Heathers: teenage murder-comedy turns 30

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Michael Lehmann’s cult dark-comedy Heathers is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a re-mastered re-release in UK cinemas. And with this comes the opportunity to have another look at the film that cemented both Winona Ryder and Christian Slater as young heart-throbs.  

The Heathers are a preppy high school clique of three young women each named Heather and Veronica Sawyer (Ryder) who revel in the bullying and exclusion of their fellow pupils. That is, until Sawyer meets charming psychopath J.D. (Slater) and they partner up to give the Heathers a taste of their own medicine – but things get out of hand very quickly. 

It is easy, looking back at our own experiences in school, to dismiss the high school experience as inconsequential or minor. But in Heathers, the trials and tribulations of teenage social hierarchies are presented as a matter of actual life or death.  

Heathers is in many ways a breath of fresh air for high school films of the 1980’s. The exaggerated version of high school is relief from the cloyingly sweet and sentimental films of John Hughes. Director Michael Lehmann and screenwriter Daniel Waters vision of adolescence is a dreamy technicolour battleground. Indeed, Heathers is like a giallo Argento film meets Mean Girls: the antidote for the films of Molly Ringwald and the rest of the brat pack.  

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I feel as though Waters’ screenplay deserves greater praise than it’s given, Lehmann himself stated that they stuck to it like gospel, right down to costume colouring. The photography of the film, set and costume designer come together so well to build a colour palette and general texture to each frame to give the film a thorough etheral quality, each packed with primary colours and soft edges. Make no mistake, however, this film presents no idyllic dream but rather a dark twisted fantasy.  

Heathers seems to cement Winona Ryder, whose debut in Beetlejuice came out the same year, as twee indie heart throb and strong female character simultaneously, awaiting the advent of tumblr to be endlessly gif’d and reposted. Christian Slater, in a very early role too, seems to channel his finest young Jack Nicholson impression whilst presenting a charming psychopath who one can’t help but feel sorry for. With such infinitely quotable lines such as ‘f*** me with a chainsaw and call me Mother Theresa’ and ‘did you have a brain tumour for breakfast?’, it’s incredibly difficult not to enjoy all of the performances within this film. The dialogue is bright, whip-smart, and jammed full of 80’s pop-culture references: perfect for our, as a generation, current fascination with all things nostalgic.  

Here we have such a rare gem: a film that wouldn’t possibly be funded today in our current social climate: teen suicide and school bombings are laughed at and sex is openly discussed between young women. Indeed, the only politically correct teacher is mocked and sneered at. However, the film is empowering: young women take the front and centre roles and revel in it. A powerful, re-watchable, and infinitely funny film, well deserving of this fantastic restoration and re-release. 

Heathers 4K re-release is out in UK cinemas from the 8th August and at the Genesis Cinema on the 14th August. 

 

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