Heathers: Celebrating 30 Years of the 1988 Cult Classic

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Before Mean Girls ever came onto the scene with the Burn Book, Heathers featured the ultimate high school bitches. Directed by Michael Lehmann and starring Christian Slater and Winona Ryder, the 1988 film has since become a cult classic. It is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and with a TV show and musical in the making, is Heathers still the quintessential black comedy about high school?

While Ferris Bueller’s Day Off celebrated the cool guy, The Breakfast Club celebrated acceptance and Weird Science highlighted the appeal of the geek, Heathers is the proverbial rebel of the 1980’s teen comedy. Screenwriter Daniel Waters reinforces the bitchiness of its eponymous, acid-tongued characters through his satirical screenplay, which also forms the customary teen comedy stereotypes.

Before mobile phones and social media, Michael Lehman’s directorial debut reminds audiences of the jungle that is high school. While the adults (teachers and parents alike) struggle to understand teenagers, the latter is running wild with frat parties and stereotypical bullying – most of which is driven by the popular yet despised Heathers (Kim Walker, Shannen Docherty and Lisanne Falk).

Played by the late Walker, ‘Red’ Heather is evil personified, with no sense of morality and placing herself on a pedestal that only the worthy can reach. As a result, Veronica (Ryder) and the other Heathers become submissive to her twisted deeds. In fact, Heather’s evil persona ‘infects’ everyone in high school, so each character is unapologetically narcissistic. The popular kids – namely the jocks and the Heathers – victimise the ugly or boring students, and even the smart kids are seen as awkwardly spiteful. With this evilness showing no bounds, it only serves to make the Heathers bigger targets for everyone, especially outsider JD (Slater).

Slater and Ryder are at their career best as the twisted lovers, whose bitterness towards the popular kids only serves a huge dose of irony. JD embodies the chance that Veronica needs to disassociate herself with everything she hates, but his desire to invoke chaos highlights a sense of egoism. Therefore, he is no better than the ones he wishes to see destroyed.

Veronica is no angel either. She tries to connect to other school cliques but is unable to due to her elevated social position, and it is her own spiteful wishes that lead her to become JD’s unwitting accomplice. By the time she realises the relentless consequences of her actions, she is able to redeem her own malevolence – but ultimately unable to justify the deaths of her would-be victims.

If you are sick of romantic clichés and predictably happy endings, Heathers sticks two fingers up at teen comedy conventions to deliver a film that both engrosses and disturbs audiences with its wickedness.

Heathers 30th Anniversary will be re-released back in cinemas from 8th August and comes to digital and on-demand on 20th August.

Director: Michael Lehmann, Daniel Waters (scr.)
Stars: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Lisanne Falk, Shannen Doherty, Kim Walker
Runtime: 103 minutes
Country: USA, Hungary, UK, Ireland

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

 

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