Swatch Dogs and Diet Coke Heads
A defense of the greatest movie of all time.
By Mark RedmondPosted Jun 27, 2012
I’m a big proponent of radio.
At a tender young age, I began my media career as a DJ at Natchitoches’s Northwestern State University’s college station, KNWD 91.7 while still in high school at Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts. In 2007, I joined the staff of KLSU here in Baton Rouge, where I became Chief Announcer in 2009 and served as the morning drive jockey from 2007 until my graduation in 2010. As much as I may consider myself a cinephile, at my core, I am a radio man.
My two loves are combined weekly, every Friday at 5:30 p.m., when WHYR 96.9, Baton Rouge Community Radio, airs Flix List, billed as “three guys” just chatting about movies.
But a couple of weeks ago, I was shocked. Hurt, even. Because my favorite movie of all time was on the receiving end of some pretty harsh criticism, bearing the brunt of claims that “women really like this movie,” as if that denigrated the film’s worth or validity, or a man’s love for this movie somehow emasculated him. One reviewer even gave the film a mere 3.5 stars out of 5, and I, in a huff, yelled back at the radio: “Your answer is objectively wrong!”
That movie, of course, is Heathers.
Oh, yes. Heathers. Perhaps the darkest indie comedy of the Eighties, it masqueraded as a quirky, catty-girl high school film in the same vein as the late John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club, and, for the first twenty minutes or so follows that plot course.
Then the killings start.
Veronica (Winona Ryder) is a member of the most powerful clique at Ohio’s Westerberg High (presumably named for Paul Westerberg of The Replacements), The Heathers. Heather Chandler (the late Kim Walker) is the malicious alpha bitch of the group, identifiable by her red motif and humongous shoulder pads; green-clad Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty) is her sycophantic, bulimic second-in-command; and blue-toned Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk), a cheerleader, is the group’s resident pushover.
“The girl pack rules their school through intimidation and sex appeal,” Veronica’s voice-over tells the viewer as she, monocle firmly in place, scrawls in her journal. But they are not well-liked, even by Veronica herself, who considers her “friends” to be like co-workers, “except [their] job is being popular and sh*t.”
Westerberg High’s quotidian is disrupted by the arrival of Jason Dean (Christian Slater at his most Jack Nicholson-ian), the handsome but deranged son of a national demolitions magnate. When he responds to cafeteria bullying by shooting the jocks – with blanks – he attracts Veronica’s attention, and soon she is caught in the whirlpool of Jason’s madness as he kills off high school “undesirables” (i.e., date-rapist football players and, yes, alpha bitches) and poses the murders to look like suicides.
This was the first film by director Michael Lehmann, and despite being a box-office disappointment, Heathers, like The Princess Bride, The Shawshank Redemption, and Road House, recouped its losses and found critical vindication through video rental and cable showings. The success and darkness of the screenplay led to writer Daniel Waters being selected to script 1992’s Batman Returns.
The film is flawed, to be sure. In one scene, Westerberg High’s resident flower child guidance counselor squares off against the principal and other staff members to discuss the recent string of “suicides.” There are two characters named “Paul” and “Pauline” in the scene, for no apparent thematic reason (perhaps Waters just really loves Paul Westerberg). In fact, it seems like lazy, bad writing. And yet, because the film is so irreverently hilarious and eminently quotable, I find something new to love with each viewing. From the exploration of high school politics (“I cut off Heather Chandler’s head, and Heather Duke’s head has sprung right back in its place, like some mythological thing my eighth grade boyfriend would have known about.”) to intimate looks into the minds of teenagers (Heather Duke’s prayer: “I prayed for the death of Heather Chandler many times, and I felt bad every time I did it, but I kept doing it anyway. Now I know you understood everything. Praise Jesus, Hallelujah.”), to the epically awful eighties fashion, there’s just so much to enjoy.
Heathers is a gift that keeps on giving. And anyone who says otherwise, well, you and Martha Dunstock can go jump in front of a truck. All the popular kids are doing it.
“Teenage suicide: Don’t do it!” – The chorus of pop-song-as-leitmotif “Teenage Suicide” by fake band Big Fun.
“What’s the up-chuck factor on that?”
“Now I’ve seen a lot of bullsh*t. Angel dust. Switchblades. Sexually perverse photography exhibits involving tennis rackets. But this suicide thing...” –Westerberg High Principal
“I sold her out for a bunch of Swatch dogs and Diet Coke heads.”
“Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?”
“This isn’t just a spoke in my menstrual cycle.”
“Society nods its head at any horror the American teenager can think to bring upon itself.”