ICYMI: Róisín and Chiara on Heathers
Surreal sketch duo Róisín and Chiara experience teen cult classic Heathers for the very first time
When we decided to watch Heathers – a high school comedy from the late 80’s – we were expecting a pastel-hued, proto-Mean Girls giggly snuggle fest. This seemed like suitable viewing for the grimmest month since the Visigoths invaded. What we weren’t prepared for was a blood-soaked deconstruction of American capitalist society headed up by the aggressively cool Winona Ryder and strangely fit Christian Slater. The jumpers may be fluffy, but the dialogue is razor sharp and sick in the head.
The plot of Heathers is familiar to a host of high school comedies from She’s All That to Never Been Kissed; an allegorical tale of dog-eat-dog where nice guys finish last (maybe). This time, however, our anti-hero behaves a little differently. Rather than killing the Prom-Queen-Bitch-Oppressor with kindness, Ryder's Veronica goes about dethroning the adolescent dictator with actual murder – or specifically with a series of macabre staged suicides.
Veronica is a reluctant member of ‘The Heathers’, the bitchy, scrunchie-wearing elite of Westerburg High. As her brunette locks suggest, she secretly deplores the ruthless cruelty of basic blonde head honcho, Heather Chandler. Like most teenagers she spends her evenings furiously journaling in gigantic handwriting, while wearing a monocle. Liberation from the Heather tyranny arrives in the form of an emotionally damaged Christian Slater, replete with tiny earring and massive motorbike.
Let us take a moment to mention their voices; Slater’s sounds like a Dickensian-American out of work thief who's ageing backwards, and Ryder's deep, sultry, manly, whiny moan is music to our ears. These actors have such hilarious, characterful, odd voices. Are voices that characterful nowadays? It's as though modern actors are auto-tuned, whereas in Heathers they had more of a garage rock feel.
And how about the language these alluring voices intone? Filthy, merciless and startlingly graphic ('you stupid fuck'). You wouldn’t get away with a lot of it nowadays (too rude for our 'snowflake' sensibilities!?) but it’s wonderfully satisfying. Take Heather casually asking Veronica, ‘why are you pulling my dick?'. Why don't we say that to each other? Why can't I be pulling my friend's non-physical dick? Why does it have to be her boring leg?
Things get pretty existential when we realise that the school is really a stand-in for American society at large. All of humanity is there – indeed, you’ll probably find someone in the credits with whom you identify; ‘Fat Cynic’/ ‘Nerd’ / ‘Heavy Metaller 1’. But things get prophetic when it seems that even a radical attempt to rid the school of evil by deposing (or impeaching) the Queen won’t work. It may be impossible to undo the ingrained competitiveness and vertical ties of power and influence that hold this American microcosm together.
On a different note there is a relaxing ease to watching this un-CGI’d, un-botoxed world. We’ve become used to watching (especially female) faces that are finding it hard to express emotion due to ‘procedures’. Poor Hollywood starlets, frozen in fillers. 'It's just so fucking boring', a Heather would say. At least in this film we can enjoy the eccentrically positioned eyebrows of Mr. Slater.
We were shocked, freaked out, concerned by so much in the film. We admit we seldom laughed out loud during viewing; we did not find Heathers funny, per se, but we divined humour in the dark moral of the tale. This film – like Withnail and I, Edward Scissorhands, Arizona Dream, Harold and Maude and so many other films from our childhoods – has character. It's eccentric and surreal, sometimes excruciating or disturbing but essentially titillating. It is essentially strange as in 'not previously known', not strange as in 'I don't get it. I don't like it'.
Heathers was made in 1989 before America became a global embarrassment. I wonder how far its creators would think we’ve come?
And just a quick post-script; did anyone else notice Jordan Brookes' cameo as the policeman? If anyone has any more information about this please get in touch.