Arts

Cult Movie: Heathers still works as a darkly funny spoof of US high school cinema

Winona Ryder, right, was just 16 when Heathers began filming
Ralph McLean

ALL things considered, Heathers has had a pretty impressive cultural impact in the three decades since it was first released in 1988.

Lauded at the time for its edgy mix of traditional teenage movie tropes, jet black comedy and occasionally shocking brutality, Michael Lehmann’s directorial debut touched enough raw nerves with the general public to see it spawn a spin-off TV series and even a successful West End musical. Watching the 30th anniversary Blu-ray edition just released by Arrow, it’s easy to see why.

A razor sharp satire of the rash of teenage high school dramas that clogged up the cinematic sinkhole back in the 1980s, when you couldn’t move for big-haired college kids bouncing around campus while the Psychedelic Furs pounded away prettily in the background, it must have felt like a breath of fresh air in 1988.

Unlike many of those cutesy comedies from the same era, it still packs a considerable punch even now, although its difficult core material of bullying, teen suicide and mass murder suggest it would never get past a Hollywood pitching session today.

The teenage Winona Ryder, only 16 at the time of filming, is goody two shoes high school pupil Veronica Sawyer who falls in with a bitchy and brutal clique of three girls in her class, all of whom are called Heather.

Veronica swiftly realises these evil bullies are pulling her down and when she meets up with the class rebel and closet psychopath JD (played by a sparkling Christian Slater) she gets quickly drawn into his plot to kill all the Heathers and indeed all the cool kids who annoy him as well.

When the duo accidently kill off the ringleader of the group Heather Chandler (Kim Walker) and manage to pass it off as suicide, she is instantly replaced by the even more ruthless Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty) and JD convinces Veronica that the only answer is to eliminate all of these people once and for all.

Before long Veronica realises that JD is the real nutter and that she must stop him before the bloodbath gets totally out of control.

Both Ryder and Slater, channeling the first of several 'Young Jack Nicholson' performances, are hugely impressive in tough roles that could easily descend into comic-book creations, and the script spits with barbed lines and neat teenage put-downs.

Some of the satire feels a bit blunt and obvious today and the worst excesses of the era, from the vast hair to the ludicrous shoulder pads that could take an eye out, do render it a little outdated to look at. But at its core, this is a sharp, blackly funny and occasionally quite nasty little spoof of the kind of high school movies that American cinema seems obsessed with foisting upon us.

This latest reissue, which is crafted with as much love and as loaded with intriguing extras as you’d expect from a fine label like Arrow, is the perfect way to enjoy it one more time.

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