Heathers is available now on Arrow Blu-ray.
It is hard to believe that Michael Lehmann’s pitch-black comedy about high school cliques was a box office dud on its release in 1989. Heathers would earn a global haul of $1,163,969 against a budget of approximately $3,000,000. However, all was not lost, and Heathers, like so many other movies classed as cult classics, found its audience through VHS home rental. As a result, by the mid-1990s, Heathers was finding praise as one of the best teen comedies of the late 1980s, its cutting observational humour layered with a dissection of youth sub-culture.
Of course, many coming-of-age movies have explored the interface between sub-culture, society, school and the individual. For example, The Breakfast Club explored themes of status, inclusion and the growing wealth divide of 1980s life, while Dazed and Confused explored the transition of cultures as one high school generation passed the baton to the next. However, unlike any of its contemporaries, Heathers would delve into the inherent darkness of the adolescent mind and the simmering hate, tension and destruction at the heart of high school life. Here its humour would sit uncomfortably within a pit of despair that placed a spotlight on division, wealth, privilege, bullying and mental health.
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Heathers screenplay is pure social satire; its reflection of the darkness that runs through the heart of high-school life, at times, deeply uncomfortable. Here the teenage need for popularity, place and purpose meets themes of desire, escape and revenge. Of course, watching Heathers today, this satire of 80s teen life carries more than a few uncomfortable parallels, and it’s fair to say Heathers would probably never get past the censors now without several trigger warnings. After all, we have a story that includes themes of school shootings, sexual assault, suicide and terrorism.
But, these dark themes only make Heathers even more powerful; after all, nobody could disagree that many of Heathers key themes are as relevant today as they were in 1989, maybe even more relevant in the world of social media. Therefore to cancel Heathers or relegate it to film history would be the same as claiming the teenage experience has changed for the better. Of course, some may argue that the adolescent experience has improved with more focus on mental health and inclusion, but is that really the case? Or did Heathers act as a satirical warning from the late eighties that still rings true?
In truth, we all know that although our society is ever more connected, the feeling of isolation and alienation among many teens has only grown in the years since Heathers release. Here screenwriter Daniel Waters deliciously dark tale of teenage rebellion, peer pressure and belonging feels just as prophetic as it is reflective. It is, therefore, interesting that a film like Heathers would more than likely never see the light of day now.
In my opinion, this is a movie every teenager should watch and discuss; after all, at the heart of Heathers world is popularity at any price, insecurities hidden through fear, instant judgement, damaging rumours and social isolation. If this sounds familiar, it should; because Heathers, while darkly delicious in its humour, still talks to our modern society and the issues many teenagers face daily. Here the darkness of high school meets the division, anger and confused morals of young people searching for their place in our screwed-up world. Heathers offends because it’s supposed to, but by god does it do it with a wicked yet charming smile.