Heathers, the 1989 cult classic film, recently gained attention due to the off-broadway musical of the same name recently adapted by an Australian production. But watching the high school and coming of age film, it is easy to be distracted by its 1980s period.
The primary storyline stars 90s ‘it girl’, Winona Ryder and co-stars Christian Slater, who play a couple who accidentally (the former) and purposefully (the latter) murder the most popular kids in their small town high school. This dark comedy is twisted to watch, but at the same time, successfully keeps its humour throughout the majority of the film with its classic one-liners that are still referenced today (such as: “F- me gently with a chainsaw”). This film is clearly a product of its time, with shoulder pads, big hair and makeup. Yet the strong characters allow for these bold and ’tacky’ fashion staples to become fashionable. Ryder plays the complex lead, Veronica Sawyer. Despite being clearly intelligent, she is at first unable to fully resist Slater’s dark character. But as the film continues, Ryder further portrays the protagonist’s strong and powerful personality, actively refusing herself to be a damsel in distress. Slater, meanwhile, was reportedly inspired by Jack Nicholson in his performance of J.D- which created a twisted, Jack Torrence like character rather than an Aaron Samuels like heart-throb. What makes Heathers a classic is its rather ridiculously unrealistic and cliché characters. The title is dedicated to the three most popular characters in Westerburg High, all named Heather, whom Veronica becomes disillusioned with in the beginning of the film.
Heathers is not just about the mix of macabre situations and comedy. Like so many high-school centred films, bullying is explored. However, Heathers does this more subtly, with the vignette of Martha Dunstock. Although Dunstock is not a major character in the film, her story is personal and emotional with hardly any dialogue. Heathers uses the subject of teenage suicide in a humorous setting, but it does take the opportunity to appropriately discuss suicide and depression with a few characters. The story itself makes sure to not talk down to the audience about the more serious subject matter; instead preferring to explore these issues with a mix of subtle and more powerful emotional moments throughout the film.
Heathers is, essentially, the beginning of the this cult high school film genre that portrays the teenage years differently from the typical John Hughes storylines.