Anchor Bay // 1989 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // February 11th, 2002
A killer comedy.
Movies aren't born with cult status, they must earn it. Some movies have a serious advantage over others (Killer Klowns From Outer Space, The Toxic Avenger and Stuff Stephanie in the Incinerator have an obvious one-up due to their fantastic titles). In 1987 Heathers came along, a movie that contemplated not only teenage suicide, but also faux-homosexuality, drinking drain-o, and other problems that fill adolescence with angst-ridden days. Starring Winona Ryder (Beetlejuice, Girl, Interrupted, the 111th precinct of Beverly Hills), Christian Slater (Hard Rain, Kuffs) and Shannon Doherty (Beverly Hills 90210, Mallrats), Heathers has become one of the modern day black comedy cult classics, loved the world over by people who still remember the days of Swatch watches. Originally released on a mediocre bare-bones edition a few years back, Heathers shows up on DVD once again in a new edition that should please fans.
At Westerburg High School there is a hierarchy of popularity, and you can't get much higher than the clique of "Heathers." Each Heather is beautiful, well-off, and extremely snotty, looking down upon most all of the students attending their school. Veronica (Ryder) is part of this group, though she's not quite as evil and vacuous as the other three girls (played by Shannon Doherty, Lisanne Falk, and Kim Walker). In fact, while Veronica enjoys hanging out with her popular friends, she doesn't quite agree with what they stand for. When a new student named J.D. (Slater) shows up, Veronica falls head over heels for him, even if he is a creepy outcast packing heat. Upon hearing about Veronica's distaste for her friends, J.D. devises a plan to get rid of them using suicide as their supposed motive. Things go well until the plan starts to spin of control, causing Veronica's attempt to end J.D.'s murderous plan once and for all!
Heathers is one of those love-it-or-hate-it kind of movies. It's a comedy, but not the type of comedy that's for everyone. Black comedy, which includes movies like War Of The Roses and Harold And Maude, is something of an acquired taste; so to is Heathers. What else could a movie be that delves into and finds humor in subjects like teenage suicide?
I liked Heathers. I didn't love it, but I liked it. There's something raunchily funny bubbling under the surface of this movie. Writer Daniel Waters must have a sense of humor that is as dark as night. I laughed very, very, very hard when one girl exclaimed, with deadpan audacity, "well, f**k me with a chainsaw." This is the type of humor that courses through this film's veins (if you didn't like that, you'll want to pass on this movie and move onto something lighter, like Balto or Little House On The Prairie: The Homecoming Episode).
Heathers is really an anti-John Hughes movie. In Hughes' films there were always outsiders and losers along side popular girls and jocks. However, in those movies there seemed to be a invisible theory that at the end of the day we can all get along. Heathers holds to none of that (save for one scene, showing that under all the blackness there is a ray of light). The "Heathers" group is filled with self-serving girls that care only for their status and popularity (for once I do believe that this writer knew what it was like to be in high school). Anyone remember that from high school? And yes, my bitterness only solidifies the fact that I was a big ole geek all through my formative teenage years.
Heathers is populated with excellent performances. Christian Slater fares best, utilizing his outstanding Jack Nicholson acting style (this is a compliment). He and Ryder make a demented, funny pair. Ryder is one of the cutest girls working in Hollywood today, and while she can sometimes border on over-saturation in the cynic department, her performance here is well done. The three Heathers (played with feisty verve by Doherty, Falk, and Walker) are, as expected, spot on in their bitchiness.
I recommend Heathers to those who don't find killing two teenagers, then making the town think they were gay lovers offensive. This won't (I repeat, won't) be to everyone's taste. Then again, if everyone only liked movies like Snow Dogs, what kind of world would we be living in?
Heathers is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Originally released in an only mediocre DVD, this newly created print looks very well rendered. The colors are strong with black levels even and dark. Print flaws show up in a few scenes, though otherwise the imperfections (including some edge enhancement) are kept to the bare minimum. Anchor Bay has done a fine job of making sure that this widescreen transfer looks clean, crisp and very "gnarly."
The audio on Heathers is presented in a newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. This mix is THX certified, which means at the beginning of the movie you get that loud demo that makes your couch feel as if it will soon have lift-off into the stratosphere. Otherwise, this is a decent soundtrack that utilizes the surround feature mainly when there are rock songs or Thomas Newman's quirky music score present. Since Heathers is a dialogue driven movie, there wasn't much need for a full or bombastic 5.1 soundtrack. All aspects of the dialogue, effects, and music are clear and free of any distortion or hiss. No subtitles are included, though the original Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is here for those who want it.
This new DVD edition of Heathers comes complete with some extra features that should please fans. The first is a commentary track featuring director Michael Lehmann, producer Denise Di Novi, and writer Daniel Waters. This is a very chatty audio track that feature the three participants recounting stories about the opening of the film (New World Pictures went bankrupt in 1987, and if Heathers would have been scheduled to open two weeks later, it would have never hit the theaters), as well as production details and casting info. This is a fairly brisk moving audio commentary that will thrill those wishing to learn more about the making of Heathers.
A new 30-minute documentary titled "Swatch Dogs and Diet Coke Heads" features all new interviews with stars Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannon Doherty, Lisanne Falk, director Michael Lehmann (who also directed the underrated Hudson Hawk), writer Daniel Waters, producer Denise Di Novi (often a collaborator with Tim Burton), director of photography Francis Kenny, and editor Norman Hollyn. I'm a fan of these "retrospective" documentaries that tend to look back on what the film means to the participants and where its place in cinematic history really is (Ryder is especially interesting to listen to). This is one of the better documentaries to come out on DVD, and is well worth the time.
Finally there are some talent bios on the cast and crew, a theatrical trailer for the film presented in anamorphic widescreen, an excerpt from the screenplay containing the original ending not used in the film, and a THX "Optimode" set-up for your TV and sound system. Also of note, there is a multitude of different DVD covers available for this edition of the film (one with Ryder, Slater, Doherty, et cetera).
A strange comedy with some equally strange performances, fans of this cult classic will be happy to see it on this newly created DVD edition. Those who already own this will be peeved they have to re-buy it (I went through the same thing with Re-Animator and Army Of Darkness -- I feel your pain, or as the movie might say: "LIFE CAN SUCK!").
Free to go, though we're keeping a watchful eye on it for any suspicious behavior on DVD again...
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary by Director Michael Lehmann, Producer Denise Di Novi, and Writer Daniel Waters
* Swatch Dogs and Diet Coke Heads Documentary
* Theatrical Trailer
* Talent Bios
* Screenplay Excerpt: Original Ending