, 103 min, 1988
Director: Michael Lehmann
Writer: Daniel Waters (written by)
Stars: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty
Michael Lehmann’s Heathers is a high school satire that doesn’t just bite, but tears into its subject matter and draws blood.
Winona Ryder is Veronica Sawyer, an Ohio teen who is the one un-like named member of the clique that is this film’s namesake: its members are, in descending order of bitchiness, Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk), Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty) and Heather Chandler (Kim Walker). One day, Veronica falls hard for the new kid in school, a dark young kid named Jason Dean (Christian Slater), whose demeanor is even surlier than Veronica’s; they’re a match made in heaven.
As Veronica gets increasingly sick of her friends, J.D. pulls her deeper and deeper into a web of murder, killing off one by one the assholes and popular kids of the school and staging it to look like a series of suicides. Soon, suicide fever catches on at the school, and it becomes a firestorm of controversy and media attention, milked for all it’s worth by the hippie-dippie teacher Pauline Fleming (Penelope Milford). Veronica is game at first, but how much of J.D.’s insanity can she take?
At first-glance, perhaps this looks like John Hughes territory. Look again. From the slightly warped (and visually imaginative) cinematography to the filthy mouths of its characters, from the impeccable casting to the pitch-dark material, this ain’t your parents’ high school movie.
First time writer Daniel Waters’ screenplay was intended to be 300 pages long (or 5 hours) and directed by the late great Stanley Kubrick, but budget constraints cut it down to 102 minutes and got a first time director in Lehmann, who shows a visual style similar to early Tim Burton films. The screenplay is sharp and witty, with a sardnonic sense of humor (to say the least) and is full of memorable one-liners, some choice examples of which are listed at the end.
Winona Ryder and Christian Slater are pitch perfect as the demented suburbanite Romeo & Juliet, who want merely to rid themselves of their immediate problems to ensure a better future, and never take into account the long-term ramifications.
What Waters and Lehmann have accomplished here, along with their more-than-capable cast, is an often hilarious black comedy, a sharply drawn social satire, and a surrealistic nightmare that reflects a frightful present, and prognosticates a dour future. This is a smart, wicked and insightful film – certainly more intelligent that most “teen fare” – that earns its place in the cult classic hall of fame.
Some clever dialogue from Heathers (Screenplay by first-time writer Daniel Waters):
- “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw!”
- “Now I’ve seen a lot of bullshit… angel dust, switchblades, sexually perverse photography involving tennis rackets…”
- “What is your damage, Heather?”
- “Grow up Heather, bulimia’s so ’87.”
- “This is Ohio. If you don’t have a brewski in your hand you might as well be wearing a dress.”
- “Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?”
- “Is this turnout weak or what? I had at least 70 more people at my funeral.”
- “God, Veronica. My afterlife is so boring. If I have to sing ‘Kumbaya’ one more time…”
- Heather: “I brought you to a Remington party and what’s my thanks? It’s on a hallway carpet. I got paid in puke.” Veronica Sawyer: “Lick it up, baby. Lick. It. Up.”
- “Seven schools in seven states and the only thing different is my locker combination.”
- “Dear Diary, my teen-angst bullshit now has a body count.”
and many more…!