Teen Angst Still Has a Body Count

by Adaora

When I was younger, I asked my mother, what will I be? Will I be pretty? Will I be rich? Here’s what she said…

It’s the 25th anniversary of Heathers and people are feeling very nostalgic. They’re revisiting their golden years, looking through their high school photos, remembering their first crush — recalling the first time they did what their parents told them not to do and got away with it. All sorts of things . Maybe, after riffling through their old school photos and high school yearbooks, they’re even reliving their own Heathers-inspired style: that big red velvet scrunchie and 80s pouf, double-padded preppy plaid jackets, bright tights, hideous floppy midiskirts (which are somehow back in style — the horror!).

Up until I sat down to write this article, I’d never seen the film. You might not think that’s a big deal, but it kind of is when you think of my catalogue of 80s classics (that are all near and dear to my heart): Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s FireSixteen Candles…. I’ve seen them all a million times. Considering that Heathers was the only one I hadn’t (and let me know, readers, if there are any more!), I thought it was high time to give it a shot.

And as the opening credits rolled to the tune of Doris Day’s “Que Sera, Sera” and three of the four Heathers walked down a grass pitch with croquet sticks, the first thing that crossed my mind was, “God, those girls look like some seriously conniving bitches.”

Turns out I was right.

Heathers

also features a lot of iconic catch phrases that you might have heard before: “…Fuck me gently with a chainsaw, Veronica… Like I give a shit… If I had $2 million dollars, I’d pay Madonna to sit on my face and ride it like the Kentucky Derby…”

The familiarity of it all! I’ve been known to let out a solid, “like I give a shit” from time to time. Is this film where the descriptive of “sitting” on someone’s face, as a thing attached to oral sex, comes from? Should I research this? I’ve heard, “fuck me gently with a chainsaw” used on occasion as well. I feet like I’ve opened some kind of Urban Dictionary I never knew existed. While watching, I found myself hitting pause, turning each phrase over in my mind, and writing it all down. It was almost like I was in a lecture that I never knew I was about to sit down for; my eyes and ears were as peeled as ever. I think I’ll ace the exam, if it ever comes.

Aside from the Urban Dictionary realness that makes its presence very known in this film, Heathers is a lot more complex than the title might suggest. Yes, the film features a group of girls who’ve formed a high school clique cheesy enough to name themselves The Heathers (three of the four girls in the group are named Heather; the fourth girl, the good girl, is named Veronica), but they also reign over their Ohio high school and delight in making the lives of other kids more than a little difficult, and all for their own amusement. The new Heather — Veronica, a former geek — is repulsed by the shit her Heathers do, and wishes she could go back to being a geek again. And then there’s a boy (isn’t there always?) named J.D., the new, up-to-no-good edgy kid, who pulls all the good and bad out of her.

There is some seriously heavy stuff going on, too. “Veronica, could you come here for a minute,” Heather #2 asks meekly as she peaks her head out from the bathroom stall near the beginning of the film. “Grow up, Heather,” says Heather #1 (the original lead Heather, aka Queen B) impatiently. “Bulimia is so 1987.” Heather #1 is an absolute insecure narcissist, completely absorbed in her own image — a legend in her mind, and, no doubt, self-critical in private (the worst bullies always are).

“A true friend’s work is never done,” Veronica replies (too) brightly, her finger held up like a sarcastic pin prick. “You know, Heather, maybe you should see a doctor,” Veronica says unsurely. “Yeah, maybe,” Heather #2 replies. “Come on Heather, let’s get another look at lunch,” says Heather #1 snidely, effectively cutting of Veronica and Heather #2’s moment in the stall. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Heather #1 can’t seem to stand attention being paid to any other Heather.

The director then turns our stomach and our hearts when the next scene cuts to sloppy cafeteria food, which looks like an unappetizing mush of cream and potatoes, being scraped off the pan and into the garbage. We see what you’re doing, Michael Lehmann; thanks for effectively ruining my appetite and making me queasy. Anyone who has dealt with an eating disorder of any kind would, no doubt, be hit hardest by that moment. It hit me hard.

What becomes clear through the film is how bad the good girl actually is. Veronica projects the image of being a victim so severely, but no one ever really forces her to join this click of mean bitches. She walks around the cafeteria, talking to her old friends (the geeks), looking melancholic and completely above the bullying the Heathers subject the lesser students to — but if she’s so aware of how rude they are, why is she still hanging out with them? Clearly, she gets something out of being one of the cool kids. And, of course, there’s that old saying: Those who sit and do nothing while the people around them act like bitches are the biggest bitches of all. I think that’s exactly how the saying goes.

It’s always people corrupting and influencing Veronica: she dates J.D., a weird character who makes his presence known by firing blanks at two school bullies, Kurt Kelly and Ram Sweeney. J.D. also kills Heather #1 by serving her drain fluid (which he claims is a hangover cure), because sweet Veronica’s threatened by Heather #1 after refusing to have sex and throwing up instead. I guess sex with Veronica ends up being good enough that he’ll kill Heather #1 in thanks for it. And they do a good job making that death look like a suicide (Veronica put that wordplay she showcases in the beginning of the film to good use with that forged suicide note).

Veronica and J.D. also kill Kurt and Ram, those pesky school bullies, in the woods after they spread a rumour that Veronica gave them oral sex. Because, you know, when someone makes up a sex rumour about you, it’s important that you shoot to kill. I should also mention that Veronica’s scandalized and horrified that J.D. doesn’t use fake skin-grazing bullets (as he initially claims he will — it’s his idea to lure the boys into the woods). She shoots her target (Kurt) by accident. And, instead of going to the police (who does that, anyway?), they plant the “gay materials” and make their deaths look like suicides, too. Suicide, thanks to them, becomes a trendy thing people do. One girl pins a note onto her chest and walks onto oncoming traffic — but she survives, and is badly injured and, even worse in this universe, socially humiliated.

If that isn’t heavy enough for you, J.D. victimizes “sweet” Veronica again when he brings a revolver to her house with the intention of killing her for breaking up with him (what the fuck?!). But she’s already hanging from a noose, looking like she’s killed herself. He goes on talking, seemingly to her dead body, about his mass suicide/kill plan for the school. The next day, Veronica confronts J.D. as he’s setting up his explosives in the boiler room, then shoots him dead when he refuses to abandon his plan. And to cap it all off, the woman finally shows her true colours — and indeed grasps her ultimate prize — when she grabs the red scrunchie from Heather Duke (formerly Heather #2) and announces that she’s the new “sheriff in town.” Heather seems only too happy to give it up.

This film is… I don’t know what to say about it. Somehow, I love it. I can’t really tell you what the intended message is, or what exactly we’re all meant to take away from it. All I have is this: High school sex is killer, you guys.

And dear Heathers, happy 25th anniversary.

Adaora is a blogger and freelance writer in Toronto, Canada; say hello at I, Adaora and on twitter.

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