Misfits. Brutal put-downs. Self-murder. This filthy cult classic makes its teen movie peers look like a bunch of pretentious halfwits
Words Greg Taylor
Greetings and Salutations
Heathers first fucked my mind gently (with a chainsaw) during a late-night, sneak excursion past my sleeping parents. The Radio Times promised violence, sex and swearing – my 12-year-old self’s top three favourite things (the film also features cake, my fourth). While the black comedy classic is surprisingly light on the first two, its discomforting, dream-like style, its screw-you subversiveness, and its giddy profanity left me stunned. Like having a gun shoved in my face in a school canteen. Was it funny? Was it serious? Who are the heroes? Who are the villains? Is American high school really that fucked up?
Did You Have a Brain Tumour for Breakfast?
Heathers throws mad shade on Clueless, annihilates Fast Times, and devastates Mean Girls with a put-down so filthy that no one can get back up again. It’s brutal. The story of two teen misfits killing their nasty schoolmates, covering the deaths up as suicides, and setting off a self-murder craze is darker than a Montezuma’s Absolute Black chocolate bar.
The titular clique whose cruelty kicks off the bloodbath is nasty – bullying, narcissistic, utterly oblivious to anything beyond their own self-interest. Westerberg High’s corridors are spattered with jock rapists, pretentious halfwits, and insufferable Diet Coke-heads. Winona Ryder’s Veronica, a walking bag of self-loathing neurosis behind pixie-perfect features, doesn’t fit into the Heathers in name or attitude, but clings on for pack safety. Christian Slater’s JD, the new kid with a psycho grin and pre-Columbine fashion (including accessories), is the perfect anti-hero for the doom generation, full of cynical charm, righteous snark, and a taste for justifiable homicide. He’s a streak of lightning hitting a pond full of frogs.
These damaged characters navigate their route to adulthood (or death) with stinging piss and vinegar, wielding one-liners like knives, and they’re just as deadly. It’s a lexicon of throwaway burns – “you’re such a pillowcase”, or “she dialled suicide hotlines in her diapers” – that scar, as deeply as Veronica’ cigarette lighter self-harm. It’s funny, only it’s not. At all. Much like the gut-wrenching, and wonderfully subtle, sequence when Veronica and one of the Heathers go on a disastrous cow-tipping double date with two moronic jocks, cumulating with Veronica leaving Heather being raped in a field. With that sequence, the whole tenor of the movie changes.
If You Want to Fuck with the Eagles, You Have to Learn How to Fly
The lasting genius of Heathers is its slippery ambiguity. It probes the horrors of growing up with a bloodstained scalpel, finding confusion, loneliness, despair, idiocy, arrogance and fury just below the flawless skin. Its coolest character is its biggest basket-case. Its heroine is complicit in school-wide victimisation and murder, and she’s as deliciously conflicted as all of us. “Dear diary,” Veronica vents, “I want to kill, and you have to believe it’s for more than just selfish reasons.” Been there, felt that.
The adults there to protect the kids – teachers, cops, counsellors – are vacuous cretins, while the mouth-breathing horror-shows killed by JD find a strange transcendence and acceptance in their afterlife (“I love my dead gay son!”). It’s all so bloody confusing.
We’ve all secretly wanted to fit in, to belong, to be a Heather. And we’ve all wanted to rail against the system, be the mysterious and iconoclastic outsider, to be a JD. No one wants to be a Martha Dumptruck, but it’s that poor, lonely, jokebutt that gets the last, memorable and triumphant wheelchair dance. Maybe life doesn’t have to be so damn difficult after all?
You know when they say, “They’d never make a film like this now”? With Heathers, they really never will.
So happy 30th birthday Heathers. You’ve been very…