Directed by Michael Lehmann. Starring Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Glenn Shadix, Renée Estevez, Kim Walker, Lisanne Falk. Comedy, USA, 103 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on DVD & Blu-ray by Arrow Video on 10th September 2018.
The 1980s gave us many coming-of-age or rite de passage movies that made us laugh or cry – or both – as a seemingly endless supply of gorgeous teenagers (usually played by actors in their late 20s) in that awkward stage between childhood and adulthood loved, lost and occasionally created women on their computers. Usually these movie were sickly-sweet and came with a happy ending but during the late ‘80s a change was in the air as those teenage audiences grew up and moved on, ushering in a new generation looking for their own iconic moments to call their own, which brings us to HEATHERS.
Winona Ryder (BEETLEJUICE/ALIEN: RESURRECTION) stars as Veronica Sawyer, a high school student who is part of a clique of bitchy rich girls (known as The Heathers, due to them all being called Heather funnily enough) who find great joy in being unpleasant to their fellow students. Veronica is looking for a way out of their gang and finds it in Jason ‘J.D.’ Dean (Christian Slater – INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE), the cool new kid on the block with a rebellious edge. To get rid of them J.D. and Veronica ‘accidentally’ kill Heather Chandler (Kim Walker – DEADLY WEAPON) – or Heather 1, as she is known – and make it look like a suicide, but this action lifts Heather to martyr status within the school and the rest of the Heather gang, now led by Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty – MALLRATS), become even more bitchy. J.D. convinces Veronica to help him give the other students giving them a hard time a scare but in reality is setting her up to kill them off, forcing Veronica to revaluate her situation and realise who the real person she needs to get rid of is.
Watching HEATHERS 30 years after it was originally released it is surprising how much of it still stands up. As with most other high school-based movies the themes are fairly universal from generation to generation – angst, loneliness, fitting in, etc. – and those themes are right at the forefront of HEATHERS, backed up with sharp, quotable dialogue and performances from the two leads that are pretty much the reason that they ended up having the careers that they did, with Christian Slater being the standout and (nearly) justifying the claims that were bandied around at the time that he could be the next Jack Nicholson (yeah, that happened). Okay, he never got to those dizzying heights but his devilish smirk and carefree sense of abandon were enough to guarantee he’d be cast in many a teenage-based movie for the few years following HEATHERS. Winona Ryder pretty much gives the performance she normally gave during those years (this was the same year as BEETLEJUICE) but her chemistry with Slater positively smoulders and is what elevates her presence.
Despite being made in the 1980s HEATHERS does not suffer with the usual fashion faux pas that the Brat Pack movies from a few years before did, although there are a few shoulder pads and hairspray overdoses from the Heathers themselves but that just adds to their ghastliness. Slater foreshadows the oncoming slacker generation chic with his lank greasy hair and long duster coat (although Kiefer Sutherland wore it better the previous year in THE LOST BOYS) in a look that hasn’t really dated at all but the one element that does show HEATHERS is from a different era is the idea of a student in an American high school packing a handgun, something that just wouldn’t be put into a movie made nowadays and may look a little odd to a younger audience watching it for the first time.
Nevertheless, the uniquely dark humour and off-kilter tone of HEATHERS ensures that everyone knows where the morals of the filmmakers lie, and despite a few lags in momentum here and there the film can comfortably claim to live up to its cult status three decades on, and Arrow Video have certainly put a lot of extras on the disc to leave you in no doubt as to how much of a labour of love the film was as the director, screenwriters, composer, casting director, actors (although not Christian Slater or Winona Ryder) and even celebrity fans are interviewed, as well as including director David Lehmann’s student film THE BEAVER GETS A BONER and archival production featurettes. In the plethora of high school movies from the ’80s HEATHERS was – and still is – a game-changer and influenced a lot of what followed it in the ‘90s and into the 21st century, and if you’ve never seen it you can guarantee you’ve heard some of its witty dialogue being quoted by one of life’s cool kids before now.
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