Combining film genres is a tricky business at best. Some go together more naturally than others. For example comedy and drama work well together and are in many respects just two sides of the same coin. One example of a less natural pairing would be dark comedy and the teen angst flick. It may seem like a perfect match but when you consider the requirements of both types of movies the gap between them begins to become apparent. In the dark comedy there is a danger that the audience may not get the jokes and feel the story is too morbid. The key is to let the viewers understand the universe the story creates and live within it. In the teen angst movie there is also a chance that the plot will go overboard and be seen as desolate. Both of these genres are highly stylized and require the utmost in attention to detail. An attempt to combine both and hope for a successful film requires genius or insanity. Perhaps it needs a touch of each. Fortunately, there is one example that has pulled off this tricky combination; ‘Heathers’. The film was originally released in 1989 so the new 20th anniversary edition released by Anchor Bay / Starz is just a little premature but what is one year out of twenty. It is understandable why they would want to jump the gun; this is a classic film that is as relevant now as it was 19 years ago. The film is largely concerned with clique. You may think that you left them behind in high school but just look around at you life now. There is always the popular group of moms in the PTA or that group that goes out for drinks after work. There is something about them that places them apart from the others and if you are not in the group you want to be. This is something adults watching this film should remember. It is a part the life of anyone who was a teenager twenty years ago but most importantly it is still something that we all deal with on a daily basis.
The screenplay was written by Daniel Waters. After this movie his writing career certainly had its ups and downs. He wrote a film that whose cult classic status is often debated; ‘Demolition Man’. Many will point instead to his string of failures that include the lamentable scripts for ‘The Adventures of Ford Fairlane’, ‘Hudson Hawk’ and the film that started the downward trend for the nineties Batman franchise, ‘Batman Returns’. With that said and done you cannot judge the writing in this film but the less than stellar ones that followed. This writing here is more than sharp; it has the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel as it dissects the darkest side of being a teenager and how that reflects on the society as a whole. You have to remember that this is long before school shootings and excessive violence was a part of our culture. It reflects the late eighties; a time after the war in Viet Nam was over when the fortunes made at the start of the decades were evaporating rapidly. The cold war was coming to an end but a feeling of despair was prevalent in the nation. The stage was perfectly set for a dark comedy and this one fit the bill perfectly. This is the anti ‘Pretty in Pink’. The girls in the clique are not the types to sit wide eyed staring at the captain of the football team. Instead Waters draws them as a Machiavellian collective that any major political candidate would love to have working for them. They are damaged young women who define the standards that others must live up to. The dialogue goes beyond being witty to the point of they type of satire that most script writers can only dream of achieving. There is an intelligence displayed here that has been lost over the years. Almost every teen flick now has degraded to puerile, scatological nonsense that are nearly impossible to get through without a six pack of beer. This is a screenplay that makes you think and that is rare in any decade. Sarcasm would appear to be a lost art in movies about teenagers but here is one example that stands the test of time.
Directing this classic is Michael Lehmann. Okay, he also directed the aforementioned bomb, ‘Hudson Hawk, the one Bruce Willis flick I can’t stand to watch. Still, he has gone on to direct an episode of the later, brilliant TV series ‘Wonderfalls’ so he has maintained his perchance for the strange and dark side of humor. It must have been a challenge for Lehmann to keep up with the rapid fire script he had to work with. To his credit he not only managed it turned that script into an economical wonder of film making. There is not a scene that is wasted or doesn’t move the story along. Each setup is done with an eye that knows how and where to place every character. It would be easy to loose track of the humor in a film that centers on teens murdering each other. Lehmann has the skill to know when to interject the right joke or funny little situation in order to keep the film on track. This film was not made it was crafted. Like a fine wine it only gets better with age and now almost two decades later it still is dark, perverse and extremely funny.
For students at Westburg High School in Sherwood, Ohio the top of the social hierarchy are the Heathers. This is the clique that defines and supercedes all others. It is comprised of four girls, Heather Chandler (Kim Walker), the leader, Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty) and cheerleader Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk). In addition there is a relatively new member to this group, Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder). The girls do almost everything en masse, play croquet, talk in their own slang and even purge together after a meal. The Heathers love to tease those beneath their station, which is most of the student body. One of the more popular targets for their taunts is Martha Dunnstock (Carrie Lynn) who the Heathers call ‘Dumptruck’. Veronica used to be best friends with Betty Finn (Renée Estevez) but now she is considered too much of a nerd for a Heather to associate with. It is not that Veronica likes the other girls in the group it is just that they are the most popular and that position is all that matters in high school. Her decent has always been a secret until a new student forces some of her feelings to the surface. Jason Dean (Christian Slater), better known as JD as in juvenile delinquent, just moved in with his leather jacket and motorcycle. Just for the fun of it he pulls a gun on another student thankfully firing only blanks at him. Well, girls always love bad boys and soon Veronica and JD are dating. He comes up with a plan to kill off the Heathers and make it look like suicides. After all they are self absorbed and people would buy it.
Anchor Bay has reused a lot of what was seen before in this premature twentieth anniversary edition. First of all it is a two disc set. It sports an anamorphic 1.85:1 video and Dolby 5.1 audio. Both seem to be the same as the previous edition. One the first disc is a commentary track with director Michael Lehmann, producer Denise Di Novi and writer Daniel Waters. Again this is the same as the previous editions. One disc two they use the old featurette ‘Swatch Dogs and Diet Coke Heads’ from the last release. There is a new featurette, ‘Return to Westburg High’. If you have a DVD-ROM there is the script for the original ending. This is a classic and if you don’t already have it make sure you get it this time out.
If you are among the legion of die hard fans of this movie you will most likely want to invest in one of the other editions that Anchor Bay has come up with. For Blu-ray collectors there is a fresh new high definition release of this classic film. It features all the extras on the DVD plus a 1080p video and a spectacular Dolby True HD audio. Special to this edition is the Fast Film Facts track that will provide even more entertainment. This movie has never looked or sounded better than it does here. If you have already moved up to this format then this is the only way to watch this movie.
For the more discerning and loyal fan of the film Anchor Bay has a unique and imaginative way of providing it. They have the Heathers: Limited Edition Locker Set. First of all there is the packaging. It is in a numbered miniature high school locker. Also included is a hard covered Heather's high school year book. Then there is a tee shirt with one of three sayings; 'Greetings and Salutations'. 'Big Fun' or 'What's Your Damage'. Rounding out the additions are 14 locker/fridge magnets and a collectable Westerburg algebra book. Of course you get the two DVDs found in the special edition. The discs are contained in the yearbook and the tee-shirt is within the math book; just like a high school student to hide stuff in their books. You Blu-ray owners may feel left out with the DVD folks getting this limited edition. Don't worry; the locker also has the Blu-ray edition of the movie so everybody can be happy. What's your damage? Get this one.
Posted 06/22/08 (DVD)
Posted 10/23/08 (Blu-ray and Locker)