Last month I had the incredible pleasure of seeing the musical version of Heathers and today’s pick of this Halloween film fest is the original 1988 film starring Christian Slater and Winona Ryder. I gotta be honest up front here, I am a much bigger fan of the musical than I am of the movie but that’s not to say the movie doesn’t have its own set of good qualities.
If you haven’t read my post about the musical or aren’t familiar with the movie at all, Daniels Waters’ satirical script follows a group of the most popular girls in Westerburg, the Heathers and their former good girl protege Veronica (Winona Ryder). As she realizes just how truly awful the Heathers are, Veronica teams up with the charming sociopath, JD (Christian Slater), to wipe out the plague of terrible cool kids and end their reign of terror. Well, she doesn’t do so intentionally, she just goes along with JD’s plans each time he tricks her.
When we were picking our list of films for this month I was fresh off my Heathers musical high so I readily agreed even though my first brush with the film didn’t result in me falling in love with it. In fact, the first time I watched it was in part because I was obsessing over the cast album. One of the frustrating parts of the film for me is that I have a hard time picking out its themes. As a satire, it’s naturally got a commentary and something to say but it’s never jumped out to me. Natalie brought up some great points that made me appreciate the movie more than before. Unlike the musical which focuses more on what makes a good person, this musical is more about society as a whole and its socially constructed standards of perfection. Heather Chandler (Kim Walker, the proud wearer of the infamous red scrunchie) is the popular mean girl; she’s a party girl, beautiful, stylish and rich. Kurt and Ram (Lance Fenton and Patrick Labyorteaux) are your iconic jocks and also stupid fuckboys. JD is the rebellious teen we value in people like James Dean but in his quest to undermine them he’s just upholding society’s standards and trying to push forth his own agenda and assert his superiority as the inverse of these stereotypes. There’s a part at the end of the film when JD has forged the suicide note he’s going to leave after he blows up the school and everyone in it that says, “People will look at the ashes of Westerburg and say; ‘now there’s a school that self-destructed, not because society didn’t care, but because the school was society.” Perhaps he’s right. What is high school and society as a whole if not a battle arena you’re always putting down the people who are different than you to make yourself feel better?
In our current social climate, it’s also interesting in the way it approaches sexual assault and masculinity. Natalie pointed out that even though JD decides to kill Kurt and Ram after their sexual harassment and rumors they spread about Veronica, he also forces himself onto Veronica several times throughout the movie. There’s also this almost undercurrent of her as a sort of abuser to her in the way he reacts to her trying to break up with him.
All of this is well and good but I certainly wouldn’t have picked up on all of it without Natalie’s help and that takes some points from the film for me. Its characters are also far less likable than their stage counterparts, even Veronica, who is the only character I really care about in this version of the story. Still, the film has some incredible staying power and the dialogue is so snappy. It’s earned its cult film fave but if you left it to me, I’ll take the musical any day over the film.