DVD Review: Heathers - 20th High School Reunion Edition
Release Date: July 1, 2008
Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment
· Michael Lehmann
· Winona Ryder
· Christian Slater
· Shannen Doherty
· Kim Walker
· Lisanne Falk
· IMDb: Heathers
by Rachel Jaffe
Published: July 5, 2008
As it has since it first popped up on the Disney Channel in 2006, the "High School Musical" franchise is still rolling on. "High School Musical" and its sequel "High School Musical 2" had successful runs on the Disney Channel and have had their DVD releases (multiple versions in the case of the original movie). "High School Musical 3" will be in theaters this fall. There have been concerts and ice shows and stage performances, and in a few weeks ABC will start broadcasting a talent search series called High School Musical: Get In The Picture. Kids are the primary fans driving the "High School Musical" phenomenon, eagerly eating up a sweet view of high school life. But their parents probably have in their cultural background a darker vision of high school, as we're reminded by the 20th High School Reunion Edition of the movie "Heathers."
"Heathers" is the anti-"High School Musical." Whereas in "High School Musical" different cliques learn to get along and by the second movie members have integrated into one friendly glob, the titular clique in "Heathers" contain people who can't even get along with each others. As Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) remarks wryly, "I don't really like my friends. ... It's like they're just people I work with, and our job is being popular and s***."
Both movies feature a romantic couple with a secret. In "High School Musical," the secret is Troy and Gabriella's shared love of singing. In "Heathers," the secret that Veronica shares with new boyfriend J.D. (Christian Slater) is that they are responsible for the deaths of several of their classmates, covering up the deaths to look like suicides.
"Heathers" is a classic example of a "wickedly funny" movie. It skewers popular kids, popular psychology, and popular music with equal abandon. Christian Slater has one of his best roles ever as the always-cool and increasingly-psychotic J.D. Winona Ryder brought a wonderful complexity to Veronica, a girl who had mixed feelings about her role as a Heather but who undeniably was part of the group. Shannen Doherty was a standout Heather, shortly before she moved on to playing "good girl" Brenda Walsh on Beverly Hills 90210.
Viewed from the standpoint of 20 years later (well, 19 years, counting from 1989 release date), "Heathers" stands the test of time remarkably well. The dialogue is snappy (and the idiosyncratic slang keeps it from sounding dated a la "Valley Girl"). While the 80s shoulder pads are extreme to modern viewers, the film's sartorial was designed to be extreme even at the time, and fits into the surreal aspects of the movie.
More of a testament to the film is how many echoes can be seen of it in both popular culture and real life. It's doubtful whether the movie as originally made could be done today, based on events that have occurred since then. J.D.'s black-coated outsider status is prescient of Columbine, and the use of bombs have become sadly more familiar to us, both domestically and internationally, since 1989. On a lighter note, in terms of cultural influence, Buffy the Vampire Slayer owes a debt to "Heathers" for its smart dialogue and dark vision of high school life (Cordelia Chase was clearly a Heather). "Mean Girls" is a gentler second generation of "Heathers." While "High School Musical" has made history in terms of its popularity, it remains to be seen whether it will be as culturally influential as its darker predecessor.
The 20th High School Reunion Edition of the DVD is a good presentation, but somewhat of a disappointment, considering that there was already a DVD release of "Heathers" in 2001. There is a commentary track by director Michael Lehmann, writer Daniel Waters, and producer Denise Di Novi, a 30-minute featurette entitled, "Swatch Dogs and Diet Coke Heads," and a 21-minute featurette entitled, "Return to Westerburg High." Of those, the first two were included in the prior DVD release. The new featurette, other than providing an update on the tragic and ironic deaths of cast members Kim Walker (Heather Chandler) and Jeremy Applegate (Peter Dawson), does not give any new information or insights on the film. There is also a 19-page PDF of a different ending for the screenplay, which was rejected by the studios as too dark. While I'd recommend the Heathers DVD, there is no significant advantage to the 20th High School Reunion Edition over the earlier one.