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HEATHERS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker
Director:  Michael Lehmann
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Anchor Bay
Features:  See Review
Length:  103 Minutes
Release Date:  September 25, 2001

“Heather, why can’t we just talk to different kinds of people?”

“F—k me gently with a chainsaw!  Do I LOOK like Mother Theresa?!”

Film ****

When I was in junior high and high school, John Hughes’ films ruled the day.  They were the witty, pointed look at the often lighter side of our lives.  We could see ourselves in his characters, to a certain extent, and we often identified with them.

But by the time we were graduating, we were more than ready for Heathers.

Heathers may very well be the funniest movie about high school ever made, but it certainly isn’t safe humor.  It delves into the world of the popular and the unpopular with murderous results.  It makes fun of the in-crowd members who are so empty that the notion of death actually gives their lives meaning.  It even dared to make fun of such taboo topics as teen suicide and eating disorders (“Grow up, Heather.  Bulimia is SO ’87.”).  And it made stars out of Winona Ryder and Christian Slater.

Looking back at the critical reviews at the time of its release, it’s clear that this was one of those generation-gap movies.  Older critics could not or would not give the younger generation its proper dues.  None of them believed we could grasp the concept of satire and black comedy, and therefore, condemned the picture as a horrid and wayward sensationalism.  Even Roger Ebert could only remark that HE never had troubles like that in school.

But we kids were smarter than those old fogies thought.  We got it.  We understood that what we were seeing was a gross exaggeration, yet we recognized the truth out of which it was born.  These characters carried out deeds that we only ever thought about, and very few of us could say we DIDN’T think about it without making liars of ourselves.

The most popular clique at Westerberg High is a group of three attractive but snotty girls, all named Heather.  Veronica Sawyer (Ryder) has been going through the ropes to try to join…she actually hates them, but being one with them can only further her own social standing.  It’s the kind of group that she would kill to get into, but later kill to get out of.

Not literally, of course…until Jason Dean (Slater), a devilishly charming rebel, enters her life.  A whirlwind romance leads to mischievous plots for revenge…but soon, they go farther than Veronica ever dreamed.  “Dear Diary,” she writes, “my teen angst bullshit has a body count.”

A few untimely deaths masterminded by J. D. turns the school upside down.  Suddenly, once shallow classmates’ lives took on meaning and poetry.  Veronica soon realizes she’s over her head, especially when she unwittingly takes part in the murder of two football players that J. D. sets up to look like a gay double suicide.  “The season was over,” he muses.  “These guys had nothing left to offer the school but date rapes and AIDS jokes.”

As J. D. goes for one outrageous and deadly topper after another, Veronica begins to wonder…is she next on the list?  Will this relationship both begin and end with a bang?

Heathers boasts a deliciously wicked and funny script by Daniel Waters, who really shook up the teen flick genre from top to bottom by daring to pen a piece that accurately reflected the way teens thought, talked and acted…something mainstream Hollywood and some audiences weren’t ready for.  The sense of direction by Michael Lehmann is well-paced, giving the comedy as much edge as it can stand.  And the lead performances are first rate…Ryder is easy to identify with as her desires suddenly escalate out of control, and Slater proves that no one but him and Jack Nicholson can make psychosis seem so charming.

So for all the critics who shook their heads in disbelief and thought the movie signaled the waste of our youthful generation, you gravely missed the point, and you should have given us more credit.  We are now where you were then, and we still gladly carry the torch for Heathers.  We always knew how smart it was, and we got it, even if you didn’t.  Very.

Video ***1/2

This is a near perfect THX certified anamorphic offering from Anchor Bay.  The colors are fabulously rendered; bright and beautiful all the way, with no bleeding or distortions or evidence of fading.  It doesn’t look like a movie as old as it is!  Only a very occasional bit of noticeable grain and some background softness from time to time keep it from the highest rating, but these are no distractions; just worth mentioning.  Overall, this is an extremely fine effort that will greatly please fans of the film!

Audio ***

The new 5.1 mix is good, bringing the dialogue and music forward to maximum clarity.  Though the rear stage is used sparingly, there are some scenes that kick the .1 channel in, and the forward stage is quite lively.  Dynamic range is good, and overall, this is a clean, satisfying audio experience.

Features ****

This disc boasts a very cool retrospective documentary, “Swatch Dogs and Coke Heads”, featuring new interviews with stars Ryder, Slater, Doherty and Falk, plus writer Daniel Waters, producer Denise Di Novi and director Michael Lehmann.  It’s 30 minutes long and quite an enjoyable romp down memory lane, as all involved share their memories about making a film that scared nearly everyone in Hollywood!  There is also a good commentary track by Waters, Di Novi and Lehmann, which is detailed, humorous and fun.  Rounding out the disc is a trailer, the screenplay excerpt for the original intended ending, talent files and a THX set-up, plus some music for the menu screens.

Summary:

Heathers still exists outside the mold of typical teen comedies, and has become a huge cult classic over the years because of it.  It’s daring sense of black comedy and biting satire make this one of the genre’s smartest and most significant entries.  Best of all, it’s DAMN funny.  This DVD offering from Anchor Bay is a winner all the way, too.