Hard as it may be to believe, Heathers turns thirty this year. Winona Ryder and Christian Slater star as a high-school version of Bonnie and Clyde as they start to rid their school of the bitches and jocks by murdering them and masking them as suicide. It might not sound like the most sunny or fun of films and yet Heathers is one of the best black comedies out there, the vein of dark humour running through its core is just perfect. It certainly did something right as other filmmakers have been trying to replicate the magic formula for years, Mean Girls and Tragedy Girls coming the closest.
To celebrate the thirtieth anniversary, Arrow Films has created a 4K restoration which arrives on Blu-ray on 20th August 2018. They’ve also sent the new print out into cinemas, giving those that were too young the perfect opportunity to see this teen masterpiece on the big screen. To coincide with the cinema release, director Michael Lehmann and actor Lisanne Falk (who plays Heather McNamara – the nicest of the Heathers) were in London appearing at a host of Q and A’s. Whilst the pair were in town we, alongside a couple of other journalists, we were able to talk to the duo about this iconic film all these years later:
Do you have any general thoughts on the movie looking back now it’s thirty?
Lisanne Falk: I’ve been watching the movie at various points throughout the years and truly have enjoyed it more than ever in my most recent viewings. At different points I felt the fashion might have been dated or some of the things didn’t work as well. The last time I watched it – a couple of weeks ago – before all these interviews so it was fresh in my head. I think I appreciated it more than I ever have. I felt like a lot of it, the beauty of the dialogue, and all the themes, and the way everything was put together, I think I enjoyed it the most now.
Michael Lehmann: I’m really happy that people are still paying attention to the movie. That’s kind of an amazing thing. I never would have expected that. It’s just really fun to see that somebody even cares to look at it anymore. I always thought it might hold up as one of those odd movies that you look at and say ‘wasn’t it fun that people dressed that way, or talked that way’, the way that I would at Rebel Without a Cause or something like that. The themes of the movie are still alive, and the arena about which it has it’s discourse, is still alive.
LF: High school is still alive.
ML: Dark humour, if it holds up, is fun to see. So I guess it holds up enough. I’m happy to think that it might.
But it’s actually achieved something of a cult status, did you or could you have ever envisaged that?
LF: Well you don’t set out to make a cult movie, a cult movie makes itself.
So why do you think it’s become a cult?
ML: Dan’s [Daniel Waters] script was pretty amazing. His use of language and double conception of it is worthy in of itself of giving the movie a cult status because nobody else has really written that way.
LF: The dialogue. I didn’t realise until I did some research in retrospect that the dialogue, the way that he really made it up. That he made it up to stand on its own as opposed to being of the time. That’s not eighties dialogue. Eighties dialogue was ‘that’s rad’ that valley talk that would have appeared dated. So this dialogue which still holds up and is so quotable, that seems to be what people love doing, quoting the movie.
ML: It is true that the language is all fabricated. The slang is not – people didn’t speak quite that way – and it was part of what we worked on when we made the movie, to have it flow naturally.
You said how beautiful the film was, but actually it’s quite shocking. I mean it was shocking for its day, but how shocking do you think it is now?
ML: What did you find shocking?
Well I suppose I was looking at it with the benefit of hindsight so of course this is a film that predates Columbine, which immediately colours it for me.
ML: But it’s hard, the whole question of how this movie relates to teen violence… that’s happened in the meantime, it’s a complicated question. When Columbine happened I immediately looked to see is there was any reason to believe these people ever watched Heathers, or that was any part of their reference. I was just curious for my own.
It must have been an inevitable question.
ML: Yes, and as far as I could tell, it was not on their radar, The Columbine kids were looking at Jim Carroll’s Basketball Diaries, That’s what they said at the time.
LF: thank goodness.
ML: Right, but I was horrified at the time. I thought… I don’t, would never, want to think that anybody would watch Heathers and be inspired to commit violence. Of course I would say this movie doesn’t endorse violence in that school at all. It has a moral point of view, but there is a central character in there that looks to use violent means to get vengeance against the people he thinks are bad. That is part of what happens in these things. So it’s complicated.
LF: It’s a revenge fantasy. that’s what I think of it as anyway. At what point when you’re being bullied in high school, or any point in your life, might you go and have these fantasies which you might never vocalise. This is the vocalisation of your ultimate revenge fantasy coming to life. Not reality.
ML: And our main character goes through a moral journey where she identifies with this bad boy who takes her down the path and says ‘wait a minute, this is not right’. That’s not a very complicated moral journey, she should have know that that wasn’t the thing to do from the start.
LF: But love is blind!
ML: But it is a moral journey so that is an interesting question though. When people say ‘could you make the movie today?’ not exactly as it is, but Lisanne you have a great answer to this…
LF: Well I said we wouldn’t remake it because it’s already been made, so you wouldn’t have that. you’d have to come up with something new and more provocative. We’ve already made it so we’re not going to remake it today because that’s too complicated.
There is this constant talk of a remake. Recently you had the musical opening and there’s been a television series in the works, so although people say it couldn’t be made today, it has more cultural presence now more than ever.
ML: Partly because the issues that the movie addresses, and the kind of behaviour that depicts that stuff, has not gone away. There’s still some relevance to what’s going on and the high school experience has changed in many ways, but has also probably pretty much stayed the same.
LF: I think it’s actually gotten [worse] – I’ve asked because I’ve got a teenage daughter – that’s one of the things I’ve been trying… to ask her friends to get a new fresh perspective. I want to know how they’re viewing it and that’s the bit that they relate to the most, the high-school experience. The different cliques of high school. The bullying and the various things that will happen. The friendships and first loves, that’s the bit they seem to hang on and find the most engaging and relatable. It’s all about where do I fit in? Which character would I want to be? Which character is most like me, which character would I most like to be? That is what the younger people are looking at. They’re not over-analysing it which is probably a good thing.
So I had probably had the most stressful first-time viewing of Heathers ever. I recorded it off of TV on my VCR and when I went to watch it, my cassette had run out of space right at the end. JD had his arms in the air, the bomb was counting down and then it was over. Now this was before the internet and it took two years before a friend of mine found a copy on VHS for me so that I could find out the ending. I spent those years dreaming up how it might end. In reality there was a little bit of trouble around the ending of the film, what was that process like?
ML: Dan wrote an ending, and I think it was in the draft that we took to New World to make in which they do blow up the high-school. It ended with the prom in Heaven in which everybody was getting along because they were all getting on together. We weren’t allowed to film that because the head of New World pictures said ‘no, I can’t support the making of a movie in which people are engaging in murder, faking suicides and then essentially kill themselves. It would be irresponsible and were it to inspire copycats or anything like that’ he felt it was important that the movie reached a certain morally acceptable resolution. Dan and I were not so responsible (chuckles).
LF: I didn’t know any of this because obviously I came in after that. I would have thought if I saw that ending ‘wow the visual of that and the idea’ I guess being a young person again I wouldn’t have thought about the people being dead and dying. I would have thought there was this place that seemed interesting to me. Obviously the literal grown-up people have to take these things on.
ML: Yeah Dan and I argued back and made many things to try and convince him to let us make the movie.
LF: That’s exactly it, if you don’t get the movie made then nobody will see it and then you have to make those concessions.
ML: I like the ending that we have. I was relieved when we cut the movie together that it basically connected emotionally and that it was an acceptable ending for the movie. But I never thought – I never thought of it as a cop-out – but I didn’t think it was as good as Dan originally wrote it, and I think he feels the same.
Catch Heathers in select UK cinemas now, or own the 4k restoration Blu-ray when it releases on 20th August 2018.