“What is your damage, Heather?” With this quote, spoken early on in Michael Lehmann’s satirical high school film, “Heathers” set itself apart from typical teen movies. Released in 1988, the story follows whip-smart Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder), as she rebels against her friend group of cruel popular girls who – you guessed it – are all named Heather.
With the help of mysterious outsider J.D. (Christian Slater), Veronica’s plan to put an end to the Heather dynasty quickly escalates. Veronica, along with the audience, falls under the spell of J.D.’s utter coolness (earring! leather jacket!), sharp tongue, and flippant attitude toward violence, and soon the pair are quipping their way through murder with such ease that the lines of right and wrong blur beyond repair.
“Heathers” is a far cry from the earnest John Hughes teen comedies that were so popular at the time, but it also lacked an adult parallel, leaving it to change both dark comedies and teen films forever. Without “Heathers” there would be no “Mean Girls” or “Easy A,” and ’90s teens might have grown up without “Clueless.”
Betraying the dark subject matter, “Heathers” is shot in light pastels and adorned with classically awful ’80s hair and clothes. The script is an intricate gift that keeps on giving, providing not only a suspenseful turn of events but also quotable lines and dizzying wordplay.
“Heathers” works as a deft, dark satire by knowingly including archetypal characters like Ram, a dumb joke, and a forlorn overweight girl dubbed Martha Dumptruck.
The soundtrack, mostly made up of spooky synths, is topped off with the song “Teenage Suicide (Don’t Do It)” by the fictitious band Big Fun, heightening the satire.
“Heathers” failed at the box office but has enjoyed decades of success as a cult hit. What may have once been regarded as shocking fits in nicely with today’s jaded culture toward violence and dark humor. Luckily for us, “Heathers” is as sharp as ever, and revenge has never been so good.
This film is rated R.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.