Another week, another anniversary celebration of a firm favourite from the decade that continues to be more influential across the modern pop culture landscape than any other time period.
In an era when Winona Ryder was the celebrated alternative American sweetheart, and Christian Slater could still get away with his junior Jack Nicholson routine, Heathers was the instant cult classic from the creative team of director Michael Lehmann and writer Daniel Waters, both of whom would seriously come a cropper with the Bruce Willis vehicle Hudson Hawk three years later.
An early precursor to the sharp high school social satire found in the likes of Mean Girls (incidentally, a film directed by Waters’ brother Mark) and more recently in a broader context with the 21 Jump Street reboot, the twist here is that popular student Veronica (Ryder) is already established at the top of the pecking order due to her obsequious pact with the three rich bitch archetypes, all named Heather (Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk and Kim Walker).
Increasingly appalled by the snobbish superior attitude of her friends, Veronica finds some release when the school’s new bad boy J.D. (Slater) saunters into her life. Together the two conspire to upset the student social structure, but what was initially meant as a harmless prank soon spirals into much darker territory. Heathers has endured largely because of Waters’ genuinely laugh out loud script, which is complete with endlessly quotable lines, many of which may even be familiar to those unacquainted with the film itself.
There’s an ironic detachment that permeates the dark fairy-tale atmosphere, and the performances are pitched to that heightened David Lynch-like caricature. Unfortunately, the film feels a little tame now compared to today’s cinematic standards. Despite some moments which would have undoubtedly been considered taboo back in 1988, it’s never quite shocking nor transgressive enough to really give it the jolt it needs.
Both Ryder and Slater remain fetching young anti-heroes – the latter exuding real menace behind his boyish looks – but even their strong chemistry together can’t quite overcompensate for the film’s plodding third act. Fans will undoubtedly be rejoicing at seeing this beloved film briefly back on the big screen before it hits Blu-ray, and while there’s still much to savour here – the three Heathers parading around in their bulbous shoulder-padded powersuits is peak eighties kitsch pomp – newcomers may struggle to see what the initial fuss was.d
Adam Lowes | @adlow76