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When Cool Became a Household Name: Heathers

It’s been done before and it will be done again, but just like so many things, it will never be done as good as the first time. Alicia Silverstone tried it in Clueless, Lindsay Lohan worked it in Mean Girls and Kirsten Dunst definitely had the cool factor going on in Bring it On, but none of them will ever inspire girl crushes to the magnitude that Winona did in 1989’s Heathers – pre-kooky-department-store-thievery of course.

Winona plays Veronica, the only teenager not named Heather in her clichéd popular clique. Never short of a great comeback (“This isn't just a spoke in my menstrual cycle”), she plays the game but she knows it’s a game and, quite frankly, she doesn’t really care who wins or loses. The story comes to its rather disturbing climax when she “accidentally” murders the despised high-school bitch, and is clever enough to make it look like suicide – with the requisite pithy rejoinder to match.

“Dear Diary, my teen-angst bullshit now has a body count.”

When it came out, the days where people either wanted to be Winona, they were in love with Winona or they were Winona-incarnate began their short-lived stint…but truthfully, it wasn’t just Winona. It was Shannon Doherty and Christian Slater and a raft of long-since forgotten starlets who broke the rules of teen movies and said the things we wished we were quick and clever enough to say (“Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw. Do I look like Mother Theresa?”). But it wasn’t just the star power – it was a magical, perfect script that took what we knew of high school and turned it up to 11.

Geeks were mercilessly baited: “I need you to forge a hot and horny but realistically low-key note in Kurt's handwriting, and we'll slip it onto Martha Dumptruck's lunch tray...The note will give her shower-nozzle masturbation material for weeks.”
Every casually innocent comment was pounced on no matter where you sat in the pecking order: “Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?”
And sex was a weapon of mass destruction: “Okay, now I rarely listen to Neanderthals like Kurt Kelly but he said that he and Ram had a nice little sword fight in your mouth last night.”

Heathers is funny and cynical and extremely dark in the kind of way that makes people WANT to be evil. The film was debatably the highpoint for everyone involved – Slater, Ryder, Doherty and the others who are long since forgotten haven’t really done anything since to match this level of black coal perfection. The same can be said of the director Michael Lehmann (Hudson Hawke, Airheads) and the writer Daniel Waters (The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, Batman Returns). It seems as though it really was a kiss of death for the cast – thankfully, it remains delicious viewing for the rest of us.

Words: Kristen Hodges


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