaghetti with lots of oregano. Then comes J.D. After a little flirting and an expulsion comes a game of strip croquet. Which then leads to them “accidently” killing Veronica’s best friend (and her worst enemy…same difference). The body count grows from there as J.D. and Veronica go on a little killing spree. It’s a wild ride and you’d think you’d hate these characters. Murder is bad and all that. But they’re just so damn fun to watch. You actually end up rooting for them to be together and get away with their crimes. I don’t think you’d get to that place if anyone other than Ryder and Slater were playing the parts. She brings a vulnerability and sensitivity to Veronica. While Slater dials up J.D.’s brooding and somewhat sinister (while still likeable) nature. It all works so well and the chemistry between them comes through.
Then there are the Heathers: Chandler (Kim Walker), Duke (Shannen Doherty), and McNamara (Lisanne Falk). This is the best clique in cinema. Just my unbiased opinion. Walker plays the icy popular girl to the hilt. She projects such an air of superiority in her scenes while delivering some of the best lines. “They all want me as a friend or a fuck.” It’s incredibly sad that the actress died so young and couldn’t go further in her career. As I mentioned before, Doherty was my favorite on 90210. But even if she hadn’t been, I’d still be endeared to Heather Duke. She starts off so timid and meek, but then has a metamorphosis mid-movie. That bitch was always waiting to come out and Doherty plays it so gleefully. Heather McNamara could have been a forgettable role, but Falk makes you feel for her. She’s not necessarily a nice girl, but she isn’t a beast like her friends. Maintaining that line between the two is impressive.
When I was in college, I took a film history class. One time we were divided into groups and given a list of films we could write an essay about. Heathers was not on my group’s list. But it was on another’s. Being a benevolent person, I gave a classmate the lowdown about the use of fashion in the in the film. I don’t remember how she did, but I hope she aced that paper. I digress. The clothes are used brilliantly in this movie to help define the characters. Heather Chandler is the strong leader in red. Heather Duke is green with envy. Heather McNamara is the weak yellow-bellied follower. And Veronica is blue because she’s depressed about all this shit. Throughout the film each girl typically wears their respective color. That makes it really fun to see Heather Duke turn into Chandler and start wearing red after her leader takes a header into a glass coffee table. Heather Chandler’s prized crimson scrunchie is literally the bow on top. And then Veronica steals it and becomes the new sheriff in town at the end of the movie. Who knew a flimsy hair tie could be so powerful?
Aside from the color wheel, everybody is wearing their 80s finest. The first scenes at Westerburg with Veronica and the Heathers decked out in their blazers with massive shoulderpads is Working Girl meets school girl. They turn it out even more at Heather Chandler’s funeral. I kinda don’t know what the hell they’re wearing, but I like it. Oh, and don’t get me started on Veronica’s many hats throughout the movie. Or all of Heather Duke’s outfits in the Big Fun petition montage. What other movie has a petition signing montage?!
The second I hear Syd Straw’s version of “Que Sera Sera” I’m in a Heathers headspace. It’s so beautiful and matches perfectly with the opening fantasy sequence. And then they bookend the movie with the Sly and the Family Stone version of the song. It’s the soulful gritty cousin of Straw’s rendition. Something you’d hear in a dark cool bar somewhere. Or after your school nearly blows up.
I have a confession. Up until today I had never listened to all of Big Fun’s “Teenage Suicide (Don’t Do It)”. I only heard a snippet of the song in the movie. Why? I don’t know, but I’m disappointed in myself. However, thanks to a lyric video on YouTube I’m well versed in this batshit tune. It really gets to the point. Don’t kill yourself, teens. Just bop along to this ditty.
The rest of the score/soundtrack is made up of moody instrumentals, synths, and those glorious snaps.
If it wasn’t for Heathers, we wouldn’t have Heathers the Musical! Teenage suicide set to show tunes. I really enjoyed the stage version. Enough to see it twice when it came to my town. Thank you, Goldstar.
My top 4 songs:
“Beautiful”. A great way to introduce the story and all the players. “And when you’re beautiful. It’s a beautiful freakin’ day!”
“Candy Store”. Delightfully biting and catchy. “Honey what you waiting for…. shut up Heather!”
“Seventeen”. My teen angst bullshit has a torch song. “Fine, we’re damaged. Really damaged.”
“Kindergarten Boyfriend”. Incredibly touching. All you need is that “Ooooooh”.