Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Michael Lehmann|
|Produced by||Denise Di Novi|
|Written by||Daniel Waters|
|Music by||David Newman|
|Edited by||Norman Hollyn|
|Distributed by||New World Pictures|
Heathers is a 1988 American dark comedy film written by Daniel Waters and directed by Michael Lehmann. It stars Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, and Shannen Doherty. The film portrays four teenage girls — three of whom are named Heather — in a clique at a fictional Ohio high school.
The film brought director Michael Lehmann and producer Denise Di Novi the 1990 Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. Daniel Waters also gained recognition for his screenplay, which won a 1990 Edgar Award. Despite its high critical praise, the film was not a big hit in the box office but went on to become a cult classic, with high rentals and sales business. In 2006, it was ranked #5 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the "50 Best High School Movies" and in 2008, it was ranked #412 on Empire 's list of "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time".
The most dominant clique at Westerburg High School consists of three wealthy and beautiful girls with the same first name: the leader, Heather Chandler (Walker), the bookish bulimic Heather Duke (Doherty), and the weak-willed cheerleader Heather McNamara (Falk). Though they are the most popular students, the Heathers are both feared and hated. They recently invited 17-year-old Veronica Sawyer (Ryder) to join their group, by association making her a very popular girl as well. However, as the movie begins, Veronica has had enough of their behavior and longs to return to her old life and her nerdy friends.
At school, a rebellious outsider named Jason "J.D." Dean (Slater) pulls a gun on school bullies Kurt Kelly (Fenton) and Ram Sweeney (Labyorteaux) and fires blanks at them. Veronica finds herself fascinated by this dark and quirky newcomer. When Veronica embarrasses Heather Chandler at a frat party by refusing sex and throwing up, Heather vows to destroy her reputation. Later, J.D. shows up at Veronica's house and they end up having sex after an impromptu game of strip croquet. Veronica tells J.D. she wants to make Heather puke her guts out. The next morning, Veronica and J.D. break into Heather's house. J.D. serves Heather a liquid he claims is a hangover cure but is actually drain cleaner, killing her. Although initially shaken by their act, J.D. regains his composure and urges Veronica to forge a dramatic suicide note in Heather's handwriting.
The school and community look on Heather's apparent suicide as a tragic decision made by a popular but troubled teenager. Heather Duke soon steps into Heather Chandler's former role as clique leader and begins wearing a red scrunchie that had belonged to Chandler as a symbol of her new status.
Several days later, Kurt and Ram spread a rumor about Veronica giving them oral sex at the same time. To get even, J.D. proposes that Veronica lure them into the woods with the promise to "make the rumors true", then shoot them with what he promises are nonfatal "Ich lüge" (which means "I'm Lying" in German) German bullets that only break the skin but do no real damage. Afterwards they would humiliate Kurt and Ram by planting "gay" materials, such as a Joan Crawford photo, mascara, and mineral water, on their unconscious bodies. At the rendezvous in the woods, J.D. shoots Ram but Veronica misses Kurt, who runs away. Seeing Ram dead on the ground, Veronica to her horror realizes that the bullets are real after all. J.D. chases Kurt back towards Veronica, who panics and shoots him dead. J.D. plants the "gay" materials beside the boys, and a forged suicide note stating the two were lovers participating in a suicide pact. At their funeral, the boys are made into martyrs against homophobia.
These fake suicides prompt an epidemic of similar attempts. Martha Dunnstock, an obese, incessantly bullied student known as "Martha Dumptruck", pins a suicide note to her chest and walks into traffic. She survives but is badly injured and is mocked for trying to "act popular". Meanwhile, Heather McNamara calls a popular radio show while Veronica and Heather Duke are listening and talks of the depression in her life. The next day, Heather Duke tells the entire school about Heather McNamara's radio call. McNamara, humiliated, attempts to take her life by overdosing on pills in the girls' bathroom, but is saved by Veronica.
Veronica finally decides she's had enough of J.D. and breaks up with him. He later climbs into her room with a revolver to kill her, but finds Veronica hanging from a noose. Thinking she's dead, he talks about his plan to blow up the school during a pep rally. A petition to get the band Big Fun to perform on campus he has been circulating via Heather Duke was actually a mass suicide note. Most of the students had already signed, so the mass murder would appear to outsiders to be a mass suicide instead. However, unbeknownst to J.D., Veronica faked the hanging by rigging herself with a harness around her waist.
Now clued in to J.D.'s plot to blow up the entire student body, she confronts him in the boiler room below the gym where he is rigging timed explosives. She shoots him when he refuses to stop the bomb. As J.D. collapses, he stabs the timer and it stops. Veronica walks outside to find the severely injured J.D. with the bomb strapped to his chest, which he detonates as Veronica looks on impassively with an unlit cigarette hanging from her lips. As the bomb explodes, J.D. is killed while the blast singes Veronica and lights her cigarette.
As the students rush outside to find out what happened, Veronica confronts Heather Duke. Veronica relieves Heather of the red scrunchie, saying "Heather my love, there's a new sheriff in town." Free at last of the Heathers' toxic influence, she invites Martha Dunnstock to hang out on prom night and watch movies with her.
- Winona Ryder as Veronica Sawyer, a student at Westerburg High School
- Christian Slater as Jason "J.D." Dean, Veronica's boyfriend whose true intention is to kill people despite Veronica's objections
- Shannen Doherty as Heather Duke, the mean girl who replaces Heather Chandler as the "queen bee" leader of the Heathers
- Lisanne Falk as Heather McNamara, member of the Heathers
- Kim Walker as Heather Chandler, original leader of the Heathers
- Penelope Milford as Pauline Fleming
- Glenn Shadix as Father Ripper
- Lance Fenton as Kurt Kelly
- Patrick Labyorteaux as Ram Sweeney
- Jeremy Applegate as Peter Dawson
- Jon Matthews as Rodney
- Carrie Lynn as Martha "Dumptruck" Dunnstock
- Phill Lewis as Dennis
- Renée Estevez as Betty Finn
- Jennifer Rhodes as Veronica Sawyer's Mother
- Bill Cort as Mr. Sawyer
- Kirk Scott as Big Bud Dean
- Mark Carlton as Mr. Kelly
- John Ingle as Principal Gowan
Daniel Waters wanted his screenplay to go to director Stanley Kubrick, not only out of profound admiration for Kubrick but also from a perception that "Kubrick was the only person that could get away with a three-hour film". (The cafeteria scene opening Heathers was written as an homage to the barracks scene opening Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket.) After a number of failed attempts to get the script to Kubrick made Waters realize the futility of the enterprise, he decided to give the script to Michael Lehmann, who then took it on with Denise Di Novi. Many actors and actresses turned down the project because of its dark subject matter. Early choices for Veronica and J.D. were Jennifer Connelly, who turned down the role, and Brad Pitt. Pitt auditioned for the role of J.D. but the filmmakers rejected him because they thought he came across as "too nice" and therefore would not be credible. Winona Ryder, who was 16 at the time of filming and badly wanted the part, begged Waters to cast her. Eventually she was given the role with Christian Slater being signed shortly thereafter. Heather Graham, then 17, was offered the part of Heather Chandler but turned it down. Kim Walker, who was dating Christian Slater at the time, was offered the role instead. Graham was then cast as Heather McNamara, but her mother wouldn't allow her to accept the role, so Lisanne Falk was given the role instead. Principal photography took place in only 32 days.
The film uses two versions of the song "Que Sera, Sera", the first by singer Syd Straw and another over the end credits by Sly and the Family Stone. On the film's DVD commentary, Di Novi mentions that the filmmakers wanted to use the original Doris Day version of the song, but Day would not lend her name to any project using profanity.
The song "Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It)" by the fictional band Big Fun was written and produced for the film by musician Don Dixon, and performed by the ad hoc group "Big Fun", which consisted of Dixon, Mitch Easter, Angie Carlson and Marti Jones. The song is included on Dixon's 1992 greatest hits album (If) I'm A Ham, Well You're A Sausage.
The film's electronic score was composed and performed by David Newman and a soundtrack CD was subsequently released.
The film was a commercial failure before becoming a cult classic, only grossing $1,108,462 domestically over five weeks.
The film was acclaimed by critics and audiences. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 95% of critics gave the film a positive review based on a sample of 43 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads: "Dark, cynical, and subversive, Heathers gently applies a chainsaw to the conventions of the high school movie -- changing the game for teen comedies to follow." At the website Metacritic, the film earned a favorable rating of 73/100 based on 19 reviews by mainstream critics.
Desson Thomson of the Washington Post wrote, "Wickedly funny. In fact, Heathers may be the nastiest, cruelest fun you can have without actually having to study law or gird leather products. If movies were food, Heathers would be a cynic's chocolate binge." Robert Ebert gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4 and wrote that the film "...is a morbid comedy about peer pressure in high school, about teenage suicide and about the deadliness of cliques that not only exclude but also maim and kill."
Heathers was first released onto VHS in 1989, where it received strong sales and rentals, and is where it first became well known after being unsuccessful at the box office. It was released again on laserdisc on September 16, 1996 with restored stereo sound. This widescreen edition was digitally transferred from Trans Atlantic Pictures interpositive print under the supervision of cinematographer Francis Kenny. The sound was mastered from the magnetic sound elements. The film was first released onto DVD on March 30, 1999, in a barebones edition.
In 2001, a multi-region special edition DVD was released from Anchor Bay Entertainment in Dolby Digital 5.1. The DVD was released in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe to high sales. In 2004, a limited edition DVD set was released, and only 15,000 were produced. The set contained an audio commentary with director Michael Lehmann, producer Denise Di Novi and writer Daniel Waters, a 30-minute documentary titled Swatch Dogs and Diet Cokeheads, featuring interviews with Ryder, Slater, Doherty, Falk, Lehmann, Waters, Di Novi, Director of Photography Francis Kenny and Editor Norman Hollyn. It also includes a theatrical trailer, screenplay excerpt, original ending, biographies, 10-page full-color fold-out with photos and liner notes, an 8 cm "Heathers Rules!" ruler, and a 48-page full-color "yearbook style" booklet with rare photos.
On July 1, 2008, a new 20th anniversary special edition DVD set was released from Anchor Bay to coincide with the DVD of writer Waters' new film Sex and Death 101. The DVD features a new documentary, Return to Westerburg High. On November 18, 2008, Anchor Bay released a Blu-ray with all the special features from the 20th Anniversary DVD and a soundtrack in Dolby TrueHD 5.1.
Possible film sequel
On June 2, 2009, Entertainment Weekly reported that Ryder had claimed that there would be a sequel to Heathers with Christian Slater coming back "as a kind of Obi-Wan character". However, Michael Lehmann, the director of the original film, denied development of a sequel, saying "Winona's been talking about this for years — she brings it up every once in a while and Dan Waters and I will joke about it, but as far as I know there's no script and no plans to do the sequel."
Planned television series
In August 2009, Sony Pictures Television announced that Heathers was to be adapted for television to air on Fox. Mark Rizzo was hired to write the series, and Jenny Bicks was to co-produce with Lakeshore Entertainment. The program was described as a modernized version of the original story, and all characters from the film were expected to be scripted into the adaptation.
On September 12, 2012 it was announced that the television network Bravo would begin developing a Heathers reboot unrelated to the earlier announcement by Sony Pictures Television. The story-line was to pick up 20 years later when Veronica returned home to Sherwood, Ohio with her teenage daughter, who had to contend with the next generation of mean girls, all named "Ashley". They were to all be the daughters of the two surviving Heathers. Neither Winona Ryder nor Christian Slater were attached to the project. However, in August 2013, Bravo declined to order the series.
In 2010 Heathers was adapted into a stage musical directed by Andy Fickman. Fickman also worked on the musical Reefer Madness, a parody of the anti-cannabis propaganda film of the same name which was turned into a feature film on Showtime. The Heathers musical, which opens with a number depicting Veronica's acceptance into the Heathers' clique, has received several readings in workshops in Los Angeles, and a three-show concert presentation at Joe's Pub in New York City on September 13–14, 2010. The cast of the Joe's Pub concert included Annaleigh Ashford as Veronica, Jenna Leigh Green as Heather Chandler, and Jeremy Jordan as J.D. The score does, in fact, include a rousing number called "My Dead Gay Son".
The original cast of the Off-Broadway production included Barrett Wilbert Weed as Veronica Sawyer, Jessica Keenan Wynn as Heather Chandler, Ryan McCartan as JD, Alice Lee as Heather Duke and Elle McLemore as Heather McNamara. It closed on August 4, 2014.
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- Heathers (1988) - Awards
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- Howe, Desson (April 14, 1989). "Heathers". The Washington Post. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
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- "Winona Ryder confirms 'Heathers' sequel. God, Veronica, drool much? | PopWatch Blog | EW.com". Popwatch.ew.com. 2009-06-02. Retrieved 2009-07-03.
- "Michael Lehmann Administers Cup of Liquid Drainer to Heathers Sequel". Movieline. Retrieved 2009-07-03.
- Schneider, Michael (August 26, 2009). "Fox, Sony TV look to revive 'Heathers'". Variety.
- "Without Winona? It's Official! Heathers To Live Again". PerezHilton.com. Retrieved 2011-03-09.
- "Bravo Developing 'Heathers' Reboot, 4 More Scripted Dramas (Exclusive)". HollywoodReporter.com. Retrieved 2012-09-12.
- Aurthur, Kate (August 7, 2013). "The Dream Of The "Heathers" TV Show Is Dead Again". BuzzFeed.
- "Heathers to get musical treatment". BBC. March 12, 2009. Retrieved 25 September 2011.
- Champion, Lindsay. "What’s Your Damage?! Heathers: The Musical to Slay Off-Broadway’s New World Stages This Spring". Broadway.com. Broadway.com. Retrieved December 10, 2013.
- Bellino, Damian. "It'll Be Very! Full Cast Announced for Heathers the Musical Off-Broadway". Broadway.com. Broadway.com. Retrieved April 3, 2014.
- Contray, Danielle. "Off-Broadway’s ‘Heathers’ to Close on August 4". NewYork.com. Retrieved 25 July 2014.
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