Satire is hard to pull off. For every Dr. Strangelove there are dozens of movies that try to be biting indictments of some segment of society but end up being painful to watch. Heathers belongs to the former category. One of the best films to come out of the 80's it's a bitingly accurate satirical look at high school cliques, the cruelty of teens, and hypocrisy. It also turned out to be frighteningly prophetic. The film has been released a couple of times in the past, but now Anchor Bay has put out a deluxe collector's edition the includes both the DVD and Blu-ray versions of the film along with some really cook bonus items all wrapped up in a cool metal locker.
The popular girls at Westerberg High are a trio of girls named Heather: Heather Chandler (Kim Walker), the leader, Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk), and Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty). They allow Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) to hang with them, mainly because she's good at forging handwriting. Like most high school cliques they are very exclusionary, and look down at those poor souls who don't measure up to their standards of beauty and fashion.
Veronica is a little torn about her friends. While she doesn't like what they stand for, and doesn't really like them either; she doesn't want to be an outcast. Enter a new transfer student, J.D. (Christian Slater who seems to be channeling Jack Nicholson), an attractive rebel with an oddly magnetic personality. After Veronica briefly talks to him in the lunch room, he turns up at her bedroom window. She discovers that they have a lot in common, including a dislike for the Heathers, leader Heather Chandler in particular.
Knowing that Heather C. is hung over after a night of partying with college students, Veronica comes up with a great idea: they'll break into her house and give her an ipecac in the guise of a hanger cure. In her kitchen, Veronica comes up with an OJ and milk combo, while J.D. suggests drain opener. Not sure if he's joking or not, Veronica goes up into Heather's room but accidentally hands her J. D.'s glass, which kills her on the spot. Not wanting to spend the rest of their lives in jail, Veronica forges a suicide note, which everyone buys hook, line, and sinker. But with Heather Chandler dead, things at school actually get worse, with people who hated the dead girl claiming to have loved her and other complaining that they only get half a day off of school. J.D. has an idea though...
This is one of those rare movies where everything comes together perfectly. Originally ignored during its theatrical release, the film gained its position as a cult classic after its home video release. It's easy to see why. The script by Daniel Waters is both witty and intelligent. An outrageously funny dark comedy, Waters crafts a whole set of slag for the Heathers to speak ("What's your damage.") that sounds real yet silly, as most slang is. He also accurately portrays, and skewers, the various groups that inhabit high school and how they act, being brutal in the process yet making it funny rather than horrific. More accurately he makes the events in the movie funny because they are so horrific. When Heather McNamara talks Veronica into double dating with a pair of football players the evening ends up horribly with the drunken jocks cow-tipping. As Veronica walks off to J.D. who is parked on the hill, in the background you see her date passed out in a mud puddle and Heather being date-rapped by her date. Neither Veronica nor J.D. sees anything wrong with the picture.
The cast does a wonderful job too. In the hands of lesser actors, this dark comedy would have become a poor farce, but Ryder and Slater are able to pull it off. It's hard to make a serial killer seem likable, but Ryder is able to not only make the audience like her, but root for her. Slater is slimy but in such a charismatic way that his plans don't seem so much evil and giving people their just deserts.
In a lot of ways, this is an anti-John Hughes film. As where The Breakfast Club and 16 Candles portrayed high school students having problems but basically good natured at heart, this film shows them as being inherently cruel, which is a little closer to reality, and much more humorous.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Anchor Bay went all out when it came to packaging this Limited Edition set. The set includes the two-disc 20th High School Reunion Edition of the film on DVD as well as the Blu-ray release of the film. These three discs come in Westerberg Class of 1988 yearbook. The discs are click into each cover (the two DVDs overlapping in the front and the Blu-ray in the back) and the center has 20 pages of 'yearbook' material including signatures. There's also one of three random T-Shirts that comes in a box shaped like an Algebra book and some locker magnets with phrases from the show. All of this is comes in a metal box fashioned as a high school locker. It's quite a set.
This is a 20 year old movie that was filmed on a shoe-string budget. Taking that into account, the Blu-ray release of Heathers, presented with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and employing the AVC codex looks pretty good but not spectacular. The colors in the first scene, with the three Heathers and Veronica all dressed in bright colors playing croquet looks good with nice solid colors that are fairly bright. That's not always the case however. There are several scenes, especially the interior shots, where the colors look a little washed out and not quite as vibrant. The flesh tones are nice through the movie too, and blacks are about average. The image isn't as sharp as I would have liked however and some of the fine lines aren't as tight as they should be. The level of detail is better than any DVD release of this film that I've seen, but it still doesn't compare with the best Blu-ray releases.
This Blu-ray release includes a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track that almost seems like overkill for this movie. Most of the audio is squarely centered on the screen, and there isn't much use made of the soundstage. Even the more dynamic sections, the explosion, the gunshots in the forest, don't pack the *umph* that I was hoping for but I'd be willing to bet that they didn't when this film was first shown in theaters. The dialog is easy to discern and the background music is clear and clean.
This disc ports over the bonus material from the 20th High School Reunion Edition. First off is a very informative Audio Commentary with director Michael Lehmann, producer Denise Di Novi, and writer Daniel Waters. This is a nice track since 20 years have passed and the trio can look back on the production with fondness, knowing that the film has earned a place in cult movie history. It's an entertaining track and the group reveals everything you ever wanted to know about the movie from the original casting choices, through the problems during production, the hassles with the studio having to declare bankruptcy during the release, and the reception the film received during its original theatrical run.
There are a pair of featurettes too, "Swatch Dogs and Diet Cokeheads" (30 min) which appeared on the original DVD release and has the cast and crew talking about the film and their impressions of it.
"Return to Westerburg High" (21 min) was originally included in the 20th Anniversary release of the film and brings together director Michael Lehmann, producer Denise Di Novi, and writer Daniel Waters one more time to talk about their child. It was a good featurette, with the most enjoyable section being where Waters discusses the different endings he originally envisioned for the film. Even so, just about everything they talk about was discussed in the commentary and/or first featurette.
There's also a trailer and a .pdf file with a copy of the original ending in screenplay form.
Outrageously funny, this biting satire fires on all cylinders. Winona Ryder and Christian Slater are wonderful as two socially conscious youths who make the world a better place by killing the jerks in their high school. This set includes both the two-disc 20th High School Reunion Edition as well as the Blu-ray release. While this is a bit redundant, it is more useful than the digital copies that are the current rage. I'd rather have an actual DVD than one of those ipod versions. The locker and enclosed material are quite cool and make a great package, just what this film deserves. Highly Recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do
not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.