Screens » Screens Etc.

Cinema Obscura



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.

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