Over the title sequence of 1989’s Heathers, the hauntingly sweet cover of “Que Sera, Sera” by Syd Straw plays while the three young women that make up the eponymous clique — the most popular girl gang at Westburg High School — step on flower beds while partaking in a game of croquet. Viewers already know this isn’t a typical John Hughes teen movie. Sure, it relies on the same demographics: popular kids, jocks, geeks, dweebs, and that one kid who constantly gets picked on; what sets this cult classic apart from all other teen movies of its generation is the off-beat dialogue that gives this black comedy a soul — a dark, dark soul.
Veronica (Winona Ryder), the non-Heather in the group, is the brains behind the operation but not quite the leader; that tiara belongs to Heather Chandler (Kim Walker). Enter new kid in town J.D. (Christian Slater) — a crazed, gun-toting, trench-coat-wearing sociopath. Veronica and J.D. form a Bonnie and Clyde-like union, and when Veronica’s frustration with Queen Bee Heather reaches a breaking point, she and J.D. find themselves to blame for a handful of “suicides” at the high school.
The recently released 20th High School Reunion Edition contains three alternative endings and discusses writer Daniel Waters’ wise-beyond-their-years dialogue. In the “Swatch Dogs and Diet Coke Heads” featurette, Waters recalls the disdain of one critic, who called it an “unspeakable creation.” A half-generation later, Clueless, Mean Girls, and, of course, Juno created a lexicon of post Molly Ringwald high-school terminology, but Waters was one of the first contemporary screenwriters to create a script that didn’t simplify teenagers as balls of cliché angst but instead praised their witticisms. (How could you not love the line “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw”?) When the film was released, it appealed to 20-somethings and older audiences. Critics called it ahead of its time, and as we Twitter our way through a media-obsessed, post-Columbine world, the tag rings true.