Pleasure to Kill: Winona Ryder and Christian Slater Get Rid of the Heathers

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Veronica (Winona Ryder, left) and her boyfriend J.D. (Christian Slater, right) have grand plans.
Veronica (Winona Ryder, left) and her boyfriend J.D. (Christian Slater, right) have grand plans.

Heathers is maybe the first realistic high-school movie and – at the same time – the most sophisticated. Due to its highly intelligent script, this movie has the depth and the wit of a Shakespearean play.

It starts like your usual John Hughes or ‘Brat Pack’ film, with teenagers struggling with everyday problems in their cliques. But instead of catharsis and all the well-known It’s a Wonderful Life stuff, the audience faces evil itself. J.D. (Christian Slater), the new student at Westerburg High, turns out to be not only a charismatic rebel but also a dangerous psychopath. He finds the way into Veronica’s heart, a student who must fulfill different tasks to be accepted in the high school’s most popular clique, the so-called Heathers.

One weekend when Veronica (Winona Ryder) and Heather Chandler (Kim Walker), the head of the clique, have an argument and Heather threatens to destroy Veronica’s reputation she is out for revenge. J.D. promises to help, and without noticing, Veronica is soon involved in the murders of several popular students. They succeed in concealing them as suicides. Veronica starts to realize that she must get rid of him when he threatens her with death und reveals his plan to blow up Westerburg High. It all ends with a big bang.

The most important accomplishment of Heathers is its blatant realism. Made 11 years before the Columbine High School massacre, this film makes such an incident not only appear probable but inevitable. “Not because society didn’t care but because school is society,” as J.D. puts it. This film is not another politically correct instructive attempt that shows how life should be. It rather paints a harsh, flamboyant, and exaggerated picture of school life which nevertheless is closer to reality than all the well-meant pictures before.

Heathers reconciles me with a genre that has produced more trash pictures than any other. The scriptwriter, Daniel Waters, even wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct it. Even though he wasn’t successful in hiring Kubrick, director Michael Lehmann and the producers still managed to create the best high-school movie in film history. The deaths of the actors Kim Walker and Jeremy Applegate that were both strangely connected to their roles added to the mystery of Heathers.

Retrospectively, Heathers is a jewel of the 1980s cinema. Black humor and intelligent scriptwriting make it one of my favorite comedies. In short, it’s a must-see for everybody who likes demanding and entertaining cinema.