Background: Released in 1988, Heathers starred Winona Ryder as Veronica Sawyer, the slightly conscience-stricken member of Westerburg High’s clique of extremely popular, extremely mean girls named Heather. Under the influence of her alluring and psychopathic new-boy-in-town boyfriend, Jason Dean (Christian Slater), Veronica starts murdering — or aiding in the murder of — her horrible, popular classmates and making it look like suicide. The film made almost no money on its release but played regularly on cable and became a cult classic. Its reputation rests on its aggressive, quotable slang (“What’s your damage, Heather?” and “Fuck me gently with a chain saw” being two of the more memorable lines), colorful costumes (girls in color-coded croquet outfits; the best use of a monocle by a teenager in movie history), and a bracing, satirical if-you-think-adults-are-horrible-check-out-these-teenagers sense of nihilism.
Fact-Check: If you haven’t seen Heathers in a while, you almost have to watch it twice, just so you can spend the first viewing doing what comes naturally: thinking in an endless loop, eyes wide and mouth agape, I can’t believe this movie got made, this movie could never get made now; I can’t believe this movie got made, this movie could never get made now … (The second time around, you can just revel in the camp of the opening shot: a close-up on the red scrunchie of power. When are those making a comeback?) A brief list of events in Heathers that would be impossible to imagine getting okayed by a studio in today’s post-Columbine, post- 9/11 world: the romantic lead bringing a gun to school, shooting blanks in his classmate’s faces, and not even being suspended; the consequence-free murder of one’s classmates; the heroine shooting a classmate in the chest in cold blood; a boy trying to blow up his school, and, when foiled, blowing himself up with a suicide-bomber vest. (To be fair, in the original screenplay, JD blew up the school and everyone ended up at a prom in heaven: The studio balked at that ending even then.) As JD says, and he might as well be talking about the movie that created him, “The extreme always seems to make an impression.”