Combustible Celluloid
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With: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker, Penelope Milford, Glenn Shadix
Written by: Daniel Waters
Directed by: Michael Lehmann
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 102
Date: 10/01/1988

Heathers (1989)

4 Stars (out of 4)

What's Their Damage?

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Christian Slater stars with a Jack Nicholson drawl as J.D., the bad boy who begins initiating a series of "suicides" at Westerberg high. Winona Ryder stars as Veronica, the popular girl who falls for his charms at first, and Shannen Doherty appears as one of the infamous trident of school-ruling Heathers.

Bay Area director Michael Lehmann and writer Daniel Waters keep things dark and tasty, and the dialogue and high school politics still resonate with a sharp sting. It's the opposite of The Breakfast Club, with the outsiders rising up against (rather than befriending) the prom queens and jocks, but it also has more of a sense of a school as a complete unit, a complete society, rather than sections of cliques.

The meanest and most brilliant touch is the inclusion of the hit song, "Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It)," by a band called "Big Fun," which of course catches on in the most callous, commercial -- yet "socially aware" -- fashion. The other great touch is various calling cards left behind by J.D.'s victims, such as the suicide notes and the "meaningfully marked up Moby Dick."

Lehmann and Waters are essentially doing the work for us, suggesting that symbols are everywhere and nowhere. Life is meaningful and meaningless. You can go to prom or you can stay home and rent some new releases, and it all comes out the same. It's dark comedy at its darkest, funniest and most brilliant.

DVD Details: (November 21, 2001) Lehmann and Waters (plus producer Denise Di Novi) supply a commentary track, and the disc includes a making-of documentary with modern-day interviews. (Ryder still remembers all her dialogue.) The disc also includes a discussion of the original "Prom in Hell" ending. Fans can buy any of five different case covers showing different cast members; trade 'em with your friends!

(June 25, 2008) The new 2008 DVD, released for the 20th anniversary (the film is copyrighted 1988, though it was released in 1989), comes with all the same extras, including the same commentary track, as the 2001 edition. The new disc does away with the 2.0 stereo track but now includes optional English subtitles. The only new extra is a brand-new, pretty good featurette tracing the history of the film. Also, the film and extras are now spread out on two discs, which presumably leaves more room for picture and image quality, though I'm not sure it has actually made any difference. Either way, for my library I've opted to keep the 2008 edition over the 2001 version.

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