If you’re a huge fan of Mean Girls, I recommend you check out Heathers (1989), which many consider to be its spiritual predecessor. Heathers is a dark comedy film written by Daniel Waters and directed by Michael Lehmann. It explores the tumultuous junior year of high school student Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) who longs to return to her nerdy ways after becoming a part of the school’s reigning clique—the Heathers, who are the titular leaders of the Sawyer’s high school. The clique is named for its three members: Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk), Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty), and queen bee Heather Chandler (Kim Walker), who rule Westerberg High School with an iron fist.
Tired of the group’s antics, Veronica meets and befriends J.D. (Christian Slater), a brooding loner who has just moved into town and is already stirring up trouble. Together, they decide to get revenge on the school’s most popular elite, but Veronica soon realizes that J.D.’s plans for them are much darker than she intended.
J.D. soon reveals himself to be a dangerous sociopath who manipulates Veronica into joining him in pranks” that end up killing multiple students at school. Although she is disturbed by his behaviour, Veronica continues to date J.D. But to her despair, she finds that those that were killed have become even more popular and worshipped in death. J.D. then reveals that he is planning to blow up the entire school during a pep rally and Veronica races to stop him.
Although it was not a blockbuster in the year of its release, Heathers opened to critical acclaim and over the past three decades, it has ascended to cult classic status. The film has also spawned two notable adaptations: a 2010 stage musica, and an upcoming anthology TV series set to premiere this spring.
Heathers is by no means a perfect movie. It constantly crosses the line separating dark comedy and more cringe-inducing shock humor. The difference being that dark comedy can be used to make a more profound statement about a taboo topic, while shock humor simply tries to surprise the audience by being as vulgar as possible. One may struggle to find a deeper meaning behind some of movie’s more shocking moments.
Despite its flaws and corny moments, I do love the searing dark comedy in this film and its many fantastic quotable lines. We also get to the see the beginnings of several famous actor’s careers in this film. Winona Ryder embodies teen angst as Veronica, delivering most of her lines with a distinct sardonic flair. Shannen Doherty of Beverly Hills, 90210 fame also does a great job as Heather Duke, who begins the movie as the most sympathetic of the Heathers, but later becomes the new crueler leader of the clique after Heather Chandler’s death.
If you’re interested in a more vicious take on the classic high school clique wars trope, I’d definitely recommend Heathers, which is a dark and witty romp from start-to-finish.