Heathers (1988)

“Okay everyone, are we ready to review Don Hertzfeld’s “It’s Such a Beautiful Day?”

“Uh Mouse, we got a problem.”

“Oh, what’s up?”

“Well, it turns out “It’s Such a Beautiful Day” isn’t available on any of the main streaming sites.”

“Well, darn.”

“So you’re going to have to order the DVD instead.”

“Well, darn.”

“And the DVD’s not going to arrive until after the review is due to go up.”

“Well, darn.”

“Because the world’s in the grip of a global pandemic the likes of which has never been seen in living memory, the whole country is in lockdown and western civilization has been brought to its knees.”

“Well, darn.”

“So you’re going to have to review something else.”

“Okay, Heathers is next in the queue, let’s just do that.”

“Wait…what was the last one you said?”

Heeeeeeeeeey so things have been a little more immediately apocalyptic around here than usual, huh?

Hope you all are staying safe and indoors. For obvious reasons, this review is going to be on the short side.

“What reasons? You’ve been at home for the last week, if anything you should have MORE written than usual.”

“Yeah, but I was working from home and you’d be amazed how much work you have to do when you’re not being distracted by office politics.”

Anyway, this is going to be less of a plot point by plot point recap and more…a sort of…movie review if you can imagine such a thing.

Heathers is a high-school comedy from the eighties…or so it would have you believe. In fact, Heathers is a John Hughes-esque high school comedy in the same way that Starship Troopers is a science fiction war movie from the nineties. It’s not, really, it’s just pretending to be so that it can creep up behind you and stick you with a satire shiv.

The plot goes a little somethin’ somethin’ like this:

Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) is a brilliant high school student who was recently admitted into “the Heathers”, a clique of super-popular girls all named Heather who rule over their high school like the Gestapo. Veronica doesn’t actually like the Heathers, as she says herself, it’s like they’re co-workers and their job is being popular. The Heathers keep Veronica around because she’s great at forging signatures which the Heathers use to stir shit, like when they get her to forge a note from one of the jocks to an obese girl in their class that they’ve cruelly nicknamed “Martha Dumptruck”.

So the Heathers are the fucking worst and Veronica knows that they’re the fucking worst. But she finds solace in a relationship with the class bad boy, Jason Dean (Christian Slater), who shows her that she doesn’t need her bitchy, self-obsessed “friends” who he then starts to murder using Veronica’s forgery skills to stage their deaths as suicides…

This escalates until the climax where Veronica basically has to become John McClane and shoot her boyfriend before he sets off a bomb under the school.

“Yippee Ki Yay, Mother Fucker”.

Yeah, that took a few swerves, didn’t it?

So, you know how nowadays it’s fun to look back at movies like 16 Candles or Breakfast Club or…um…Molly Ringwald’s entire filmography and going “Wow. Pretty much every character in these things is a complete monster”? Heathers is stunningly ahead of the curve on that. A dark running joke is that every one of the popular kids who commits “suicide” becomes canonised as a beautiful, troubled soul with depths no one ever knew about while Veronica and Jason (and we the audience) know that they were just awful, stupid, horrible, racist, homophobic nightmare-people. After killing the two comically awful football jocks and staging their deaths as a gay suicide pact Jason snarls that they “had nothing to offer the school except date rapes and AIDS jokes”. And yes, even as it condemns the homophobia of the eighties, there are definitely jokes and lines of dialogue that have not aged well but, godammit that funeral scene.

I refuse to be offended by something this objectively fucking hilarious.

Also helping this movie’s unassailable cult status is its look and feel. Blue Velvet came out a few years previously and I would be very surprised to learn that director Michael Lehman and screenwriter Daniel Waters weren’t consciously trying to channel David Lynch (and, brutal honesty here, doing it better than Lynch often did). Synth music and slow-motion are used in several scenes to create a dream-like, super-vivid atmosphere that’s very Lynchean. And a lot of the dialogue has that ever so slightly “off” quality that you get in the best of Lynch’s work. The scenes between Jason and his father, where they each speak to each other as if the the son was the father and the father was the son feel like lost scenes from Twin Peaks (which was only aired two years after Heathers was released). Another thing that reminds me about Twin Peaks is the theory that David Lynch snuck characters from other TV Series into his show, for example the character of Mike is believed by many fans to be The One Armed Man from The Fugitive, now reformed and having escaped from his own show and living in the world of Twin Peaks. In the same way, when Jason starts giving speeches on the importance of chaos I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that I’d seen this grinning, superficially charming nihilist with a knack for explosives somewhere before. Of course, he dies at the end of the movie, blowing himself up with his own bomb, but then we never actually see him die and Christian Slater has gone on record as saying he believes Jason survived. Of course, he would have been pretty badly injured. Probably suffered burns over his face, shrapnel cuts…

“Would you like to know how I got these scars?”

It’s a movie that’s got a lot to say. Maybe a little too much, if I’m honest. It’s bubbling over with theses on how society fetishizes teenage suffering and romanticises suicide. It’s probably the best deconstruction of the “Cool Bad Boy Loner” trope you’ll ever see (“You know what I want? Cool guys like you out of my life”).

But ultimately, I think it’s about how violence solves nothing because the system that turns people into monsters remains in place. After Heather Chandler is killed, nothing is different because Heather Duke (who was previously the nicest and most sympathetic of the Heathers), takes her place and becomes every bit as bad.

And that’s not even getting into the queer subtext but my God…

She’s wearing a MONOCOLE people. A MONOCLE. M.O.N.O…

The movie ends with Veronica having saved the school from being blown up. She strides into the hall covered in ash, blood and the presumed cremated remains of her ex-boyfriend. She pauses to engage Heather Duke in one of the great badass exchanges in eighties cinema.

And Veronica takes Heather Duke’s red scrunchie which was previously worn by Heather Chandler, showing that she’s now top dog in the school. But instead of just becoming another Heather, she goes and asks Martha Dumptruck if she wants to hang out.

This movie is fantastic.

It’s very funny. It’s very dark. It’s very beautiful. It’s very smart.

And most of all, it’s just very.

***

NEXT UPDATE: 02 April 2020

NEXT TIME: Who knows? Maybe it’ll be It’s Such a Beautiful Day. Maybe it’ll be me being chased across the post-apocalyptic landscape by Immortan Joe’s War Boys as they try to kill me for the last roll of toilet paper in the Western Hemisphere. Stay safe, look after each other, keep on carrying on. Love you guys. Mouse.

34 comments

  1. Thanks for the review Mouse. You know it’s funny that Winona Ryder and Christian Slater both dropped off for a while and then came back strong at around the same time with “Stranger Things” and “Mr. Robot.” It’s easy to see why though, they’re both pretty solid actors that can give a really good performance with the right material.

    Stay safe, stay smart and don’t let the War Boys get ya.

  2. Love this movie. You ever catch the musical, or listen to the soundtrack? I’ve never seen it myself, but I found Candy Store on Spotify and can’t stop listening to it. Huh, come to think of it, I’m currently into the Beetlejuice musical soundtrack as well. Apparently old Winona Ryder movies make for catchy musicals.

      1. I’d have thought V FOR VENDETTA would be more topical myself, but that might just be my own native scepticism talking – I know that there’s a very serious Health Risk out there, but one cannot help but suspect that the Pandemic Panic might well be exploited JUST A BIT to distract from various other ongoing issues.

        On the other hand I spent at least five minutes cackling in the time-tested, Lovecraft-approved ‘Well he didn’t take that Revelation well, but at least he can laugh about it’ style once I realised that we’ve all been hoping to see something other than Brexit in the headlines and arguably are now suffering the consequences of not being careful what we wished for …

        … so my opinions might not be the most reliable, is what I’m saying.

  3. This movie is very dated. Back when it was made, white teenagers murdering each other was rediculous improbable comedy. Nowadays it’s an actual real problem. That’s not to say it doesn’t work. But it works differently than intended now.

  4. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never seen “Heathers” but it sounds like I really, really should.

    So we’re getting a surprise the day after April Fool’s Day? Intriguing!

  5. I know you tried to explain it with a joke but I’m genuinely confused why the review was so short.

  6. I’ve always kind of hated high school movies. It started with Grease – a really mean-spirited film, if you ask me. But the day I found Heathers – my God. Brilliant, biting stuff, especially the dismantling of the ‘bad boy’ trope. YA literature is riddled with pale imitations.

  7. Also, don’t worry about the Warboys – those suckers are used to a continental climate and those suckers would clearly perish of hypothermia long before they caught up with anyone on our soggy little islands in the Northern Hemisphere.

    Personally I’d worry more about Rogue Marines and/or Matthew McConaughey (especially if the latter has shaven his head or happens to be dressed entirely in black).

      1. But Mouse, we don’t know who Tumblr’s BEEN with – can’t we just watch the film without risking something contagious?

      1. Just remember Mouse that when the Universe reminds us we are the butt of some cosmic joke the only sensible reaction is to give your best Lovecraftian cackle; going Mad from the revelation doesn’t have to mean you get ANGRY! (-;

      1. Buckaroo Banzai is one of my all-time favorite reviews in this site, and X-Men The Last Stand was also a hoot. The review. Not the film. Evidently.

        Also, I’m terrified out of my mind right now.

  8. These are hard times for everyone. I’m happy we at least got one of your excellent reviews to cheer us up. Please stay safe too, Mouse!

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