Heathers Review

The Film

I don’t believe in leaving people in suspense so I will say this right now… Heathers is easily my favourite 80’s teen film. If you check the credits for writer Daniel Waters and director Michael Lehman you would be forgiven for thinking this film hasn’t got much going for it as neither of them have done much since. Released in 1989 this film came as quite a shock to most people when it first appeared in the cinema. This is a blacker than black comedy which is meant to be the ultimate anti-John Hughes film.

The title refers to the three Heathers (Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk and the sadly departed Kim Walker) who are the top clique in school. Veronica (Ryder) is also a member of this clique, however she is slightly different to the Heathers. She was once a “square” who has risen up the high school social ladder leaving her long-time friend, Betty Finn behind. At a lunchtime poll Veronica suggests they ask the more geeky side of the student body their opinions on the topic of the day. This brings her into contact with the enigmatic new boy Jason Dean (Christian Slater). They take a rather unconventional path to dating and Veronica’s conscience plus J.D.’s quirkiness leads to some incredibly black humour.

To explain any more of the plot would lead to the inevitable spoilers, which I personally hate. All I will say is that the rest of the film involves Ich Luger rounds, an invitation to do something very odd with a chainsaw, a church service with 3D glasses, unconventional cigarette lighters, drain cleaner, “mature” football seniors (with bottled water), a college party and bulimia.

Now if any of the above makes you think of the Farrelly Brothers or any other gross out 90’s film then you have ignored the 80’s for far too long. Imagine a John Hughes film where the characters try to screw one another over. Imagine Cameron kicking Ferris out of the window instead of kicking in the car fender. If you hate 80’s teen movies you are still going to love this film because at it’s heart it’s a very well written black comedy.

Admittedly the film now looks a little dated. Not as dated as Bueller et al as the writer invented his own slang for the students so it wouldn’t date. They also attempted to make the fashions unique to avoid any connection with the 80’s, this isn’t so successful. It also has an ending that is slightly fudged, but then again once you hear what the real ending was going to be you can understand why no one would have let them do it!

The acting is strong throughout with Winona Ryder in the best form of her career (and she says this herself as well). Yes, she’s playing a grown-up version of Lydia from Beetlejuice but who cares? Slater is also on his best form as the maniacal J.D. The three Heathers are suitably bitchy and even Shannen Doherty acts well!

The direction is very classy with some great angles and imaginative shot composition. The film was shot on a small budget but it doesn’t really show. The school halls are suitably packed and the feeling of chaos at times is almost claustrophobic. Lehman’s use of primary colour is inventive and keeps everything bright and lively. This helps to mask the darker undercurrent in the film and lull the audience into a false sense of security during the first 15 minutes.

As you can probably tell, I quite like this film. I feel it is easily the most intelligent and well-written teen comedy I have seen. The John Hughes films were always a little too squeaky clean for me and the modern films such as American Pie are just too unsubtle. I think it’s a real shame that this film is regarded as a “Cult” film and doesn’t get the recognition it richly deserves. This is my favourite black comedy and long may it remain so.

The Disc
Anchor Bay are usually the darlings of the horror genre but this time they have treated us to a nifty special edition of a cult black comedy. I am reviewing the limited edition tin version here. Don’t worry though the only difference between this and the normal version is a booklet, a ruler and a rather nice tin box. The ruler is a novelty but the booklet has some great photos in it done in the style of a yearbook. Disc presentation is adequate with some nice pictures for the menus and 29 chapter stops, which covers the 102-minute running time well.

The film is presented in its original aspect ration of 1.85:1. The print is reasonably clean given the low budget but there are a few speckles here and there. The picture is slightly soft and grainy but a lot of 80’s films look like they were shot in soft focus to me so I’m guessing this is an artistic choice. Don’t worry the transfer does look great and the colours are bright as they should be. Overall about the best you could wish for.

We have DD 5.1 mix here, Anchor Bay’s speciality, although it isn’t very exciting. The film is mainly dialogue based so don’t expect any great thumping soundtrack here. The rears are used sparingly but well and the dialogue is always nice and clear which is crucial

The extras are a formidable package and the best part is that they have actually gone to the effort of bringing the cast back for retrospective interviews etc rather than rely on useless promos or featurettes shot at the time of release.

The first extra is the audio commentary. Recorded by Daniel Waters, Michael Lehman and Denise Di Novi (producer). This is a cracking commentary full of anecdotes, gentle ribbing and film studio politics. The people here don’t think twice about complaining about the studio or the cast (Doherty takes some stick). There are hardly any silences and the banter back and forth is entertaining, funny and enlightening. This commentary gets added to my list of favourites.

Next we have a retrospective documentary featuring interviews with all of the main cast and crew except for Kim Walker who sadly passed away in March of this year. The cast seem to have a genuine affection for the film and Ryder mentions at least twice that it is her best/favourite film. It runs for a good 30 minutes and features behind the scenes shots and more studio shenanigans regarding it’s release (almost a non-release). This is a great documentary that is well worth watching.

The original ending wasn’t shot due to the Studio vetoing it before production even began. So presented here is a script excerpt of the original ending and very interesting it is too.

The talent bios are next and they contain the usual blurb on each of the actors and the major crew members.

Finally we have the usual trailer. It isn’t stunning and I feel it gives too much away, but it’s here for the completists among us.

Need I say more? If you like Winona Ryder buy this. If you like Christian Slater buy this. If you like black comedy definitely buy this. If you like 80’s teen comedies buy this and prepare for a slight shock. The film hasn’t lost a thing over the past 12 years, if anything it is better now than it was back then. The package from Anchor Bay is very good indeed. The print and transfer are excellent, the soundtrack is solid and the extras package, whilst not being the most extensive, is certainly very interesting with no filler. The limited edition tin version is really for us die hard collectors as it contains nothing substantial over and above the standard edition, but it sure does look good on my shelf.

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